Honey often ends up on dieting "banned" lists. Is honey an evil sugar as so many in the diet industry would have us believe? Vegans do not eat honey, others say it's just nasty "bee puke." Some would even want you to believe that honey is actually worse than pure, white table sugar!
Refined table sugar (sucrose) is processed in our bodies by insulin, which is produced by the pancreas. Honey is about 55 per cent fructose, a fruit sugar that's processed by the liver. Despite the chemical difference, our bodies still react to honey in much same way as it reacts to refined sugar - with a blood-sugar spike.
Humans crave sweetness. Processed sugars and artificial sweeteners were developed to get more sweetness into packaged foods, making it easier to get a "sugar fix." In nature, most sweet plants are very healthy for us...berries, fruit, leaves, tubers, etc. Some would say this indicates the plant wants to be eaten, to help spread it's seeds. Milk is sweet, babies like milk. Kids like sweet things, and we never really grow out of it. So, maybe it's best to give in to your sweet tooth, and eat sugar as nature intended.
|Big Oven.com (Really good honey resource!)|
Unfortunately, all honey is not created equal. The stuff you see in the supermarket has generally been ultra-filtered to remove any impurities, this also removes the things that makes honey, honey. Additionally, it's been said that some honey suppliers dilute their honey with sugar water to increase the volume and profitability. Most supermarket honey is OK, but this summer, let's try something else.
The best honey is raw and unfiltered, and comes from beehives located close to where you live. Remember, the sweetness just makes us want to eat honey, but when you look past the sweetness, you'll find an amazing array of nutritional goodness in honey. Sourcing local honey gives us a taste of what the bees find on the flowers and plants near where we live. A health-property of honey has long been noted as the presentation of pollen to our immune system. While Australian Manuka Honey might be a superfood, it's a pretty foreign substance to someone from Napoleon, Ohio.
Try this: Visit a farmer's market in your area and talk to the people selling honey. Find some that's raw and unfiltered, even better, some that still has chunks of honeycomb in it. The waxy comb is edible, you can put it in hot food like oatmeal, or spread it on toast...it melts right in. Or do like me, just chew on it like gum. I like a spoonful of honey in my coffee, or right off the spoon. If you've never had real honey, you're in for a treat. Go find some!
What's in Honey?
Ever wondered what's actually in honey? All you need to know is: Nectar, pollen, bee spit, and germs. But if you crave even more information, there is luckily a brand new paper: Molecular Pharmacology of Honey.pdf (2016). Maybe some music will make it easier to read?
Save or print the pdf if you want a reference guide to the nutrition of honey, but one thing that caught my eye was a reference to oligosaccharides (what we around here call "fiber"). The fiber content of honey should be listed around 1.5%, but everywhere I look, I see "zero fiber." Upon examination, the reason for this is that a "serving" of honey is always listed in spoons or grams, making the fiber less than 1g and not reported. Some on-line calculators will show 2g of fiber when the serving size is changed to 1kg.
From the paper linked above, a table showing the sugars and other constituents of honey:
As you can see, mostly sugars in the form of the various saccharides. As you look through the table, you see many familiar names like fructose, glucose. Nearly all of the trace minerals and sugars, etc. can be processed in a lab and added to food to make them "healthier." In reality, it's these natural blends in real food that hold magic. See the polyphenol and flavonoids? Those will become important in a future blog!
The last item on the list has also not escaped our attention! The "dust and germs" are perhaps the best feature of honey, and why it's important to get raw and unfiltered, local honey.
An important aspect of honey is that it is antimicrobial, killing bacteria and yeast. Honey has long been used for dressing wounds and treating infections. Yet this natural antibiotic is also shown to stimulate the production of friendly gut bacteria like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacteria...the probiotics.
It's quite natural that we are constantly bombarded by wild strains of bacteria and yeast as we go about our day. Our body is used to this, and defends well against any that might be harmful. Honey "works" on many levels, as you can tell, but the fact that honey boosts our immune system should not go unnoticed, Honey and Cancer: Sustainable Inverse Relationship Particularly for Developing Nations—A Review.
There is now a sizeable evidence that honey is a natural immune booster, natural anti-inflammatory agent, natural antimicrobial agent, natural cancer “vaccine,” and natural promoter for healing chronic ulcers and wounds. Though honey has substances of which the most predominant is a mixture of sugars, which itself is thought to be carcinogenic, it is understandable that its beneficial effect as anticancer agent raises skeptics.
Really, read the paper linked above! You'll want to go out and buy gallons of honey. It was great that the authors started right out with the "...thought to be carcinogenic" aspect of "sugar." And they are right. More than one nutritional scholar has placed honey alongside table sugar on lists of foods that will kill you. Yet:
Honey has the element of a “natural cancer vaccine” as it can reduce chronic inflammatory processes, improve immune status, reduce infections by hardy organisms and so forth.
But it's still mostly sugar, and used to sweeten foods. How much is too much?
There are 64 calories in 1TBS (21g) of honey. Try eating a TBS of honey, right off the spoon. That's a lot! Most people don't measure honey when they squirt it onto their toast or in their tea, but a TBS is a good sized serving. The great thing about honey, you can eat it straight, or use it to make a non-sweet food sweet, like drizzling on bread, salad, or meat.
I have access to nearly unlimited honey, produced by beehives in my own backyard. When I first started collecting honey, I put it in everything. But soon just started using it sparingly. We go through maybe a small jar a month. Going days between without eating any honey. If you count calories, substitute honey for something else, it's probably the worst food to exclude from a diet.
The best advice I can give is to simply start incorporating honey into your life. Find a good source and buy it when you can, or go full-in and raise your own bees. Honey is good food. Let's start treating it that way!
Oh, some old Veggie Pharm blog posts about honey here:
What's all the Buzz?
Bees and Barack Obama
Let's Talk Honey, Honey (a must-click!) (Great comments!)