Honey is a superfood in gooey, sticky, delicious form. It’s everything that you wished broccoli was, and everything that a health food should be. It’s still sugar, so you should limit your intake, especially if you’re diabetic, but as an occasional treat or a substitute for refined sugar, you can’t go wrong.
A dollop of honey tastes great in tea, whether it’s a warming Indian masala or a healthy camomile, and is the perfect way to give this antioxidant-rich drink some added nutrients.
But what are those nutrients? Why is honey considered a superfood? And is it really deserving of that label or should this sticky-sweet treat be viewed with the same caution as refined sugar?
The Best Types of Honey
Manuka is one of the strongest varieties of honey on the market and has a price tag reflective of this fact. But it’s not the only healthy honey out there, and a lot of potent, great-tasting varieties are being overlooked.
Manuka is far from the best tasting honey, and for most users, it’s something to take by the spoonful at set times every day, not something to add to tea or to drizzle on pancakes.
If you want a healthy honey that packs a flavourful punch, look for darker, stronger varieties. Greek honeys are perfect for this, especially when they are harvested from nutrient-rich herbs, as is the case with Greek Thyme Honey. Forest honey, often produced in central and northern Europe, is also packed full of antioxidants, while anyone seeking a cheaper alternative to manuka should look to eucalyptus honey.
The Health Benefits of Honey
Honey may provide a number of health benefits. It’s a natural substance rich in polyphenols, flavonoids, and other plant-based compounds, and it has been prized for thousands of years.
1. It is a Great Healer
Honey was used as a natural antiseptic by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, and it continued to be used for this purpose right up to the Second World War. (1) Even today, in an age of antibiotics, honey is still seen as a valuable tool in the treatment of wounds and burns.
It has shown to be particularly effective at treating diabetic wounds and ulcers, as well as a variety of mild skin conditions. (2) Researchers believe that its unique healing properties stem from its ability to protect the wound, reduce inflammation, and kill bacteria, all while nourishing the tissue in a way that traditional treatments can’t.
These days, honey is added to a host of natural skin treatments and hair treatments for this very reason, and sufferers of everything from acne to psoriasis swear by its effects.
2. It is a Better Alternative to Refined Sugar
Anyone looking to reduce their intake of refined sugar should look no further than honey. Not only does it provide the aforementioned health benefits, but it can also help reduce cholesterol levels and it causes less of a blood sugar spike than refined sugar.
The effects are slight, and it will still cause a spike in blood sugar, but it’s fair to say that choosing honey over refined sugars and syrups will be more beneficial for your health.
3. Honey is Full of Antioxidants
Honey is loaded with antioxidants and other beneficial plant compounds, and in most cases, the darker it is, the more of these it contains. Antioxidants can improve overall health, and a diet rich in these natural compounds could reduce your risk of developing many forms of cancer. (3)
The antioxidants in honey have also displayed a protective effect on the heart, with one 2010 study suggesting that they could play a role in preventing heart disease, a disease that kills around 160,000 people every year in the United Kingdom alone. (4) (5)
Contrary to what you might have heard, this sticky-sweet substance is not high in minerals and vitamins. A single serving contains a fractional amount of several key nutrients and you would need to consume large quantities to get anywhere near your recommend daily allowances.
4. It Soothes the Throat
This is an effect that can be felt instantly and one that we’ve all experienced at some point or another. It’s the reason honey is added to cold, flu, and cough remedies, the reason “honey and lemon” is still the go-to treatment for generations of people.
Honey’s soothing properties stem from a combination of things, from the thick, gooey consistency that helps “coat” the throat and mouth, to the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce infection. The instant injection of energy from the sugar, as well as the surge of antioxidants, may also help boost wellbeing and fight infection.
There are also studies suggesting that honey could be used to suppress coughs in children, providing parents with a natural, safe alternative to many OTC remedies. (6) However, while this research is promising, it should be noted that all participants in this study were older than 1 year of age and you should not give honey to an infant before their first birthday.
The Best Way to Benefit from Honey
A lot of the healthy compounds found in honey will remain even when it has been heated, which means you can still reap these rewards when using it to sweeten tea or bake into treats. Honey that has been heavily processed may lose a lot of its benefits, so if you want to consume honey for the benefits discussed in this guide, then you should look to purchase it in its raw form, or as close to it as you can get.
Honey may also provide more benefits when used in combination with other natural compounds—giving you more antioxidants with every sip—which is why we recommend adding a hearty dollop to herbal teas like Sideritis Scardica or Camomile. It also tastes great in plain, old black tea, and we personally love it in smoked tea and red tea.
The Side Effects of Honey
Unless you’re allergic to honey or you consume it in large quantities, you shouldn’t experience any noticeable side effects. However, it’s very calorific, and as all of those calories come from sugar, it’s important to consume in moderation.
It should be seen as a natural alternative to refined sugars and syrups, as opposed to a health food you can consume in large quantities on a daily basis. It’s also important to make sure that the honey you’re buying is actually honey.
Many cheap syrups on the market are branded as honey, and some genuine varieties have been processed to the point they are no longer beneficial. This is a much bigger problem in the United States than it is here in the UK. In fact, some reports suggest that as many as 7 out of 10 bottles sold in US grocery stores are fake. But there are still highly adulterated and processed honeys being sold here in the UK.
We’re not saying that you should always buy raw and/or organic, nor are we saying that you should always opt for the expensive stuff. Just make sure that you buy from a reputable brand if you’re buying cheap, everyday honey, and maybe splash out on some darker, thicker, raw honey when you want to treat yourself.