This wonderfully rich golden liquid is the miraculous product of honey bees and a naturally delicious alternative to white sugar. Although it is available throughout the year, it is an exceptional treat in the summer and fall when it has just been harvested and is at its freshest.
The fascinating process of making honey begins when the bees feast on flowers, collecting the flower nectar in their mouths. This nectar then mixes with special enzymes in the bees' saliva, an alchemical process that turns it into honey. The bees carry the honey back to the hive where they deposit it into the cells of the hive's walls. The fluttering of their wings provides the necessary ventilation to reduce the moisture's content making it ready for consumption.
- Health Benefits
- How to Select and Store
- How to Enjoy
- Nutritional Profile
In addition to its reputation as Nature's nutritive sweetener, research also indicates that honey's unique composition makes it useful as an antimicrobial agent and antioxidant.
Raw Honey - An Anti-Bacterial, Anti-Viral, Anti-Fungal Substance
The health benefits of honey - like all foods - depend on the quality of the honey. But in this case, the situation is even more extreme, because the pollen that collects on the bees' legs as they move from plant to plant is only as healthful and as diverse as those plants. In addition, the processing of honey often removes many of the phytonutrients found in raw honey as it exists in the hive. Raw honey, for example, contains small amounts of the same resins found in propolis. Propolis, sometimes called "bee glue," is actually a complex mixture of resins and other substances that honeybees use to seal the hive and make it safe from bacteria and other micro-organisms. Honeybees make propolis by combining plant resins with their own secretions. However, substances like road tar have also been found in propolis. Bee keepers sometimes use special screens around the inside of the hive boxes to trap propolis, since bees will spread this substance around the honeycomb and seal cracks with the anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal resins. The resins found in propolis only represent a small part of the phytonutrients found in propolis and honey, however. Other phytonutrients found both in honey and propolis have been shown to posssess cancer-preventing and anti-tumor properties. These substances include caffeic acid methyl caffeate, phenylethyl caffeate, and phenylethyl dimethylcaffeate. Researchers have discovered that these substances prevent colon cancer in animals by shutting down activity of two enzymes, phosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipase C and lipoxygenase. When raw honey is extensively processed and heated, the benefits of these phytonutrients are largely eliminated.
Improve Athletic Performance and Heal Wounds with Honey?
Primarily honey has been used as an energy source, but recent research has examined the use of honey as an ergogenic aid (a food or ingredient that helps an athlete's performance) and wound healing agent, both of which were once considered merely age-old anecdotes.
In the time of the ancient Olympics, athletes were reported to eat special foods, such as honey and dried figs, to enhance their sports performance. Recently, however, one group of researchers has investigated the use of honey as an ergogenic aid in athletes. The study involved a group of 39 weight-trained athletes, both male and female. Subjects underwent an intensive weight-lifting workout and then immediately consumed a protein supplement blended with either sugar, maltodextrin or honey as the carbohydrate source. The honey group maintained optimal blood sugar levels throughout the two hours following the workout. In addition, muscle recuperation and glycogen restoration (carbohydrates stored in muscle) was favorable in those individuals consuming the honey-protein combination.
Sustaining favorable blood sugar concentrations after endurance training by ingesting carbohydrates before, during and after training is important for maintaining muscle glycogen stores (glycogen is the form in which sugar is stored in muscle as ready-to-use fuel), so that muscle recuperation is more efficient and the athlete is ready to perform again at their highest level the next day. The best-studied ergogenic aid is carbohydrates because they are necessary for maintaining muscle glycogen stores. For now, honey appears to be just another source of carbohydrates that can help athletes perform at their best, rather than a superior choice over any other carbohydrate.
The wound healing properties of honey may, however, be its most promising medicinal quality. Honey has been used topically as an antiseptic therapeutic agent for the treatment of ulcers, burns and wounds for centuries. One study in India compared the wound healing effects of honey to a conventional treatment (silver sulfadiazene) in 104 first-degree burn patients. After one week of treatment, 91 percent of honey treated burns were infection free compared with only 7 percent receiving the conventional treatment. Finally, a greater percentage of patients' burns were healed more readily in the honey treated group. Another study examined the wound healing benefits of honey applied topically to patients following Caesarean section and hysterectomy. Compared to the group receiving the standard solution of iodine and alcohol, the honey treated group was infection free in fewer days, healed more cleanly and had a reduced hospital stay.
Several mechanisms have been proposed for the wound healing benefits
that are observed when honey is applied topically. Because honey is
composed mainly of glucose and fructose, two sugars that strongly
attract water, honey absorbs water in the wound, drying it out so that
the growth of bacteria and fungi is inhibited (these microorganisms
thrive in a moist environment). Secondly, raw honey contains an enzyme
called glucose oxidase that, when combined with water, produces
hydrogen peroxide, a mild antiseptic. In addition to the specific
enzymes found in honey, which may help in the healing process, honey
also contains antioxidants and flavonoids that may function as
antibacterial agents. One antioxidant in particular, pinocembrin,
which is unique to honey, is currently being studied for its
antibacterial properties. One laboratory study of unpasteurized honey
samples indicated the majority had antibacterial action against
Staphylococcus aureus, a common bacteria found readily in our
environment that can cause infections, especially in open wounds. Other
reports indicate honey is effective at inhibiting Escherichia coli
and Candida albicans. Darker honeys, specifically honey from
buckwheat flowers, sage and tupelo, contain a greater amount of
antioxidants than other honeys, and raw, unprocessed honey contains the
widest variety of health-supportive substances.
A Spoonful a Day Keeps Free Radicals at Bay
Daily consumption of honey raises blood levels of protective
antioxidant compounds in humans, according to research presented at the
227th meeting of the American Chemical Society in Anaheim, CA, March 28,
2004. Biochemist Heidrun Gross and colleagues from the University of
California, Davis, gave 25 study participants each about four
tablespoons buckwheat honey daily for 29 days in addition to their
regular diets, and drew blood samples at given intervals following honey
consumption. A direct link was found between the subjects' honey
consumption and the level of polyphenolic antioxidants in their blood.
Honey Helpful for Healthy Individuals and Those with High Cholesterol, Type 2 Diabetes
In a series of experiments involving healthy subjects and those with either high cholesterol or type 2 diabetes, honey has proved itself the healthiest sweetener.
For 15 days, 8 healthy subjects, 6 patients with high cholesterol, 5 patients with high cholesterol and high C-reactive protein (a risk factor for cardiovascular disease), and 7 patients with type 2 diabetes were given solutions containing comparable amounts of sugar, artificial honey or natural honey.
In healthy subjects, while sugar and artificial honey had either negative or very small beneficial effects, natural honey reduced total cholesterol 7%, triglycerides 2%, C-reactive protein 7%, homocysteine 6% and blood sugar 6%, and increased HDL (good) cholesterol 2%. (Like C-reactive protein, homocysteine is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease.)
In patients with high cholesterol, artificial honey increased LDL (bad) cholesterol, while natural honey decreased total cholesterol 8%, LDL cholesterol 11%, and C-reactive protein 75%.
And in patients with type 2 diabetes, natural honey caused a significantly lower rise in blood sugar than either dextrose or sucrose (refined sugars). So, enjoy a little honey in your morning coffee, lunchtime yogurt or afternoon cup of green tea. Looks like a daily spoonful of honey may help your need for medicine go down.
Although our food ranking system did not qualify honey as a dense source of traditional nutrients, it did emerge as a source of vitamin B2, vitamin B6, iron and manganese.
Honey is a delicious viscous sweetener made naturally by bees for their own nourishment. The fascinating process of making honey begins when the bees feast on flowers, collecting the flower nectar in their mouths. This nectar then mixes with special enzymes in the bees' saliva, an alchemical process that turns it into honey. The bees carry the honey back to the hive, where they deposit it into the cells of the hive's walls. The fluttering of their wings provides the necessary ventilation to reduce the honey's moisture content, making it ready for consumption.
Honey comes in a range of colors including white, amber, red, brown and almost black. Its flavor and texture vary with the type of flower nectar from which it was made. While the most commonly available honeys are made from clover, alfalfa, heather and acacia flowers, honey can be made from a variety of different flowers, including thyme and lavender.
Honey has been used since ancient times both as a food and as a medicine. Apiculture, the practice of beekeeping to produce honey, dates back to at least 700 BC. For many centuries, honey was regarded as sacred due to its wonderfully sweet properties as well as its rarity. It was used mainly in religious ceremonies to pay tribute to the gods, as well as to embalm the deceased. Honey was also used for a variety of medicinal and cosmetic purposes. For a long time in history, its use in cooking was reserved only for the wealthy since it was so expensive that only they could afford it.
The prestige of honey continued for millennia until one fateful event in culinary and world history - the "discovery" of refined sugar made from sugar cane or sugar beets., Once these became more widely available, they were in great demand since they provided a relatively inexpensive form of sweetening. With their growing popularity, honey became displaced by sugar for culinary use. Since then, although honey is still used for sweetening, much of its use has become focused on its medicinal properties and its use in confectionary.
Honey is sold in individual containers or in bulk. It is usually pasteurized, although oftentimes at farmer's markets you can find raw honey. Raw honey that has not been pasteurized, clarified, or filtered - provided it is of the highest organic quality - is your best choice. Look for honey that states "100% pure." While regular honey is translucent, creamy honey is usually opaque and is made by adding finely crystallized honey back into liquid honey. Specialty honeys, made from the nectar of different flowers, such as thyme and lavender, are also available. Remember that the darker the color, the deeper the flavor.
It is important to keep honey stored in an airtight container so that it doesn't absorb moisture from the air. Honey stored this way in a cool dry place will keep almost indefinitely. One reason for this is that its high sugar content and acidic pH help to inhibit microorganism growth. Honey that is kept at colder temperatures tends to thicken, while honey that is kept at higher temperatures has a tendency to darken and have an altered flavor.
Tips for Cooking with Honey:
If your honey has crystallized, placing the container in hot water for 15 minutes will help return it to its liquid state. Do not heat honey in the microwave as this alters its taste by increasing its hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) content. To prevent honey from sticking to measuring cups and spoons, use honey that is in its liquid form.
Honey makes a good replacement for sugar in most recipes. Since honey is sweeter than sugar, you need to use less, one-half to three-quarters of a cup for each cup of sugar. For each cup of sugar replaced, you should also reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by one-quarter of a cup. In addition, reduce the cooking temperature by 25ºF since honey causes foods to brown more easily.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas:
Use honey in place of table sugar as a sweetener in your tea.
Drizzle apple slices with honey and sprinkle with cinnamon.
To enjoy sweetened yogurt without excess sugar, mix a little honey into plain yogurt.
A delicious sandwich that is enjoyed by kids of all ages is a combination of peanut (or almond) butter, with bananas and honey.
In a saucepan over low heat, combine soymilk, honey and unsweetened dark chocolate to make a deliciously nutritious chocolate "milk" drink.
Remember that the quality of honey is a function of the plants and environment from which pollen, saps, nectars and resins were gathered. Other substances found in the environment - including traces of heavy metals, pesticides, and antibiotics - have been shown to appear in honey. The amount varies greatly.
Honey is a source of vitamin B2 and vitamin B6. It also provides iron and manganese.
For an in-depth nutritional profile click here: Honey.
In-Depth Nutritional ProfileIn addition to the nutrients highlighted in our ratings chart, an in-depth nutritional profile for Honey is also available. This profile includes information on a full array of nutrients, including carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and more.
Introduction to Food Rating System ChartThe following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents; the nutrient density rating; and the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised.
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