Legendary Sweet Packs a Punch
Civilizations have long revered honey for its sweetness, medicinal properties and other useful applications. Ancient Egyptians used honey as a sugary condiment and a key ingredient in embalming fluid. Early Greeks believed it had powerful wound-healing properties.
In America, honey reigned as a home remedy for various illnesses and infections until the middle of the 20th century, when it was supplanted by penicillin. Today, the sweet stuff is making a comeback, as modern science confirms honey’s health-promoting benefits.
More than 300 types of honey are available in the United States; each carries a distinctive color and flavor, depending on the bees’ nectar source. In general, lighter-colored honeys (like clover honey) are milder in taste, while darker-colored honeys (like buckwheat honey) are stronger.
Antioxidants & Other Nutrients
The National Honey Board characterizes honey as a natural source of simple carbohydrates, composed of fructose (about 38.5 percent), glucose (about 31 percent), sucrose, maltose and other sugars. It contains enzymes and other compounds derived from bees and flowers, as well as small amounts of vitamins and minerals, such as niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and potassium.
A University of California-Davis study detected higher levels of polyphenolic antioxidants in participants after just one month of honey supplementation. Other studies confirm that honey contains numerous antioxidants. They include chrysin, pinobanksin, vitamin C, catalase and pinocembrin, which all help to prevent and repair cellular damage from disease-causing free radicals.
The amount and type of these goodies available depend largely upon the floral source of the honey. Darker honeys usually contain higher levels of antioxidants than lighter varieties.
For athletes, carbohydrates enhance performance and recovery. A natural, convenient and inexpensive source of carbohydrates, honey, provides 17 grams per tablespoon.
One study at the University of Memphis Exercise and Sport Nutrition Laboratory, evaluated the effectiveness of commercial sports gels and honey. The researchers concluded that honey is an excellent pre-workout energy source, in part because it is easily digested and released into the body at a steady rate.
A companion study indicated that honey is also an effective post-workout carbohydrate source when paired with protein. Weight-trained men and women who consumed a powdered honey-protein combination drink not only sustained optimal blood sugar levels for two hours after their workout, they showed favorable changes in a hormone measurement that indicates positive muscle recovery.
As grandmother knew, honey proves an exceptional healing agent when applied to cuts, scrapes and lacerations. All honeys exhibit some antibacterial ability. New Zealand’s active manuka honey, a monofloral (from one plant) variety derived from the nectar of the manuka bush (Leptospermum scoparium), possesses greater antibacterial characteristics than most other varieties.
A review of 22 clinical trials published in the International Journal of Lower Extremity Wounds verified that honey quickly heals existing wound infections, protects against further infection, reduces swelling, minimizes scarring, helps remove infected and dead tissue, and stimulates new tissue growth. Research indicates that active manuka honey, in particular, shows promise for treatment of wounds infected with the superbug, Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA).
How does honey fight infection and promote healing? Research suggests that honey’s low water content makes it hygroscopic, enabling it to absorb moisture from tissue and bacteria. Its high sugar content makes it difficult for microorganisms to grow.
Many monofloral honeys contain an enzyme that produces low levels of hydrogen peroxide, a natural antiseptic. Honey’s ability to keep the area around a wound sealed, moist and protected, promotes rapid healing and helps prevent scars.
Honey at Home
Honey is a delicious sugar substitute in oatmeal and tea, and a tasty treat drizzled on bread or fruit. Plus, it easily incorporates into baked goods.Use a tried and true recipe or develop a new one, by replacing the amount of sugar with an equal amount of honey and reducing the liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup. In pastries, lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees to prevent over-browning. Honey’s only caveat is that it should not be fed to infants younger than 12 months.
One of the oldest sweeteners used by man, honey remains a perennial favorite for good reason, with far more to recommend it than just savoring its sweetness.