Honey has been a delicious part of our diet since before recorded history: it’s mentioned in some of the earliest known writing — hieroglyphics in ancient Egyptian tombs even mention honey. In times when fruit was the sweetest thing most people had ever tasted, honey would have seemed like a divine gift. Indeed, honey appears as a magical or mystical substance in many cultures.
And honey is more popular than ever before. From facial masks to moonshine, you'll find honey in just about everything, and that’s a good thing.
Bees collect flower nectar and take it to their hive; then, inside the honeycomb, that nectar gets broken down into simple sugars. The honeycomb design and nonstop fanning of the bees’ wings causes evaporation, and that leads to liquid honey.
The flavor and color of honey vary, depending on the type of nectar that the bees collect — clover honey, for instance, usually has a milder taste than wildflower honey. On average, a hive produces about 55 pounds of harvestable honey in a year — after it is extracted from the hive and strained, it’s ready to package and sell. If a honey container’s label says “pure honey,” nothing else has been added.
Honey brings a lot more to the table than just sweetness. For thousands of years, people have used honey for medicinal purposes — in traditional medicine, people use honey to treat a wide variety of conditions. And scientific research supports claims that honey has antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties.
One tablespoon (20 grams) of honey contains about 61 calories, 17 grams of carbohydrates, and zero grams of fat. It contains trace elements of some minerals (for instance, one percent of your daily requirement of both riboflavin and copper). Most people don’t consume enough honey for it to contribute much in the way of vitamins and minerals; however, it is rich in plant compounds known as polyphenols, micronutrients that may protect against some chronic diseases.
Honey is essentially pure sugar. Eaten in combination with a varied diet — including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins — it can be a good source of energy. Because it also low in water and acidic, it is resistant to spoilage and shelf stable for a long time.
While some early research shows that honey may be better tolerated than other sweeteners in people with type 1 diabetes, it’s important to note that those studies took place under medical supervision. Before adjusting your medication or starting a complementary therapy, speak with your healthcare provider. A trained healthcare provider can talk with you about your personal health goals and help you achieve them. (Carbon Health provides personalized diabetes care that treats the whole you — find out more in a free 15-minute consult.)
Honey may play an important role in gastrointestinal health and the body's microbiome. Though much is still unknown about the role of the microbiome in overall health, research suggests that beneficial gut bacteria are connected to many other functions in the body that are important for overall health, including the immune system and even mental health. (For more, read “How to Improve Gut Health: Everything You Need to Know.”)
Honey contains phytochemicals that have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial effects. These properties, along with honey’s texture and viscosity, can help a person when they are trying to feel better during a cold or when they are have allergy symptoms. If you have allergies, you may want to seek out honey from local apiaries. Consuming the tiny amount of pollen (and allergens) that are naturally present in honey may help support your body’s response to seasonal pollen blooms.
In addition, honey’s texture and viscosity can gently coat the throat, easing the pain of a sore throat or of allergic itching from seasonal allergies. If you’re experiencing seasonal allergies, talk with your healthcare provider about different treatment options to help you find relief.
Honey has antibacterial effects and is included in many topical creams. It has been shown to be effective at healing and treating some burns and wounds, diabetes-related foot ulcers, and other skin conditions such as psoriasis.
For thousands of years, people have used honey as a beauty salve and cream. Honey would often be mixed with milk and applied as a mask, helping to hydrate the skin and ease sunburn and windburn. Got sunburned lips? Try spreading a little honey on them before bed. Honey acts as a humectant and draws moisture into the skin.
Before you go squeezing honey onto every plate and into every cup, keep in mind that honey is basically sugar — honey, maple syrup, table sugar, and other naturally occurring sugars are used in the body as energy. According to the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), people older than two should limit their intake of added sugars to about ten percent of their total caloric intake (for someone eating a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, that would come out to about 12 teaspoons). One tablespoon of honey is equal to one tablespoon of added sugar. Some people feel that honey tastes sweeter than regular granulated sugar, so they consume less added sugar when using honey.
Carbon Health’s expert providers are always ready to talk nutrition! We offer in-person and virtual appointments, so you can schedule an appointment in the way that works best for you. Our seamless, personalized care is designed to support you in reaching all your health goals.