No wonder the word “honey” is a term of endearment. What could be sweeter and more appealing than the rich golden liquid? I’ve long enjoyed the delights of honey on cereal, toast, yogurt, and pancakes, and as a sweetener for green tea, and I’m sure once you know about the nutritional benefits of honey, you’ll be eager to use it more frequently.
Honey is much more than just a liquid sweetener. One of the oldest medicines known to man, honey has been used in the treatment of respiratory diseases, skin ulcers, wounds, urinary diseases, gastrointestinal diseases, eczema, psoriasis, and dandruff. Today, we know the validity of these timeless treatments, as research has demonstrated that honey can inhibit the growth of bacteria, yeast, fungi, and viruses.
The power of honey comes from the wide range of compounds present in the rich amber liquid. Honey contains at least 181 known substances, and its antioxidant activity stems from the phenolics, peptides, organic acids, and enzymes. Honey also contains salicylic acid, minerals, alpha-tocopherol, and oligosaccharides. Oligosaccharides increase the number of “good” bacteria in the colon, reduce levels of toxic metabolites in the intestine, help prevent constipation, and help lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
The key point to remember with honey is that its antioxidant ability can vary widely depending on the floral source of the honey and its processing. The process begins when bees feast on flowers and collect nectar in their mouths. The bees mix the nectar and enzymes in their saliva to turn it into honey, which is then stored in combs in the hive. The constant movement of the bees’ wings promotes moisture evaporation and yield the thick honey we enjoy. The phenolic content of the honey depends on the pollen that the bees have used as raw material. There’s a very simple way to determine the health benefits of any honey: its color. In general, the darker the color of the honey, the higher the level of antioxidants. There can be a twenty fold difference in honey’s antioxidant activity, as one test revealed. For example, Illinois buckwheat honey, the darkest honey tested, had twenty times the antioxidant activity of California sage honey, one of the lightest-colored honeys tested. Overall, color predicted more than sixty percent of the variation in honey’s antioxidant capacity.