You may be familiar with honey as the yellow, sticky, sweet-tasting stuff that you find on the supermarket shelves often presented in a bear-shaped container. Your child, on the other hand, probably identifies it as the preferred food of Winnie-the-Pooh!
But what is honey and how is it produced? You’ve probably heard a lot about its mystical health benefits. So is it good for your kids? Well, here’s the buzz.
Where Does Honey Come From?
Pure honey is made of nectar. Nectar is a sugary substance secreted from plants that is then carried off by bees. The bees ingest the nectar and the enzymes in their stomach breaks it down from sucrose into glucose and fructose (1). The bees then spit it up (pardon the graphic image) and plop it in their bee abode and fan it, which then causes some of the water in the honey to evaporate (1). The result is the yellow, sticky, sweet-tasting honey!
Honey texture and taste can vary depending on the sort of flowers honeybees get the nectar from. The most common honey found in stores is clover honey. This is what you’d normally find in a bear-shaped container.
Honey in The Supermarket
The sad truth about a lot of honey on our supermarket shelves is that it potentially may not be honey at all. According to the Guardian, a recent study suggests that 75 percent of honey in US supermarkets comes from unknown origins.
You see, scientists examine the nectar to pinpoint where honey is from by determining what plants the bees used to pollinate the nectar. However, since most of the bottles found on our shelves have the nectar filtered out of it, there’s no telling geographically where it came from and just how much of it is actually real honey (2). This could mean that a lot of the honey you see is with added sugars and mixed with high fructose corn syrup.
So be sure to check the labels.
Is Honey Good For You?
There isn’t much scientific consensus on the health benefits of honey. Naturalists have long touted it as something that is universally good (3).
However, before I delve into honey’s benefits, let me first say: “Do not give a child under the age of one any honey.”
Giving an infant honey could cause botulism. Kids under the age of one don’t have the stomach or the immunity to protect themselves from this terrible disease that comes from spores, such as those found on plants (3). So before you decide to give your little one a spot of honey—don’t. Let them wait for the joys of honey, as A.A. Milne says in Winnie-the-Pooh:
“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called”(4).
He’s talking about the joy of anticipation! The excitement of waiting for that yellow, sticky, sweet-tasting honey!
Now, to buzz-ness!
Don’t Heat Up Honey!
Raw honey is great for the body. It has the antioxidants and enzymes that can be beneficial to your health (5). When you heat up honey, it can deplete many of these benefits and alter the taste. Some studies have seen a rise in the glycemic index when heated to a temperature higher than 140 degrees.
Keep your honey at room temperature and serve it with cold or lukewarm foods and liquids.
The ancient Egyptians knew a thing or two about honey. Besides using honey to seal up the fates of mummies during mummification, they also used it to dress up wounds. It’s been noted that a slight cut can be treated with honey and may even prevent scarring.
Treating Coughs & Boosting Immunity
Honey has also been shown to help with a cough. Many people will have honey in their tea. The hot water and the honey will soothe the throat and help alleviate coughing and soreness. So having a nice cup of tea with honey before bed can also be quite helpful.
Different kinds of honey can have varying effects. A recent study at the Glasgow School of Veterinary Medicine found that raw Manuka Honey and Heather Honey can help ward of infections, MRSA, and colds (5).
Getting Some Shuteye
Studies show that honey has properties in it that can boost the production of tryptophan, which helps with sleep. It’s the same chemical you can find in turkey that knocks people out after Thanksgiving.
Sugar vs. Honey
Before the 1600’s the main source of sugar for most people was honey (6). The Greeks used it. The Egyptians used it. Now, sugar has replaced it as the main sweet.
Even though honey is full of sugar it still is slightly healthier. Your body breaks down foods into glucose for energy which is why sugars (which are already pretty much broken down) are so troublesome. Sugar is essentially 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose; honey is 30 percent glucose and 40 percent fructose (7). There are other sugars and depending on where honey comes from, this includes a variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
However, according to dietitian Toby Smithson, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association who spoke to WebMD: per tablespoon, honey has more carbohydrates and calories than sugar. However, these carbs are a little more complex and it’s not as consequential.
So is honey better than sugar? In many respects, the answer is yes. Free of preservatives (when bought locally or organically), and full of nourishing properties, honey is an ideal replacement for sugar.
When consuming honey and giving it to your kids (above the age of one, please!) remember to offer it in moderation. Nonetheless, it is healthy and beneficial if you follow these guidelines.
Additional Information and Resources:
The Guardian: Is There Any Such Things As Organic Honey
WebMD: Medicinal Uses of Honey
The Guardian: Why Raw Honey Is Good For You
Live Science: What Is Honey?
Huffington Post: Ask a Scientist: Is Honey Healthier Than Sugar?