The Health Benefits of Honey

The Health Benefits of Honey


Humans have been collecting honey and beekeeping for at least 8,000 years. It has a long history of medicinal use dating back to ancient egypt. Reported benefits or uses include anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Honey is a sweet food made by bees foraging nectar from flowers. For bee’s, it serves as both a short term energy source during foraging and for long-term storage during the off season. The sweetness of honey is derived primarily from it’s content of fructose and glucose.

For context, 1.7 million tons of honey were produced worldwide, China was #1. In addition to it’s use as a food additive, honey can be used to make mead or honey beer. There are many different classifications and types of honey, as well as grades of honey based on flavor, absence of defects and clarity but that is beyond the scope of this lecture.

Is honey better than sugar?

At the end of the day, sugar is sugar and that can cause problems with your bodies metabolism over time. The Dietary Guidelines of America, American Heart Association and Center for Disease Control and Prevention all recommend reducing your total intake of sugar.

However, if you have to choose between refined cane sugar/ table top sugar vs honey, honey probably has a very slight edge. Honey contains more types of sugar than just glucose and fructose, for example dextrin, and some of the them are more complex and require more energy to breakdown. This means your body can theoretically spend more energy breaking down and absorbing honey than tabletop sugar. However, I’m not aware of any study that compared honey consumption vs sugar head to head to assess for changes in weight.

Nutritional content

1 tabsp of honey contains:

  • 64 calories
  • 0g fat
  • 0mg cholesterol
  • 1mg sodium
  • 17g carbohydrates (all sugar)
  • 0g protein

Vitamin & Mineral Content

Cough & Common cold.

A systematic review of the evidence suggested that it probably doesn’t help with coughs in adults, but may help in children. One study did show that it beat out robitussin in a head-to-head treatment of cough symptoms. It’s also thought to help improve sleep through the night when cough symptoms can be more obnoxious. Honey is relatively safe, so it’s reasonable to use in both adults and children's as a cough suppressant.

It’s does not appear to treat the common cold directly which is typically a viral infection, but it seems to help alleviate some of the symptoms.

Healing Properties

Contains trace compounds that have been implicated in healing, such as hydrogen peroxide and methyglyoxal. However, the evidence is weak and no conclusions can be drawn on whether it can help improve healing of post surgical wounds or mild burns.

Manuka honey, made in new Zealand, appears to have some beneficial effect on wound healing and is endorsed by some wound care doctors around the US. The benefit is likely due to the acidic pH content of the honey, which can help the healing process.


In the lab, it has been shown to hamper growth of E.coli, salmonella, staph aureus and pseudomonas. Whether it has the same effect in humans is unproven.


The evidence is weak that it provides any benefits for treating allergies or clearing up a stuffy nose.


Several studies have looked at the polyphenol content of honey. Polyphenols are known to have antioxidant properties in humans. One study found that honey consumption increased measurable blood content of phenolic antioxidants. More research is required to determine if this is a clinically significant effect, however.


There is a widespread myth that honey is a better sugar for diabetes than regular cane sugar, or any other type of sugar. Generally speaking, sugar is bad for diabetics and there is no ‘best’. The glycemic index is a way to compare foods head to head and measure how much they increase your blood sugar. 

Glycemic Index Explained

The glycemic index for pure honey is 58 and the glycemic index for white table sugar ranges from 58-65 which is a negligible difference (lower numbers are closer to 10-30, higher numbers are closer to 100). Diabetics should avoid sugar, period and you’ll be hard pressed to find a nutritionist telling a diabetic it’s ok to use honey.


Do not give honey to infants under 1 year old as this can expose them to a very serious bacerial infection termed botulism.

Honey Dietary Options

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