Raw honey is a pure, unfiltered and unpasteurized sweetener made by bees from the nectar of flowers. Most of the honey consumed today is processed honey that’s been heated and filtered since it was gathered from the hive. Commercial honey is often heavily processed and may even have been chemically refined. Excessive heat destroys the natural enzymes, vitamins and minerals in honey robbing it of its health benefits and nutritional value. Raw honey contains 22 amino acids, 27 minerals and 5,000 enzymes. Tests by Food Safety News show that more than 75% of commercial honey is actually not honey according to the FDA, containing no valuable pollen and typically from China where it has been ultra-filtered, watered down, and often sweetened with HFCS and other illegal sweeteners. In addition, honey contains natural nutraceuticals and is used as an ingredient in many natural and organic hair and skin care products.
Honey use and production have a long and varied history as an ancient activity. Cave paintings in Cuevas de la Araña, Spain, depict humans foraging for honey at least 8,000 years ago. Most microorganisms do not grow in honey, so sealed honey does not spoil, even after thousands of years. If anything is added that raises the water content of honey, it will ferment, and can mold.
According to Dr. Ron Fessenden, MD, MPH, the average American consumes more than 150 pounds of refined sugar, plus an additional 62 pounds of high fructose corn syrup every year. (1) In comparison, we consume only around 1.3 pounds of honey per year on average in the U.S. (2) According to new research, if you can switch out your intake of refined sugar and use pure raw honey instead, the health benefits can be enormous.
What are some of the benefits of raw honey? It can help with everything from low energy to sleep problems to seasonal allergies. Switching to raw honey may even help weight-loss efforts when compared to diets containing sugar or high fructose corn syrup. I’m excited to tell you more about one of my all-time favorite natural sweeteners today, which I hope will convince you to eat honey more and sugar less.
The FDA does not allow anything but pure honey to be labeled as “Pure Honey”. It is illegal for beekeepers to water down their honey with any product, unless there is a nutrition label that includes ingredients. Honey is deadly to bacteria and viruses and is the reason why honey is now being used on Band-aids. With the exception of just a couple of medications, it is illegal for beekeepers to apply during the time in which they are collecting surplus honey from the honey bees. The few that can be used when honey supers are on (which is where the bees store the honey that will be extracted later by the beekeeper) have been tested. The tests show that the medication, which is all-natural Formic Acid, vaporizes and flows out of the hive without contaminating any surplus honey, or honey that is food for the hive.
8 Health Benefits of Raw Honey
1. Healthy Weight Management
Research studies have linked honey consumption with weight loss. A San Diego State University study found that replacing sugar with honey can actually help prevent packing on extra pounds and also lower blood sugar. The results also suggest that in comparison to sugar, honey may lower serum triglycerides. (3)
Another study from the University of Wyoming found that raw honey can activate hormones that suppress the appetite. In the double-blind randomly assigned study, appetite hormones and glycemic responses were measured in 14 healthy non-obese women after consuming a breakfast containing either honey or sugar. Overall, researchers concluded that honey consumption offers potential obesity protective effects. (4)
2. Counters Pollen Allergies
Raw honey contains bee pollen, which is known to ward off infections, provide natural allergy relief and boost overall immunity. Honey’s ability to prevent allergies is based on a concept called immunotherapy. How so? The bees in your neighborhood go from flower to flower collecting pollen that causes you to suffer, but when a you consume local raw honey, you also consume that same offending local pollen. After some time, an allergy sufferer may become less sensitive to this pollen that previously caused problems and experience less seasonal allergy symptoms. Many seasonal allergy sufferers have found local, raw honey to be helpful because it desensitizes them to the fauna triggering their allergic reaction.
A 2013 study found that eating honey at a high dose (one gram per kilogram of body weight of honey daily) can improve allergy symptoms over a period of eight weeks. Researchers absorbed that the honey consumption improved overall and individual symptoms of allergic rhinitis. (5) Allergic rhinitis is an allergic response that causes itchy, watery eyes, sneezing and other similar symptoms.
Some people say that a daily tablespoon of honey can actually act like an allergy shot. The type of honey is key though since pasteurized honey does not contain any pollen. For possible seasonal allergy relief, you need to consume raw honey with pollen in it.
3. Natural Energy Source
Raw honey contains natural sugars (80 percent), water (18 percent), and minerals, vitamins, pollen and protein (2 percent). It’s not surprising that honey has been called “the perfect running fuel.” It provides an easily absorbed supply of energy in the form of liver glycogen, making it ideal for energetic morning starts and as a pre- and post-exercise energy source.
Studies at the University of Memphis Exercise and Sports Nutrition Laboratory have shown honey to be one of the best choices of carbohydrate to consume right before exercising. Additionally, studies have revealed that as a sporting fuel, honey performs on a par with glucose, which is the sugar used in most commercial energy gels. (6)
When it comes to raw honey’s use in athletic endeavors, I highly recommend raw honey for both fueling and recovery. That’s why raw honey is included in some of the best pre-workout snacks and post-workout meals.
4. Antioxidant Powerhouse
Studies have shown that a daily dose of raw honey raises levels of health-promoting antioxidants in the body. Antioxidants help block free radicals in the body that cause disease. It also boosts the immune system, acting as a preventative against any number of diseases. Honey contains polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants that have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.
One study fed 25 subjects about four tablespoons of honey per day for 29 days in addition to their regular diets. When blood samples were taken at the start and end of the study, researchers found a clear, direct link between honey consumption and an increased level of disease-fighting polyphenols in the blood. (7)
Studies have shown that honey contains the disease-fighting antioxidant flavonoids pinocembrin, pinostrobin and chrysin. (8) Pinocembrin supports enzyme activity, and many studies have shown that pinocembrin induces apoptosis (programmed cell death) of many types of cancer cells. (9) Laboratory research suggests that chrysin may increase the male hormone testosterone and improve bodybuilding results, but human research hasn’t found any effect on testosterone levels. (10)
5. Sleep Promoter
Raw honey promotes restorative sleep in two ways. By consuming honey before bedtime, it restocks the liver’s glycogen supply and prevents the brain from triggering a crisis search for fuel, which can wake you up. Secondly, eating raw honey fosters the release of melatonin in the brain by creating a small spike in insulin levels, which stimulates the release of tryptophan in the brain. Tryptophan converts to serotonin, which is then converted to melatonin. (11)
Melatonin also boosts immunity and helps rebuild tissue during periods of rest. Poor sleep, by comparison, has been shown to be a risk factor for hypertension, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and arthritis. As honey is a proven natural sleep aid, it naturally lowers the risk of all these health problems.
6. Wound and Ulcer Healer
Honey-infused bandages are known to aid healing. Peter Charles Molan at the University of Waikato, New Zealand, has found in multiple studies that honey is a natural antibacterial with wound-healing effects. He also found that honey reacts with the body’s fluids to make hydrogen peroxide, creating an inhospitable environment for bacteria. In addition, “Concentrations of hydrogen peroxide generated are very low in comparison to those typically applied to a wound, thus, cytotoxic damage by hydrogen peroxide is very low.” (12a, 12b)
For the treatment of burns and wounds, honey is typically applied directly to the problem area or in a dressing that’s changed every 24 to 48 hours. Sometimes the dressing is left in place for up to 25 days. (13) A combination of honey and ghee has also been advocated and used as dressing for infected wounds since 1991 in four Mumbai hospitals. (14)
Honey has been studied for its use in effectively treating various types of ulcers as well. Honey may reduce the size, pain and odor of problematic skin ulcers. (15)
7. Diabetes Aid
Consumption of raw honey can reduce the risk of developing diabetes and help aid medication used to treat diabetes. The combination of raw honey and cinnamon can be especially beneficial to healthy blood sugar management, as well as many other health concerns like gingivitis and acne.
According to a study out of Dubai, honey has been observed to cause a lower elevation of plasma glucose levels in diabetics compared to dextrose and sucrose. Some suggest that the insulin-boosting power of cinnamon can counteract this glucose elevation in honey, which would make your honey and cinnamon mixture a low glycemic index food combination. (16)
Raw honey increases insulin and decreases hyperglycemia. Try consuming a little at a time and see how your blood sugar reacts to it, and add both raw honey and cinnamon to your diabetic diet plan.
8. Natural Cough Syrup
Raw honey has been shown to be as effective in treating coughs as over-the-counter commercial cough syrups. Increasing scientific evidence shows that a single dose of honey can reduce mucus secretion and coughs. In one study, honey was just as effective as diphenhydramine and dextromethorphan, common ingredients found in over-the counter cough medicines. (17)
For a cough, a half teaspoon to two teaspoons of honey at bedtime is a studied and recommended dosage for anyone over the age of one.
20 Natural Remedy Uses for Honey
If you’re ready to incorporate raw honey into your diet, then check out these honey uses.
- Improve digestion – Ingest one to 2 tablespoons of honey to counteract indigestion since it doesn’t ferment in the stomach. (18)
- Relieve nausea – Mix honey with ginger and lemon juice to help counteract nausea.
- Acne cure – Honey can be used as an affordable face cleanser to fight off acne, and it’s gentle on all skin types. Take half a teaspoon of honey, warm it between your hands and spread it on your face gently. Leave it on for 10 minutes and then rinse with warm water and pat dry. (19)
- Exfoliator – Honey makes a great exfoliator! Use honey on dry winter skin by adding two cups of honey to a bath, soak for 15 minutes, then add one cup of baking soda for the final 15 minutes.
- Improve diabetes – Consumption of raw honey can reduce your risk of developing diabetes and help aid medication used to treat diabetes. Raw honey increases insulin and decreases hyperglycemia. Add a little at a time to your diet and see how your blood sugar reacts to it. (20)
- Lower cholesterol – Honey can help reduce cholesterol and, therefore, decrease your risk for coronary artery disease. (21)
- Improve circulation – Raw honey makes your brain function optimally by strengthening the heart and improving blood circulation.
- Antioxidant support – Consumption of raw honey increases plaque-fighting antioxidants. (22)
- Restore Sleep – Raw honey promotes restorative sleep. Add a tablespoon to warm milk to help increase melatonin and help you sleep.
- Prebiotic support – Raw honey is full of natural prebiotics that promote the growth of good bacteria in the intestine. (23)
- Improve allergies – If sourced locally, raw honey can help reduce seasonal allergies. Add one to 2 tablespoons to your diet daily. (24)
- Lose weight – Substituting raw honey for white sugar can help in weight management.
- Moisturize – A spoonful of raw honey mixed with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon can be used as a hydrating lotion.
- Hair mask – A raw honey hair mask can help boost shine by hydrating your hair. Simply mix 1 teaspoon of raw honey with 5 cups of warm water, apply the mixture to your hair and let it sit, then rinse thoroughly, allow your hair to air dry and style as usual. (25)
- Eczema relief – Use honey as a topical mixture along with equal parts cinnamon to relieve mild eczema.
- Reduce inflammation – Raw honey has anti-inflammatory agents that can treat respiratory conditions such as asthma. (26)
- Heal wounds – Raw honey used topically can help quicken healing time for mild burns, wounds, rashes and abrasions. (27)
- Cure UTI – Honey can help improve urinary tract infections due to its antibacterial properties. (28)
- Shampoo – Raw honey can cleanse and restore the health of your hair and scalp.
- Relieve sore throat and cough – Using honey for sore throat and cough is another fantastic remedy. This is especially useful for children with a cough. Simply swallow one teaspoon of honey or add it to tea with lemon. (29)
How to Find and Use Raw Honey
Looking at honey consumption, 50 percent of the population directly purchases honey, 35 percent never eats honey, and the remaining 15 percent consumes honey in products made with honey, like honey-roasted peanuts. (18) Raw honey might be available at your nearest grocery store, but it should be available at your local health food store or, even better, your local beekeeper. It’s also available online.
Expect raw honey to be opaque rather than that sparkling, clear, golden color that’s achieved through heating.
Never cook with raw honey because that will destroy its good properties. Also, do not store it near a heat source. If you enjoy honey in your tea or coffee, wait until the drink is just tepid enough to sip comfortably, and then add honey to taste.
Drizzle it on breakfast cereals, over your sprouted grain toast or on yogurt. It’s also a great addition to smoothies and salad dressings, plus it pairs well with fruits like honeydew and apples. Raw honey can be a healthy alternative to highly processed sugar in recipes that doesn’t require heat. For every one tablespoon of sugar in a recipe (that doesn’t require heating), you can typically use two teaspoons of honey instead.
Need more ideas for how to incorporate raw honey into your daily life? Then check out this article on 20 Raw Honey Uses that will surprise you.
There are many recipes available from the National Honey Board, and I have some of my favorites as well:
What Is Raw Honey? See These Honey Comparisons
Raw honey is a crude form of honey immediately taken out of the cells of the honey combs within a bee hive. This form of honey is far from pure. It commonly contains bee pollen and propolis, which are both two very positive health additions. However, raw honey can also possibly contain dead bees, legs, wings, hunks of beeswax and other impurities. Don’t worry though — if any of these unwanted items get into the honey they’re strained out before bottling.
Raw honey cannot be heated above 95 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the normal temperature of the bee hive. While it’s OK to strain raw honey, it’s never filtered or pasteurized. It also cannot have any other additives.
On the other hand, commercial honey is often heavily processed and may even have been chemically refined. Excessive heat destroys the natural enzymes, vitamins and minerals in honey, making honey processing a very bad thing. Filtering and processing eliminate many of the beneficial phytonutrients, including pollen and enzyme-rich propolis. The only way to achieve sparkling clear honey is by heat, so avoid the golden, syrup-like honey in favor of opaque, organic raw honey.
Non-raw honey or regular commercial honey can be sourced from bees that are treated with antibiotics (such as ciprofloxacin in China’s honey). They also may likely be given winter nourishment in the form of sugar or a low-cost syrup. Hives are made of non-organic materials, which can have pests and be cleaned with non-organic substances. Honey that isn’t raw is pasteurized and filtered, and it can have additives. (19)
Research by the Palynology Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University tested 60 honey products from supermarkets and grocery stores and found that 76 percent contained no trace of bee pollen, which is also loaded with health benefits. The Food and Drug Administration maintains that any honey products that have been ultra-filtered, as these have, are not actually honey and therefore the health benefits of honey cannot be assumed. Some “honey” may even contain high fructose corn syrup.
Organic Honey vs. Not Organic
Organic honey usually means raw organic honey. Just like with raw honey, heating is not allowed above 95 degrees F. In order to be called organic, honey must follow good organic management, according to each country’s set of standards and conditions. Processing should also only be done by means of gravitational settling and straining. The constraints for honey labeled as such by the FDA are extremely high, including crops that are certified as organic within 30 miles of the hives, with no exceptions.
Manuka vs. Other Varieties
“Conductivity” is an indirect way of measuring the mineral content of a honey. Manuka honey has a higher than normal conductivity with about four times the conductivity of normal flower honeys. The higher the conductivity, the better the nutritional value of the honey.
When it comes to Manuka honey versus other varieties, Manuka always has a unique Manuka factor (UMF), which is a global standard in identifying and measuring the antibacterial strength of Manuka. Essentially, the UMF is a guarantee that the honey being sold is of a medicinal quality. This is a standard of health value completely unique to Manuka honey.
The minimum UMF rating recognized is UMF5 — however, it’s not considered beneficial unless it carries a UMF10+ level of antibacterial activity in the honey. Anything ranging from UMF10—UMF15 is a useful level, and anything UMF16 and up is considered a superior quality. While other honeys, like organic raw honey, can certainly have hugely positive health effects, they don’t have this exact measurement or rating like Manuka.
The National Honey Board, “an industry-funded agriculture promotion group that educates consumers about the benefits and uses for honey and honey products,” according to its website, also has more info on honey varieties. One healthy option is fermented honey. Also, if you see crystallization in your honey, it may mean there’s an overabundance of sugars, so keep an eye out. It is a natural process, however.
Other honey varieties include acacia honey (usually light-colored), buckwheat honey (usually darker in color than its other counterparts) and neem honey.
Polyfloral Honey vs. Monofloral Honey
No matter the variety of honey, each honey can be separated into either polyfloral honey or monofloral honey. What’s the difference? Monofloral honey comes from bees that utilize the nectar of just one flower species, hence mono, while polyfloral honey comes from bees that utilize nectar from multiple flower sources. (19a)
Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey
“I don’t know of any U.S. producer that would want to do that. Elimination of all pollen can only be achieved by ultra-filtering and this filtration process does nothing but cost money and diminish the quality of the honey,” Jensen said.
“In my judgment, it is pretty safe to assume that any ultra-filtered honey on store shelves is Chinese honey and it’s even safer to assume that it entered the country uninspected and in violation of federal law,” he added.
Richard Adee, whose 80,000 hives in multiple states produce 7 million pounds of honey each year, told Food Safety News that “honey has been valued by millions for centuries for its flavor and nutritional value and that is precisely what is completely removed by the ultra-filtration process.”
“There is only one reason to ultra-filter honey and there’s nothing good about it,” he says.
“It’s no secret to anyone in the business that the only reason all the pollen is filtered out is to hide where it initially came from and the fact is that in almost all cases, that is China,” Adee added.
The Sioux Honey Association, who says it’s America’s largest supplier, declined repeated requests for comments on ultra-filtration, what Sue Bee does with its foreign honey and whether it’s ultra-filtered when they buy it. The co-op markets retail under Sue Bee, Clover Maid, Aunt Sue, Natural Pure and many store brands.
Eric Wenger, director of quality services for Golden Heritage Foods, the nation’s third largest packer, said his company takes every precaution not to buy laundered Chinese honey.
“We are well aware of the tricks being used by some brokers to sell honey that originated in China and laundering it in a second country by filtering out the pollen and other adulterants,” said Wenger, whose firm markets 55 million pounds of honey annually under its Busy Bee brand, store brands, club stores and food service.
“The brokers know that if there’s an absence of all pollen in the raw honey we won’t buy it, we won’t touch it, because without pollen we have no way to verify its origin.”
He said his company uses “extreme care” including pollen analysis when purchasing foreign honey, especially from countries like India, Vietnam and others that have or have had “business arrangements” with Chinese honey producers.
Golden Heritage, Wenger said, then carefully removes all pollen from the raw honey when it’s processed to extend shelf life, but says, “as we see it, that is not ultra-filtration.
“There is a significant difference between filtration, which is a standard industry practice intended to create a shelf-stable honey, and ultra-filtration, which is a deceptive, illegal, unethical practice.”
Some of the foreign and state standards that are being instituted can be read to mean different things, Wenger said “but the confusion can be eliminated and we can all be held to the same appropriate standards for quality if FDA finally establishes the standards we’ve all wanted for so long.”
Groeb says he has urged FDA to take action as he also “totally supports a standard of Identity for honey. It will help everyone have common ground as to what pure honey truly is!”
What’s Wrong With Chinese Honey?
Chinese honey has long had a poor reputation in the U.S., where – in 2001 – the Federal Trade Commission imposed stiff import tariffs or taxes to stop the Chinese from flooding the marketplace with dirt-cheap, heavily subsidized honey, which was forcing American beekeepers out of business.
To avoid the dumping tariffs, the Chinese quickly began transshipping honey to several other countries, then laundering it by switching the color of the shipping drums, the documents and labels to indicate a bogus but tariff-free country of origin for the honey.
Most U.S. honey buyers knew about the Chinese actions because of the sudden availability of lower cost honey, and little was said.
The FDA — either because of lack of interest or resources — devoted little effort to inspecting imported honey. Nevertheless, the agency had occasionally either been told of, or had stumbled upon, Chinese honey contaminated with chloramphenicol and other illegal animal antibiotics which are dangerous, even fatal, to a very small percentage of the population.
Mostly, the adulteration went undetected. Sometimes FDA caught it.
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