Honey, the golden liquid is embraced since time immemorial for its enormous health benefits. It is prepared by bees by sourcing nectar from the flowering plants. Given the multitude of beneficial effects of honey and its prevalence since historical times, it would not be wrong to state that honey is as old as written history itself. Honey was the first-ever sweetener known to mankind, and today it’s a staple in every kitchen and even restaurants!

Honey as a Super Food

Since the Vedic times, honey is known as a superfood due to its remarkable healing properties. Even today, it attracts modern researchers due to its nutritional properties and medicinal benefits. In Ayurveda, honey is extensively used in the preparation and storage of medicines. It is used both externally and internally to treat various health conditions like:

  • Healing wounds, burns, and sores - when applied externally honey acts as a coolant, an antiseptic and an analgesic
  • Helps in treating anemia - honey is excellent for building hemoglobin as it contains high amounts of iron, manganese and copper. Ayurvedic doctors prescribe honey-based medications to treat and to maintain the right balance of hemoglobin in RBC’s (Red Blood Corpuscles)
  • Treating cold and cough infections - a natural detoxifier that clears the pathway of upper respiratory tracts (URT), honey helps soothe infected and inflamed mucous membranes of URT patients and helps relieve cough and irritation

What is honey made up of?

  • Carbohydrates: they constitute a major portion of honey in the form of fructose, glucose, sucrose, maltose, and twenty-five other types of sugars; varies between the types of honey
  • Proteins: although honey contains small amounts of proteins, it has all the important amino acids required for the body functions, with proline being the abundant amino acid. Proline content is used to measure the ripeness of honey and it should be more than 200 mg/kg to qualify honey as ripe for harvest
  • Vitamins, Minerals and Antioxidants: honey contains vitamin C and trace amounts of B complex vitamins like niacin, riboflavin, folic acid, pantothenic acid, and pyridoxine. Minerals like calcium, zinc, iron, potassium, phosphorous, manganese, selenium, and chromium are present as trace elements. Flavonoids are the main group of antioxidants found in honey, of which pinocembrin is unique to the honey and the honey bee that sources the honey

Types of Honey

There are over more than three hundred varieties of honey that are identified based on their floral source which can be either uni-floral or multi-floral. Here are few most popular honeys found around the globe known for their medicinal properties: Linden, Manuka, Acacia, Alfalfa, Eucalyptus, Clover, Sage sourced from countries like Denmark, New Zealand, Europe, USA, Australia, and Canada.

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Most of these kinds of honey help treat respiratory disorders like cold, cough, throat pain, congestion, and rhinitis when ingested directly. Upon external application, it helps heal burns, wounds, and acne. The Linden honey helps treat insomnia and Clover honey has a rich antioxidant level that improves the functioning of lungs, heart, and nervous system.

Apart from these natural varieties of honeys, there are also some flavour infused honeys that enhance the taste and further the health benefits of honey. Few examples of these flavour infused honeys are:

  • Cinnamon honey helps in fighting infections
  • Ginger honey helps reduce inflammation, treat cold and cough 
  • Tulsi honey which helps improve immunity 
  • Turmeric honey that helps in healing wounds upon application and also known to improve immunity when consumed

How to use honey correctly?

Honey is best when used at room temperature to get complete benefits of its taste and healing ingredients.

Cooking or heating honey at a temperature above 40 degrees Celsius is contraindicated by The National Centre of Biotechnology as it deteriorates the quality of essential enzymes and nutrients found in the honey rendering the honey toxic to consume. It may cause deleterious effects on the body and can prove fatal in some cases.

According to Ayurveda, honey, when heated, becomes equivalent to glue and sticks to the mucous lining of the internal organs. The ayurvedic practitioners also recommend that honey should not be mixed with certain foods like radish, ghee, alcoholic beverages, poultry, seafood, meat, and meat products. This gradually increases the toxins in the body contributing to skin diseases, respiratory diseases, and digestive disorders. For instance, ghee has a cooling effect, and honey has a warming effect; when combined the mixture is rendered toxic.

Hence, it is best advised to consume honey in its’ natural/unprocessed state. Here is how you can use honey in your diet:

  • as a salad dressing
  • as a natural sweetener for breakfast cereals, fruit juices, and smoothies
  • drizzle it on a plate of fruits or toast
  • use it as a dip for plain rotis and/or crackers
  • or, just eat it as it is, in portioned amounts

Can everybody eat honey?

Yes, honey can be relished by all age groups and almost has no side effects- when used in moderation. But honey should be avoided by those who have uncontrolled diabetes and should not be given to children under the age of 1 year as they are under high risk of infant botulism- a serious disease caused by a Clostridium botulinum that maybe present in raw honey.

Weight watchers also need to use it wisely. In opposition to the popular belief that honey helps with weight loss, it does not actually. When compared to sugar, honey definitely grades better in terms of nutrition but it is higher in the number of calories.

How pure is my honey?

Adulteration is quite common in most food products. To verify if the honey is pure or adulterated you can try doing the following simple tests at home:

  • Add a teaspoon of honey to a glass of water. If it dissolves immediately, then it is adulterated because pure honey is dense and sits at the bottom of the glass when added to water
  • Light a match and try to burn some honey, if it lights and burns it is pure. Impure honey doesn’t burn due to its high moisture content

What you should look for before buying a bottle of honey?

Always ensure to buy honey that is FSSAI – Food Safety and Standards Authority of India certified.

FSSAI claims that if a seller is selling a product as ‘pure honey’ it should be completely free of external food ingredients that induces food additives. It should not be heated or processed such that its external composition is altered affecting its quality.

Read the label and check the ingredient list if ‘high-fructose corn syrup’ or ‘commercial glucose’ is mentioned. These are two artificial additives that increase the viscosity of honey and keep it from solidifying. Though naturally, honey is a liquid in its consistency, it tends to solidify or crystallize resembling the grains of sugar. Crystallizing of honey is a sign of its purity. If honey never crystallizes, then the probability of it being adulterated is high.

How to store honey?

Honey is best stored at room temperature. Storing it at lower temperatures in the fridge may increase its thickness and cause crystallization. Honey may also solidify when exposed to moisture, so always use a dry spoon to scoop out and close the lid of the container tightly. To get the gritty texture of honey, you can simply place the jar in the bowl of hot water and stir the honey continuously to de-crystallize the contents of the jar.

Honey has rightfully earned and retained the right to be considered as the Ambrosia of immune-sustaining foods owing to its’ multifaceted healing properties and a taste that is appealing to all palettes, universally. A food that is rich with healing agents and supports the immune system, whether it is consumed or applied topically is indubitably nature’s best gift to mankind.

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This article was written by the Fitday Nutrition team. For any questions, comments and clarifications please email us at care@fitday.in.