10 Surprising Health Benefits of Honey
Since ancient times, honey has been used as both a food and a medicine.
It's very high in beneficial plant compounds, and offers several health benefits.
Honey is particularly healthy when used instead of refined sugar, which is 100% empty calories.
Here are the top 10 health benefits of honey that are supported by science.
Honey is a sweet, thick liquid made by honeybees.
The bees swarm their environment and collect the sugar-rich nectar of flowers (1).
Then inside the beehive, they repeatedly consume, digest and regurgitate ("vomit") the nectar.
The end product is honey, a liquid that is supposed to serve as stored food for the bees. The smell, color and taste depend on the types of flowers the bees visit.
Nutritionally, 1 tablespoon of honey (21 grams) contains 64 calories and 17 grams of sugar, including fructose, glucose, maltose and sucrose.
It contains virtually no fiber, fat or protein (2).
It also contains trace amounts (under 1% of RDA) of several vitamins and minerals, but you would have to eat many pounds to fulfill your daily requirements.
Bottom Line: Honey is thick, sweet liquid made by honeybees. It is low in vitamins and minerals, but may be high in some plant compounds.
High-quality honey contains many important antioxidants. These includes phenols, enzymes and compounds like flavonoids and organic acids (5).
Scientists believe that it is the combination of these compounds that gives honey its antioxidant power (5).
Antioxidants have been linked to reduced risk of heart attacks, strokes and some types of cancer. They may also promote eye health (8).
Bottom Line: Honey contains a number of antioxidants, including phenolic compounds like flavonoids.
The evidence on honey and diabetes is mixed.
On one hand, it can help with some risk factors that are common in diabetics.
However, some studies have found that it can also increase blood sugar levels, just not as much as refined sugar (10).
So, while honey may be "less bad" than refined sugar for diabetics, it is still something that diabetics should only consume with caution.
Bottom Line: Some studies show that honey improves heart disease risk factors in diabetics. However, it also raises blood sugar levels, so it can not be considered "diabetic-friendly."
Blood pressure is an important risk factor for heart disease, and honey may help lower it.
This is because it contains antioxidant compounds that have been linked to blood pressure lowering effects (13).
Bottom Line: Eating honey may lead to modest reductions in blood pressure, which is an important risk factor for heart disease.
Having high LDL cholesterol levels is an important risk factor for heart disease.
It plays a major role in atherosclerosis, the fatty buildup in the arteries that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Interestingly, several studies have shown that honey can improve your cholesterol levels.
For example, one study in 55 patients compared honey to table sugar. It found that it caused a 5.8% reduction in LDL and a 3.3% increase in HDL. It also caused weight loss of 1.3%, compared to sugar (17).
Bottom Line: Honey seems to have a positive effect on cholesterol levels. It leads to modest reductions in total and LDL cholesterol, while raising HDL.
Elevated blood triglycerides are another major risk factor for heart disease.
They are also a key sign of insulin resistance, a major driver of type 2 diabetes.
Triglyceride levels tend to increase on a diet that is high in sugar and refined carbs.
For example, one study that compared honey and sugar found 11-19% lower triglyceride levels in the honey group (17).
Bottom Line: Elevated triglycerides are a risk factor for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Several studies show that honey can lower triglyceride levels, especially when it is being used to replace sugar.
Again, honey is a rich source of phenols and other antioxidant compounds. Many of these have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease (8).
They may help the arteries in the heart dilate, increasing blood flow to the heart. They may also help prevent the formation of blood clots, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes (8).
Furthermore, one study in rats showed that honey protected the heart from oxidative stress (18).
All this being said, there is no long-term human study available on honey and heart health, so take this with a grain of salt.
Bottom Line: The antioxidants in honey have been linked to beneficial effects on heart health, including increased blood flow to the heart and a reduced risk of blood clot formation.
Applying honey to the skin has been used to heal wounds and burns since ancient Egypt, and is still being used today.
In one review from 2015, 26 studies on honey and wound care were evaluated (19).
This review found that it is most effective at healing partial thickness burns and wounds that have become infected after surgery (19).
Researchers believe that its healing powers come from its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects, as well as its ability to nourish the surrounding tissue (23).
Bottom Line: When applied to the skin, honey can be part of an effective treatment plan for burns, wounds and many other skin conditions. It is particularly effective for diabetic foot ulcers.
Coughing is a common problem for children with upper respiratory infections.
It can affect sleep and quality of life, for both the children and their parents.
However, mainstream medications for cough are not always effective and can have side effects.
One study found that it worked even better than two common cough medications (29).
Another study found that it reduced cough symptoms and improved sleep even more than cough medication (28).
Nevertheless, it should never be given to children under 1 year of age, due to the risk for botulism (30).
Bottom Line: For children over one year of age, honey can act as a natural and safe cough suppressant. Some studies show that it is even more effective than cough medication.
Honey is a delicious, healthier alternative to sugar.
Make sure to choose a high-quality brand, because some of the lower-quality ones may be adulterated with syrup.
Keep in mind that it should only be consumed in moderation, as it is still high in calories and sugar.
The benefits of honey are most pronounced when it is replacing another unhealthier sweetener.
At the end of the day, honey is simply a "less bad" sweetener than sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.