Is Honey Healthy?

The question 'Is honey healthy?' may be something that you ponder as you enjoy the golden appearance, smooth, thick texture and sweet taste of this ancient food. If so, let's see if we can find some answers.

First of all, shall we establish just what honey is and how it is made? Bees feed on a combination of nectar and pollen from flowers, which they then convert to honey in their bodies, using it for energy before depositing much of it into hexagonal shaped wax containers, which they have made in their hives.

This honey is intended to feed baby bees, but humans take their share as well!

(Image courtesy of Honey House)

Honey runs from honey dipperAmber delight

Bees live in specially constructed hives

Bee keepers will often move hives around to take advantage of the flowering of certain plants and trees in the vicinity of their properties - or even at some distance away - in order to give their bees access to particular flowers, the nectar and pollen of which then gives their honey its distinctive flavours and appearance. 

They are careful to avoid positioning hives near certain weed crops, some of which could produce toxic alkaloids.

Because of the slight chance of raw honey being contaminated in this way, pregnant women and young babies should avoid eating raw honey. 

In Tropical Australia you might have the choice of flavours from melaleucas, macadamias, wattle or a huge variety of flowering rainforest trees and shrubs.

Photo courtesy of Honey Providore, Cairns

Raising honey bees

Bees are raised commercially, often as a 'side-line' for farmers or as a hobby by individuals.

The process involves making or buying hives or racks of support, in which the bees  congregate and make hexagonal shaped wax 'containers' into which they deposit  honey, originally designed to feed their offspring.

Interested in a detailed explanation of the types of bees and their industrious lives? This is an excellent resource, which will also give you an insight into the term 'busy bees'!

Bees busily at work in a home hiveHard at work

Image courtesy of Deborah Ford

Is honey better than sugar?

What are the benefits of eating honey vs sugar? Or are there none?

Both are high in fructose, implicated in weight gain. 

However, honey has antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-fungal properties, whereas refined sugar has none. 

If you wish to use sugar why not choose  the unrefined variety as in molasses? If you visit produce markets in North Queensland you may be able to enjoy sugar cane juice, which contains  beneficial minerals and antioxidants, crushed on the spot by the stall vendor, who has usually grown it on his/her sugar plantation.

Frames for honey hiveFrames for home hive
Workers getting busyBusy workers

Images courtesy of hobby beekeeper, Deborah Ford

Nutritional value of honey

Honey contains various enzymes, minerals, vitamins, and amino acids, which have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal benefits as well as containing health-promoting antioxidants.

But it needs to be raw, not heat treated or processed in any way. Read labels and watch out for additives, such as corn syrup, which extends volume but not value!

Because of its properties mentioned above honey can soothe a sore throat and aid digestion. When applied topically it helps with wound healing.

Honey and weight loss

Being healthy and losing weight are two different things, although losing weight may result in better health if we also eat nutritionally dense food.

I think that we all know that, in order to lose weight, we need to eat fewer calories. Fortunately, fresh vegetables are often low in calories but rich in nutrients.

Is honey healthy, though? Because of its fructose content, honey is fairly high in calories. But if we eat it sparingly we can benefit from its other health-giving properties without feeling guilty!

Honey for health - jelly bush or manuka honey benefits

The manuka bush is a type of ti tree, which grows in New Zealand, where its amazing anti-bacterial restorative health benefits were first discovered.

Bees feed only on the flowers of the manuka bush (leptospermum scoparium). In Australia a similar bush, the jelly bush (Leptospermum polygalifolium) is said to have similar health promoting properties.

Be impressed!

So, after all these considerations, is honey healthy or not?

My conclusion is that, used in moderation, it definitely is, especially if you choose the jellybush or manuka types, which can be quite expensive.

But you won't be doing your health any favours if you use cheap imports or those blended with other sugar sources, such as cane sugar or corn syrup!

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