Honey: Are There Health Benefits?

Honey is food made by bees for bees, but many people also enjoy it. Humans have prized honey for its sweet taste for many thousands of years. Some researchers say honey is more than a sweetener. It may also have health benefits, though there is little evidence for some of its medicinal uses

Raw honey comes straight from a beehive. Some honey producers pass the substance through a coarse filter to remove foreign matter, but it remains unprocessed food. Most of the honey sold in stores goes through a heating process to make it less sticky and easier to filter.

High temperatures pasteurize honey and destroy yeast cells in it that can cause unwanted fermentation. 

Nutrition Information

Honey is basically sugar. It is actually higher in calories than the typical white sugar used for cooking or baking. Because it is sweeter, you may need less if you’re using it as a substitute. Also, honey adds flavor that white sugar does not have.

One tablespoon of honey contains:

  • Calories: 64
  • Protein: 0 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 17 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugar: 17 grams

Honey contains some vitamins and minerals in trace quantities, including small amounts of:

Raw honey is not superior to processed honey in nutrition or health benefits. Researchers found that processing does not affect honey's nutritional value or antioxidant levels.

Potential Health Benefits of Honey

Although it is not a rich source of nutrients, some people regard honey as a health food. There is little or no evidence for many common claims about honey, but research supports some of the following:

Anti-inflammatory Effects

Honey contains antioxidants, which can protect the body from inflammation. Inflammation can lead to a variety of health issues, including heart disease, cancer, and autoimmune disorders. One study discovered that antioxidants in buckwheat honey were detectable in blood plasma, showing that eating honey could enhance antioxidant activity in the body.

Cough Relief for Children

Health authorities do not recommend over-the-counter medications to treat young children s coughs and colds. Some parents may look for natural remedies. In one study, two teaspoons of honey relieved children’s nighttime cough and allowed them to sleep. However, doctors do not recommend this practice for children less than a year old.

Continued

Potential Risks of Honey

Honey is a safe food for most people, but not for all. Here are some potential risks of eating honey, including raw honey:

Botulism in Infants

You should not give honey to infants under 12 months. Honey contains dust particles that may carry spores of the bacteria that causes botulism. Infants lack resistance to many germs, and they could get very sick. Using honey in cooking food for children should be safe, as heat destroys most bacteria.

Allergies

Those who are prone to allergies should be careful about eating honey. Although honey allergies are rare, they do occur. Perhaps this is due to bee pollen in the honey. Bee pollen is a mixture of pollen and digestive enzymes from bees. It can trigger a serious allergic reaction.

Some people say that eating local honey improves their seasonal allergies. They believe the pollen in the honey desensitizes them to pollen in the air. There is not enough evidence to support this. It could be harmful to rely on honey rather than seeking medical treatment for respiratory allergies.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 24, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: “Honey as a topical treatment for wounds.”

Consumer Reports: “Is Honey Good for You?”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: "Honey."

Institute of Food Technologists: “How Honey Is Processed.”

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: “Honey with high levels of antioxidants can provide protection to healthy human subjects.”

Journal of Family Practice: “A spoonful of honey helps a coughing child sleep.”

Mayo Clinic: “Honey.”

National Honey Board: “Frequently Asked Questions.”

Scrubbing In: “The bittersweet truth about honey's health benefits.” 

The Journal of Pediatrics: “Honey and other environmental risk factors for infant botulism”

University of Rochester: “Bee Pollen.”

USDA Food Data: “Honey.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Pagination

Get Diet and Fitness Tips In Your Inbox

Eat better and exercise smarter. Sign up for the Food & Fitness newsletter.

By clicking Subscribe, I agree to the WebMD Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of WebMD subscriptions at any time.