Nutrition & Other Uses

One hundred grams of honey provides about 1,270 kJ (304 kcal) of energy with no significant amounts of essential nutrients.

Composed of 17% water and 82% carbohydrates, honey has low content of fat, dietary fiber, and protein.

Sugar profile

A mixture of sugars and other carbohydrates, honey is mainly fructose (about 38%) and glucose (about 32%), with remaining sugars including maltose, sucrose, and other complex carbohydrates.

Its glycemic index ranges from 31 to 78, depending on the variety. The specific composition, color, aroma, and flavor of any batch of honey depend on the flowers foraged by bees that produced the honey.

One 1980 study found that mixed floral honey from several United States regions typically contains the following:

  • Fructose: 38.2%
  • Glucose: 31.3%
  • Maltose: 7.1%
  • Sucrose: 1.3%
  • Water: 17.2%
  • Higher sugars: 1.5%
  • Ash: 0.2%
  • Other/undetermined: 3.2%

A 2013 NMR spectroscopy study of 20 different honeys from Germany found that their sugar contents comprised:

  • Fructose: 28% to 41%
  • Glucose: 22% to 35%

The average ratio was 56% fructose to 44% glucose, but the ratios in the individual honeys ranged from a high of 64% fructose and 36% glucose (one type of flower honey; table 3 in reference) to a low of 50% fructose and 50% glucose (a different floral source).

This NMR method was not able to quantify maltose, galactose, and the other minor sugars as compared to fructose and glucose.

Medical use and research

Wounds and burns

Honey is a popular folk treatment for burns and other skin injuries.

Preliminary evidence suggests that it aids in the healing of partial thickness burns 4–5 days faster than other dressings, and moderate evidence suggests that post-operative infections treated with honey heal faster and with fewer adverse events than with antiseptic and gauze.

The evidence for the use of honey in various other wound treatments is of low quality, and firm conclusions cannot be drawn.

Evidence does not support the use of honey-based products for the treatment of venous stasis ulcers or ingrown toenail.

Several medical-grade honey products have been approved by the FDA for use in treating minor wounds and burns.

Antibiotic

Honey has long been used as a topical antibiotic by practitioners of traditional and herbal medicine.Honey’s antibacterial effects were first demonstrated by the Dutch scientist Bernardus Adrianus van Ketel in 1892.

Since then, numerous studies have shown that honey has broad-spectrum antibacterial activity against Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, although potency varies widely between different honeys.

Due to the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the last few decades, there has been renewed interest in researching the antibacterial properties of honey.

Components of honey under preliminary research for potential antibiotic use include methylglyoxal, hydrogen peroxide, and royalisin (also called defensin-1).

Cough

For chronic and acute coughs, a Cochrane review found no strong evidence for or against the use of honey.

For treating children, the systematic review concluded with moderate to low evidence that honey probably helps more than no treatment, diphenhydramine, and placebo at giving relief from coughing.

Honey does not appear to work better than dextromethorphan at relieving coughing in children.Another reviewer agrees with these conclusions.

The UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency recommends avoiding giving over-the-counter cough and common cold medication to children under six, and suggests “a homemade remedy containing honey and lemon is likely to be just as useful and safer to take”, but warns that honey should not be given to babies because of the risk of infant botulism.

The World Health Organization recommends honey as a treatment for coughs and sore throats, including for children, stating that no reason exists to believe it is less effective than a commercial remedy.

Other

The use of honey has been recommended as a temporary intervention for known or suspected button cell battery ingestions to reduce the risk and severity of injury to the esophagus caused by the battery prior to its removal.

There is no evidence that honey is beneficial for treating cancer,although honey may be useful for controlling side effects of radiation therapy or chemotherapy used to treat cancer.

Consumption is sometimes advocated as a treatment for seasonal allergies due to pollen, but scientific evidence to support the claim is inconclusive.

Honey is generally considered ineffective for the treatment of allergic conjunctivitis.

Although the majority of calories in honey is from fructose, honey does not cause increased weight gain and fructose by itself is not an independent factor for weight gain.

Health hazards

Honey is generally safe when taken in typical food amounts, but it may have various, potential adverse effects or interactions in combination with excessive consumption, existing disease conditions, or drugs.

Included among these are mild reactions to high intake, such as anxiety, insomnia, or hyperactivity in about 10% of children, according to one study.

No symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, or hyperactivity were detected with honey consumption compared to placebo, according to another study.

Honey consumption may interact adversely with existing allergies, high blood sugar levels (as in diabetes), or anticoagulants used to control bleeding, among other clinical conditions.

People who have a weakened immune system may be at risk of bacterial or fungal infection from eating honey, although there is no high-quality clinical evidence that this occurs commonly.

Botulism

Infants can develop botulism after consuming honey contaminated with Clostridium botulinum endospores.

Infantile botulism shows geographical variation. In the UK, only six cases were reported between 1976 and 2006,yet the U.S. has much higher rates: 1.9 per 100,000 live births, 47.2% of which are in California.

While the risk honey poses to infant health is small, taking the risk is not recommended until after one year of age, and then giving honey is considered safe.

Toxic honey

A honey bee collecting nectar from monkshood

A honey bee collecting nectar from monkshood (Aconitum delphinifolium, or “wolf’s bane”), an extremely toxic plant: The flowers are shaped in such a way that the bee must fit its entire body into the flower to reach the nectar.

Mad honey intoxication is a result of eating honey containing grayanotoxins.Honey produced from flowers of rhododendrons, mountain laurels, sheep laurel, and azaleas may cause honey intoxication.

Symptoms include dizziness, weakness, excessive perspiration, nausea, and vomiting. Less commonly, low blood pressure, shock, heart rhythm irregularities, and convulsions may occur, with rare cases resulting in death.

Honey intoxication is more likely when using “natural” unprocessed honey and honey from farmers who may have a small number of hives. Commercial processing, with pooling of honey from numerous sources, is thought to dilute any toxins.

Toxic honey may also result when bees are proximate to tutu bushes (Coriaria arborea) and the vine hopper insect (Scolypopa australis). Both are found throughout New Zealand.

Bees gather honeydew produced by the vine hopper insects feeding on the tutu plant. This introduces the poison tutin into honey.

Only a few areas in New Zealand (the Coromandel Peninsula, Eastern Bay of Plenty and the Marlborough Sounds) frequently produce toxic honey. Symptoms of tutin poisoning include vomiting, delirium, giddiness, increased excitability, stupor, coma, and violent convulsions.

To reduce the risk of tutin poisoning, humans should not eat honey taken from feral hives in the risk areas of New Zealand.

Since December 2001, New Zealand beekeepers have been required to reduce the risk of producing toxic honey by closely monitoring tutu, vine hopper, and foraging conditions within 3 km (2 mi) of their apiary.Intoxication is rarely dangerous.

Folk medicine

In myths and folk medicine, honey was used both orally and topically to treat various ailments including gastric disturbances, ulcers, skin wounds, and skin burns by ancient Greeks and Egyptians, and in Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine.

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