For centuries, honey has been a special gift from the bees for all of us. It has been used both as food and medicine in all its forms. In this article we will focus on the nutritional benefits it has to offer. Before we begin to analyze the reasons why honey is included in the category of superfoods, we should note that we are referring to raw honey and not pasteurized honey. Most of the honey we find on the market is pasteurized. ‘Pasteurisation’ is the process of heating a liquid at a moderate temperature for a certain period of time to destroy unwanted bacteria, without any change in the chemical composition of the liquid. This heat treatment at high temperatures ensures the ‘purity’ of the honey from any crystallisation and unwanted yeast. It also helps to improve its quality characteristics, such as colour and texture, thus extending its shelf life on the market. This is purely for conservation reasons while reducing some of its nutrients.
Antioxidant action and weight loss
Research shows that honey contains several important compounds and these include antioxidants. The source of the flower is what determines the quantity and quality of its phytochemical and antioxidant components. The colour of honey also affects its antioxidant content, as darker honeys are known to have a higher amount than lighter coloured honeys.
Its consumption increases serum levels of serum antioxidant factors such as vitamin C, carotene, uric acid and glutathione reductase and total-phenolic plasma content in healthy individuals. These compounds are contained in green tea and are known to be the agents that lead to weight loss through an increase in diet-induced thermogenesis. Therefore, weight loss after consuming honey is probably one of the beneficial effects of the antioxidant content of this food. However, further studies are needed to clarify whether raw honey can affect thermogenesis and weight.
Digestion and absorption
Raw honey contains several enzymes that enhance the digestion of macronutrients, particularly carbohydrates such as sugars and starch. Unlike processed sugar (sucrose), which in order to undergo digestion processes must be broken down into simpler forms before it can be absorbed, the sugar molecules in honey are in simpler forms and can be absorbed directly by the human body.
As a sweetener, honey has nutritional advantages over sugar by providing a certain amount of nutrients that act as an aid to the body’s digestive processes. The gastrointestinal tract contains many essential and beneficial bacteria for the maintenance of life and good health. Consumption of prebiotics appears to increase the population of beneficial bacteria for gut health; “prebiotics” are substances that facilitate the enhanced growth and biological activity of these good and beneficial bacteria. The consumption of honey is important for human digestion and this effect is produced by the components of honey consisting of oligosaccharides. Another nutritional function of honey is to provide calcium. Consumption of honey provides calcium, which is easily absorbed and enhances the growth of bone mass. This may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis or low bone mass (a causative factor in fractures) in older people.
Honey and diabetes
Although there are several studies on the medical use of honey as a wound healing agent, few studies seem to have examined the effects of honey on biochemical blood markers in diabetic patients. The 2009 study showed that consumption of raw (unprocessed) honey improved weight and blood lipids in type 2 diabetic patients. It also significantly improved body weight and blood glucose in this group compared to the control group.
The glycemic index [GI] is a numerical value assigned to carbohydrate foods that shows how much the food increases blood glucose; how quickly it is digested by the body; the faster a food is digested and absorbed, the higher its glycemic index. It is worth mentioning that a food with a low glycemic index does not imply that the food does not have enough nutrients.
According to recent studies, long-term consumption of foods with a high GI (glycemic index) is a significant risk factor for patients with type 2 diabetes. For this reason, the recommendations suggest that diabetics should shift their attention to eating foods with low GI.
Low GI foods (oats, chickpeas, sweet potatoes, wholemeal pasta, etc.) provide benefits in terms of diabetes and reduction of coronary heart disease. Consumption of low GI types of honey, such as acacia honey, has beneficial effects in its unprocessed form and can be used by patients with diabetes. A comparison between honey and other forms of glucose (syrup) in terms of fluctuations in blood glucose and insulin levels tends to favour the former.
In conclusion, honey is a food “gift” from the bees as it offers a multitude of health benefits. So that is why it certainly deserves a prominent place in our diet.