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Sweet and Healthy
Research, New and Longstanding, Suggests That Honey Consumption May Improve Health

March 26th, 2004

By Ken McGrath :eCureMe Staff Writer
April 09th, 2004 : Physician Approved

If you’ve got a sweet tooth, but are wary about the effects of spooning too much refined sugar or artificial sweetener into your tea, the news has come just in time: research done by nutritionists at the University of California at Davis, released last week, suggests that working honey into your diet can give a boost to you health by increasing the level of antioxidants in your bloodstream. And that’s just the start of what honey can do for you.

Sweet and Healthy

Honeyed Antioxidants

An antioxidant refresher: as the body breaks down food and oxygen, it produces a by number of reactive chemical byproducts called free radicals. These free radical compounds interact with and damage cells throughout the body, and scientists it contributes to conditions from Alzheimer’s to stroke. Antioxidant compounds intercept free radicals before they can do their damage. More antioxidants in the body means a higher functioning immune system, and some research has suggested, a lessened risk of heart disease, infections and cancer.

And that’s where the gooey sweetener comes in.

Researchers gathered a group of 25 people and instructed them to consume between four and ten tablespoons of honey a day. The subjects could eat the honey in almost any form they chose - smeared on toast, dissolved in drinks or by the spoonful. After a month, the researchers found that that the level of antioxidants in the participants’ bloodstreams had risen.

The extra calories didn’t seem to cause any problems. Even though 80% of it is sugar, none of the study participants gained any weight. Heidrun B. Gross, a researcher on the project, told reporters that "most of the people [indicated] that they felt more full after eating the honey for breakfast. It seems to keep the stomach full a little longer, and definitely quenched their urge for sweet stuff."

Versatile Condiment

This most recent spate of honey healthy findings builds on a long history of research that’s found the sweetener to be good for what ails you. In ancient Greece honey was known to be a helpful antiseptic agent and was used to treat sunburn, constipation, eye disorders and colds. Over the centuries, Chinese physicians have used it to prevent scars, treat smallpox and mitigate pain. In some countries, honey is officially recognized by state health agencies a balm for everything from diaper rash to pink eye to gastrointestinal ulcers.

More recently, scientists have found that honey has specific benefits for athletes as well. Sports performance depends largely on energy, and energy depends on the mix of carbohydrates an athlete’s body receives. Honey is made up of a unique balance of natural carbohydrates, similar to that found in synthetic sports gels and beverages. The natural boost that it can give during a workout is tangible. A study conducted by the University of Memphis compared the performance of cyclists who took a flavored placebo before hitting the track to those who ingested honey. Those who took the honey completed the time-trials quicker and exhibited more cycling power.

So should you start raising bees in your backyard? Not so fast. For all of its wholesome properties, approaching honey should involve some caution.

If you’re thinking of working honey into your family’s diet, make sure it stays away from infants. Honey contains bacteria that can cause potentially deadly botulism and should never be given to children younger than 12 months. There’s no danger to older children or adults - as after a year, the digestive tract develops other, beneficial bacteria that protects against the disease.

In addition, while antioxidant compounds are beneficial, it’s not yet known which types of honey can give you the most protection per teaspoon. Studies have shown that there can be a 20-fold difference in the level of antioxidants between varieties. Darker honeys, as well as those with higher water contents, are known to have higher levels - though more research needs to be done.

Experts also caution that while it may be benign, honey is still, basically, a sugar - and should be consumed accordingly. Increasing your intake of honey shouldn’t squeeze out other, more important parts of your diet - such as fruits and vegetables. Where it can be most helpful is as a substitute for other sweeteners. If you’re going to spoon a couple lumps of sugar into your tea anyway, try reaching for that little, plastic bear-shaped container in the back of your cabinet. You’ll be glad you did.

Feeling an urge for something sweet right now? Check out hundreds of honey recipes from the National Honey Board at

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