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.
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."
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
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