Six surprising health benefits of honey
Dipped in tea or slathered on toast, there are plenty of great reasons to dig into a jar of the golden stuff, says Kowsar Abdilahi
Thick, gooey and golden in colour, raw honey has been used as a natural remedy for thousands of years. The sweet liquid, which is produced by bees using the nectar of plants, has been touted as a potent healing agent in cultures around the world. In ancient India, it was even believed honey could ward off evil spirits and ensure a happy romantic life.
Since it tastes delicious, is a good alternative to sugar and can pretty much be added to everything, there's really no excuse for it to be missing from your shopping list.
But if you really need further convincing, here are just a few medical benefits of honey that may just surprise you ...
1. It's great for the skin
If you're suffering from a nasty flare-up, honey is a brilliantly effective skin saviour that won't cost the earth. Its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties can calm and soothe irritated skin, as well as being loaded with enzymes and other nutrients that nourish and cleanse the surface - some beauty bloggers even claim it's cleared up their acne. If it's a natural summer glow you're looking for, get slathering - honey is a natural humectant, meaning it hydrates the skin by drawing in moisture from the air. Try mixing two tablespoons of raw or Manuka honey with one tablespoon of uncooked porridge oats for a DIY exfoliating mask.
2. It's good for the heart
As well as being a super tasty topping to your morning bowl of porridge, honey is jam-packed with polyphenols; helpful antioxidants that have been linked to increased blood flow and preventing blood clots from forming. One study in rats even showed honey can protect the heart from oxidative stress, which can contribute to heart attacks and stroke, although more research needs to be done on the link between long-term human heart health and honey.
3. It gives you an energy boost
Looking for a pre-workout snack that will fuel you through a sweaty HIIT session? Try adding a dollop of honey to your protein balls. As a carbohydrate made up of fructose and glucose, the sticky stuff makes for a high-powered, natural energy snack. Unlike refined sugar, it also contains small amounts of proteins and minerals such as B6, riboflavin and amino acids; compounds that help the body metabolise bad cholesterol and fatty acids.
While whizzing a spoonful into your smoothie won't do any long-term harm, it's important to remember to eat honey in moderation. "It's a source of energy, but it's still sugar, so it should be eaten more as an indulgent treat rather than a substitute for more nutritionally-rich foods such as fruit and veg," says nutritionist Liz Tucker.
4. It can heal wounds and burns
When applied topically, researchers believe honey can have a healing effect on painful burns and lesions. Applying honey to wounds has been a technique that's been around since ancient Egypt, and modern studies have found it can be effective. One study published in the Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice journal found a 43.4% success rate of using honey on diabetic foot ulcers, while another published in The Scientific World Journal found honey could also be an effective home remedy for reducing painful haemorrhoids.
5. It can treat dandruff
Suffering from a dry, itchy or flaky scalp? A 2001 study conducted by the Dubai Specialised Medical Center discovered that raw honey can be used to treat scaling, itching and hair loss. This is thought to be thanks to its anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and antioxidant properties. Fancy giving it a go? Mix two tablespoons of vegetable oil with equal amounts of honey and apply it to your hair for a DIY hair mask. Leave it to sink in for 15 minutes, and then rinse it off before you shampoo.
6. It can help suppress a cough
When flu season strikes, we all know there's nothing worse than being kept awake at night by a dry, tickly cough that simply won't go away. Next time you're a victim of this infuriating health woe, try easing the aggravation with a spoonful of soothing honey. A 2012 study published in the journal Pediatrics found children with upper respiratory tract infections experienced more cough relief after drinking 1.5 tablespoons of labiatae (it's an aromatic) honey 30 minutes before bedtime, than those that received a placebo. If nothing else, it'll be a delicious pre-slumber treat that'll satiate your sweet tooth.