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Nature's sweetener may also boast big health benefits. Learn when and why to use honey and how to make the most of it for your body.

January 17, 2017

Honey is a sticky-sweet way to naturally sweeten and enhance the flavor of food and beverages. We love it on everything from chicken wings to grilled shrimp and crisp salads. Beyond the ability to transform the taste of recipes, this liquid gold also has therapeutic properties that need not be overlooked. Here, we give you the lowdown on honey's nutritional properties and the tastiest ways to use it.

How Do Bees Make Honey?

Bees make honey from the nectar of flowering plants. The color, flavor, and antioxidant content of honey depend largely on the flowers used by bees. As a result, the nutritional value varies and can thus influence the health-promoting properties of the honey. Honey contains small amounts of proteins, enzymes, amino acids, minerals, trace elements, vitamins, aroma compounds, and polyphenols.

Honey contains several different sugar molecules, though it is primarily composed of fructose and glucose, which are responsible for most of its nutritional characteristics. Approximately 18 essential and non-essential amino acids are present in honey, though amounts can vary depending on the honey's botanical and geographical origin.

Honey's Health Benefits

Honey has been shown to have therapeutic effects due to its antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidant activities, as well as its ability to boost the immune system. Honey has antibacterial properties because it contains hydrogen peroxide. Most honeys also contain another antibacterial compound called methylglyoxal. Honey may also help clear infections through stimulating specific lymphocytes in the cell that help fight infection. Not to mention its effectiveness as an antiseptic wound dressing.

Honey is known to have soothing effects, and the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend it as a natural cough remedy for children older than 1. However, since honey may harbor the bacteria that cause infant botulism, it is not recommended for children under the age of 1.

Honey is a great source of quick-digesting carbohydrates to consume pre- or post-workout. Its glycemic index (or rate of digestion and absorption into the blood stream) is higher than most fruits, but lower than white sugar.

Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez

Our Favorite Ways to Eat Honey

Add a drizzle to fruity yogurt parfaits or try our recipe for Warmed Berries with Honey and Fresh Cheese for the perfect combination of ease and taste. Honey also has a place in savory recipes. Use it in a sticky-sweet glaze for salmon, chicken thighs, pork chops, or veggies. Just make sure to leave room for dessert, because these Orange, Sesame, and Honey Cookies are too good to pass up.

Another fun fact about this natural sweetener is that it will never expire, as long as you keep a lid on it. The acid content is so high that bacteria can't survive and multiply. The high acidity comes from the super-concentrated sugar solution. But if you leave your honey unsealed, it will absorb water from the air and create a less acidic environment where bacteria can thrive.

Bottom Line: Honey is a nutritious natural sweetener that also has proven therapeutic properties. To get the most nutritional value from your honey, purchase it at your local farmers market or look for honey labeled as "raw" at the grocery store.

Article Resources
http://www.academicjournals.org/journal/AJMR/article-full-text-pdf/BF1966822759
http://simmerandboil.cookinglight.com/2013/02/05/how-to-buy-real-honey/