Honey is very likely the world's most ancient sweetener and has been in use throughout the world across the millennia. Honey's popularity and versatility is evident from the variety of uses it has enjoyed throughout history.
From ancient times, honey has not only been used as a sweetener but as a natural beauty agent and has been employed by some cultures for its medicinal attributes.
Honey's Nutritional Profile
Everyone knows that honey is produced by honey bees; however, few understand the incredible intricacies of this process. In the United States alone, there are more than 300 varieties of honey. The color, flavor and even fragrance of a particular honey differ depending on the type of flower visited by the honey bees. Honey color ranges from nearly colorless to dark brown, and flavor from delectably mild to distinctively bold. As a general rule, lighter honey has a milder taste and darker honey is stronger.
Honey is composed primarily of carbohydrates and water, and also includes small amounts of a wide array of vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins such as niacin, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid, along with minerals such as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.
Honey as a Source of Antioxidants
It has been hypothesized that consuming more antioxidant rich foods may help protect against cellular damage and possibly prevent the development of chronic diseases. Research indicates that honey includes numerous compounds with antioxidant potential.
The amount and type of these antioxidant compounds depends largely upon the floral source/variety of the honey. In general, darker honeys (Buckwheat honey) have been shown to be higher in antioxidant content than lighter honeys (Clover and Sage honey). While the antioxidant content of honey may not rival that of some of the more antioxidant rich fruits (berries and apples) and vegetables (kale and beans), on a gram for gram basis, honey may, nevertheless, provide an additional source of dietary antioxidants.
Honey for a Cough
In several studies, honey was as effective as over-the-counter medicine for reducing the frequency of coughing fits. Bonus: It's antimicrobial. Add bacteria-killing thyme to speed recovery. Dose: Mix 1/2 cup honey and 1/2 ounce thyme tincture. Adults can take 1 to 2 teaspoons of the mixture as needed. Children over 2 can take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon as needed. Not recommended for children under two.
Honey and Calcium Absorption
It is estimated that by the year 2020, half of all Americans over the age of 50 will be at risk for fractures from osteoporosis or low bone mass. One of the key strategies for reducing the likelihood of developing low bone mass is to consume adequate calcium. Of course, it is also very important that the calcium consumed is absorbed. Researchers at Purdue University showed that honey enhanced calcium uptake in laboratory animals. In fact, researchers found that the absorption of calcium was increased as the amount of honey was increased. Although this data would need to be confirmed using human subjects, the preliminary findings are very compelling. Maybe you'd like to get your calcium through a fruit smoothie made with milk rather than by taking a calcium pill.
Honey and Athletic Performance
It is well known that carbohydrate consumption prior to, during and after exercise improves performance and speeds the recovery of muscles. Honey is a natural source of readily available carbohydrates, providing 17 grams of carbohydrates per tablespoon and may serve as an inexpensive alternative to commercial sports gels.
Preliminary data from the University of Memphis Exercise and Sports Nutrition Laboratory suggest that honey is as effective as glucose for carbohydrate replacement during endurance exercise.
Honey and "Good" Bacteria
The gastrointestinal tract (GI) is full of bacteria. These bacteria are essential for life and good health. One group of bacteria that have been shown to be particularly important to the health and proper function of the GI tract are called Bifidobacteria. One way to increase the Bifidobacteria populations in the gut is by consuming foods containing prebiotics, substances that increase the growth and activity of good bacteria.
Prebiotics help these "friendly bacteria" grow and "be happy". Honey contains a variety of substances that can function as prebiotics. Research conducted at Michigan State University has shown that adding honey to dairy products such as yogurt can enhance the growth, activity, and viability of Bifidobacteria.
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