There is an impressive list of raw honey benefits, but is it wise to heat raw honey – use it for cooking or add it to the hot beverages? Read all you need to know about honey – based on science.
How honey is made?
Honey is a thick, golden liquid made by bees using the nectar of flowers for eating.
Nectar is sugary liquid, extracted from flowers using a bee’s long, tube-shaped tongue and stored in its extra stomach, or “crop.” In the crop, the nectar mixes with enzymes that transform its chemical composition and pH, making it more suitable for long-term storage. When a honeybee returns to the hive, it passes the nectar to another bee by regurgitating the liquid into the other bee’s mouth. This regurgitation process is repeated until the partially digested nectar is finally deposited into a honeycomb.
Once in the comb, nectar is still a viscous liquid — nothing like the thick honey you use at the breakfast table. To get all that extra water out of their honey, bees set to work fanning the honeycomb with their wings in an effort to speed up the process of evaporation.
When most of the water has evaporated from the honeycomb, the bee seals the comb with a secretion of liquid from its abdomen, which eventually hardens into beeswax. Away from air and water, honey can be stored indefinitely, providing bees with the perfect food source for cold winter months.*
Raw honey benefits
Honey is made of 80% natural sugar, 18% water and 2% of enzymes, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which can be extremely beneficial to our health. Let’s look through the scientifically proven raw honey benefits.
One of the raw honey benefits is weight management. Research studies have linked honey consumption with weight loss. A San Diego State University study* found that replacing sugar with honey can actually help prevent packing on extra pounds and also lower blood sugar. The results also suggest that in comparison to sugar, honey may lower serum triglycerides.
Another study* from the University of Wyoming found that raw honey can activate hormones that suppress the appetite. Overall, researchers concluded that honey consumption offers potential obesity protective effects.
In Ayurveda, 5,000-year-old system of traditional diet and holistic healing, honey is considered considered the only natural sweetener appropriate for those trying to lose weight because it warms the body (i.e., stimulates metabolism) rather than cooling it like other natural sweeteners. Along these lines, a popular and recommended weight loss tonic for those who follow an Ayurvedic diet is a small amount of raw honey in a cup of warm (not hot) water first thing in the morning to stimulate strong metabolism for the day.
Antioxidants and immune system support
One of the biggest raw honey benefits – immune system support. Studies* have shown that honey contains the disease-fighting antioxidant flavonoids pinocembrin, pinostrobin and chrysin. Pinocembrin supports enzyme activity, and many studies have shown that pinocembrin induces apoptosis (programmed cell death) of many types of cancer cells.*
A daily dose of raw honey raises levels of health- promoting antioxidants in the body. Antioxidants help block free radicals in the body that cause disease. It also boosts the immune system, acting as a preventative against any number of diseases. Honey contains polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants that have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.*
Honey as a medicine
Raw honey has been shown to be as effective in treating coughs as commercial cough syrups. Increasing scientific evidence shows that a single dose of honey can reduce mucus secretion and coughs. In one study*, honey was just as effective as diphenhydramine and dextromethorphan, common ingredients found in cough medicines.
Honey-infused bandages are known to aid healing. Peter Charles Molan at the University of Waikato, New Zealand, has found in multiple studies* that honey is a natural antibacterial with wound-healing effects. He also found that honey reacts with the body’s fluids to make hydrogen peroxide, creating an inhospitable environment for bacteria.
For the treatment of burns and wounds, honey is typically applied directly to the problem area or in a dressing that’s changed every 24 to 48 hours. A combination of honey and ghee has also been advocated and used as dressing for infected wounds since 1991 in four Mumbai hospitals.*
Honey has been studied for its use in effectively treating various types of ulcers as well. Honey may reduce the size, pain and odor of problematic skin ulcers.*
A 2013 study found that eating honey at a high dose (one gram per kilogram of body weight of honey daily) can improve pollen allergy symptoms over a period of eight weeks. Researchers absorbed that the honey consumption improved overall and individual symptoms of allergic rhinitis, that causes itchy, watery eyes, sneezing and other similar symptoms.*
Some people say that a daily tablespoon of honey can act like an allergy shot.
Honey – not just food
Raw honey benefits does’t end in your spoon – it is great for the skin as well.
Honey is a natural humectant, meaning it draws moisture from the air into the skin and ensures it’s retained it in the layers where it’s needed most for penetrating, long-lasting hydration. The enzymes in raw honey clarify skin and keep pores clear and clean. Plus, the antibacterial properties of honey also prevent bacterial buildup that can lead to skin imbalances and breakouts.
Honey is said to lighten skin, and its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial compounds help to decrease the appearances of scars and increase healing and tissue regeneration. Its anti-inflammatory properties will calm redness and irritation.
Raw honey makes great hair conditioner. The enzymes and nutrients in raw honey give dull hair shine without weighing it down. Honey helps to regulate and retain moisture in hair, plus honey is said to strengthen hair follicles for healthy growth.*
Raw honey benefits
Raw honey is unheated and minimally processed nothing must be added or removed. To be raw, honey should not be heated above temperatures you would normally find in a hive (approximately 40C). Unheated raw honey contains all the vital ingredients that give it its healthful properties and wonderful aroma. Heating honey over 40C changes honey’s essential composition and degrades its quality, partially destroys honey’s beneficial enzymes.
It should not be finely filtered to the point of removing pollen and organic materials that are an essence of honey.
Most commercial honey you see in supermarkets are not raw honey, it is often heated to temperatures far above the normal temperatures of the bee hive. This is done to make it easier to extract from the honey comb, filter, package, pasteurize it to kill benign yeast, prevent fermentation and to delay crystallization.
Micro-filtering also degrades the healthful properties of honey by removing beneficial pollen. Much commercial honey is micro-filtered to slow down the naturally occurring crystallization of honey. Tiny particles act as ‘seeds’ for the crystallization process, by removing them with micro-filtering, crystallization is delayed.
But crystallization is not a problem to be solved. Almost all honeys crystallize after time. It is actually a good sign the honey is raw. *
Raw honey in its natural state has no harmful bacteria because it is not conducive for it. One of the few things that can live in honey though, is a kind of yeast called osmophilic. This can cause fermentation.
Although fermented honey does not necessarily pose any health risk, some honey sellers decide to pasteurize the so that the honey will have a longer shelf life without fermenting. Pasteurization will kill any latent yeast cells that might be present to remove any chance of fermentation that will reduce their sale of honey, thus their profit margin.
Pasteurized honey will also last longer in its liquid state than unpasteurized honey, which makes for a more appealing-looking product for both retailers and consumers. If you see crystallization in your bottle of honey, you know that your honey has not been pasteurized!
Honey that is cooked becomes one-dimensional. It loses the nuances of flavor that raw honey contains, loses raw honey benefits and becomes just concentrated sugar. The longer it is cooked the more concentrated it becomes. *
Why you should never heat raw honey
So, if we want to avoid pasteurized honey, why do we buy expensive raw honey only to take it home and cook or bake it? Heating takes all raw honey benefits away and makes it’s quality to become as “pasteurized”.
By heating honey you destroy good properties of the honey and heated honey may even become a poison. Enzymes, vitamins and probiotics are destroyed when heated. Cooking or baking with honey or even simply adding honey to hot liquids causes negative chemical changes .
Ayurveda claims that heating honey to 40°C or above causes a negative chemical change that causes it to become bitter. Ayurvedic dietary principles warn that consuming honey that has been cooked, baked or added to hot liquids contributes to ill health over time. The reason is because honey that is cooked becomes like glue. The molecules then tend to adhere to mucous membranes in the digestive tract producing toxins, called ama. The literal meaning of ama is undigested food or toxins stuck within the digestive tract. It is considered to be the root cause of most ill health in Ayurveda with heated honey one of the most difficult forms to detoxify. *
Science confirms that the most obvious change to heated honey is a loss of raw honey benefits: enzymes and probiotics. Research puts the temperature at which damage occurs higher than Ayurveda to 48°C or above is the point at which negative chemical changes begin to occur.
The study in 2010* showed that when honey is heated, it produces a chemical called hydroxymethyl furfuraldehyde. The study, performed on rats, revealed that heated honey (>140°C) mixed with ghee produces HMF which may produce deleterious effects and act as a poison.
P.J. Chandler—author of the Barefoot Beekeper—a pioneer of natural and sustainable beekeeping wrote that bees fed with heated honey perished. This is likely due to the increase in HMF that occurs when honey is heated, and is chemically toxic to bees.*
While the glycemic index of honey can vary depending on the type of nectar collected, it is in large part a low glycemic index food. Cooking or pasteurizing honey increases the glycemic index.
Never give honey to an infant under 1 year of age. Honey naturally contains small amounts of botulism, which is harmless to toddlers and adults but can kill infants less than 1 year of age.
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