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Unveiling the sweet truth: Top 6 honey myths and facts

Honey, that sticky golden substance produced by bees, has been a staple in human diets and medicine cabinets for centuries. The sweet taste and health benefits of honey have made it a favorite across cultures. However, with popularity comes misinformation. Let’s dive in and separate honey myths and facts, ensuring you're well-informed about this fascinating natural product.


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Myth 1: All honey is the same.

Busted: The truth couldn't be more different. Honey varies significantly depending on the flowers from which bees collect nectar. This results in a wide range of honey flavors, colors and even nutritional profiles:

Tips for using honey:
  • Manuka honey: Enjoy a spoonful of Manuka honey daily to support your immune system and promote digestive health. Look for a high UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) rating for maximum effectiveness.

  • Buckwheat honey: Take a teaspoon of buckwheat honey before bedtime to soothe coughs and promote better sleep. Its darker color and robust flavor make it a great additionto herbal teas or warm milk.

  • Eucalyptus honey: Mix eucalyptus honey with warm water and lemon to create a soothing throat elixir. Its strong, aromatic taste is often associated with respiratory health benefits. 

  • Use different honeys to add subtle, pleasant flavors to foods. For example, clover honey provides a mild flavor that compliments many foods, from baked goods to tea. The floral notes of acacia honey and wildflower honeys make these varieties great for drizzling on fruits, oatmeal and yogurt.

Myth 2: Honey never spoils.

Busted: While honey has an incredibly long shelf life due to its low moisture content and high acidity, it can spoil if stored improperly. Exposure to moisture can lead to fermentation and spoilage. However, when stored properly in a sealed container, honey can remain stable for years, if not decades.

Tips for storing honey:
  1. Use a tightly sealed container, preferably glass or food-grade plastic, to keep air and moisture out.

  2. Store honey at room temperature in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight and heat sources.

  3. Avoid refrigerating honey as it can cause crystallization. Keep it at room temperature to maintain its liquid state.

  4. Ensure the container is dry before pouring honey into it to prevent moisture from promoting fermentation or mold growth.

  5. Use clean and dry utensils, like spoons or honey dippers, to handle honey and prevent contamination.

  6. Store different honey varieties separately to maintain their distinct flavors and aromas.

  7. If your honey crystallizes, gently heat it in a warm water bath to return it to its liquid form.

By following these simple guidelines, you can prolong the shelf life of honey and maintain its quality, flavor and nutritional benefits.

Myth 3: Honey is healthier than sugar.

Confirmed: Honey does contain trace amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants not found in table sugar, making it a slightly better option in terms of nutritional value. However, it's still a form of sugar and should be consumed in moderation. Overconsumption can lead to health issues such as weight gain and increased blood sugar (glucose) levels.

Tips for getting a healthy amount of honey:

The optimal amount of honey to use in your diet without consuming excessive sugar depends on various factors, including your overall calorie and sugar intake, health goals and individual dietary requirements. 

The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars, including honey, to no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) per day for women and 9 teaspoons (38 grams) per day for men. It's important to note that these recommendations include all sources of added sugar, not just honey.

To incorporate honey into your diet without consuming too much sugar:

  1. Mind your portion sizes: Measure honey using teaspoons or tablespoons to control the amount you're adding to your meals or beverages.

  2. Use honey as a flavor enhancer: Use a small amount of honey to sweeten tea, coffee, yogurt or oatmeal, focusing on enhancing the taste rather than overpowering it with sweetness.

  3. Balance honey with other natural sweeteners: Combine honey in your recipes with other naturally sweet foods like fresh fruits or spices (such as cinnamon or vanilla) to reduce overall sugar content while still enjoying a touch of sweetness.

  4. Seek guidance from your primary care doctor: If you have specific dietary concerns, health conditions or are following a certain diet plan, consult with a health care professional or registered dietitian for personal recommendations.

Remember, moderation is key. While honey can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet, it's essential to be mindful of your overall sugar intake to support optimal health and well-being.

Myth 4: Honey can help with allergies.

Unconfirmed: The idea is that consuming local honey, which contains pollen from local plants, can help build immunity to those allergens. However, there is limited scientific evidence to support this claim. Most allergies are caused by windborne pollen, which is not typically present in honey. While harmless to consume, honey should not be relied upon as a treatment for allergies.

Tip regarding honey and allergies:

Instead of seeking relief from allergies through local honey, connect with a primary care provider (PCP) about managing allergies through proven medical means. Your doctor can prescribe effective antihistamines, nasal sprays and asthma treatments to help ease your allergy symptoms. Your PCP may also connect you with an allergy specialist, who can run tests to identify your allergies. This information can be used to create an immunotherapy regimen designed to reduce your sensitivity to allergens over time.

Myth 5: Honey is antibacterial and can treat wounds.

Confirmed: Honey, particularly types like Manuka, has been shown to possess antibacterial properties. Its high sugar content and low pH can help prevent the growth of microbes. Honey has been used in wound care for centuries, and modern science supports its effectiveness in some medical contexts.

Tips regarding treating wounds with honey:

While honey does have some antibacterial properties, we don’t recommend treating an injury at home with regular honey. Food-grade honey is not sterile and could introduce bacterial contamination into a wound. (Medical-grade honey goes through a special sterilization process, but it can be expensive.) It’s safest to stick with cleansing a wound with soap and water and treating it with antibiotic ointment.

Honey may not be suitable for all types of wounds either. In some cases, the high sugar content could delay wound healing. Honey is no substitute for antibiotics if the infection risk is high. Deep or severe wounds and burns require medical attention and treatment from a qualified medical professional.

Some individuals may be allergic to components found in honey, such as bee pollen or other bee-related allergens. It's important to be aware of any allergies you may have and consult a health care professional before using honey on wounds.

Myth 6: Honey is just for sweetening.

Busted: Beyond sweetening, honey has a plethora of uses. It can serve as a cough suppressant, sore throat remedy, natural skin moisturizer and even a hair conditioner. Its versatility extends to the culinary world, where it’s used in marinades, dressings and baking, offering a depth of flavor that sugar cannot.

Tips for eating honey:

Honey should not be given to infants under 1 year of age. Babies' digestive systems are not fully developed, making them more susceptible to bacteria such as Clostridium botulinum spores, which can cause botulism. Thick honey could also pose a choking hazard for infants.

In conclusion, honey is more than just a sweetener; it's a natural product with a rich history, a variety of uses and some genuine health benefits. As with all foods, the key is to enjoy it in moderation and be mindful of its origins. By debunking or confirming these common honey myths, we can appreciate honey for what it truly is and make informed choices about its consumption and use.

Honey Q&A
Is honey better than sugar?

Yes, in moderation. Honey contains antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, unlike table sugar. It has a lower glycemic index, meaning it doesn't spike blood glucose levels as quickly. However, it's still high in calories and should be consumed in small amounts.

Can diabetics eat honey?

Diabetics should approach honey with caution. Although it has a slightly lower glycemic index than sugar, it can still raise blood sugar levels. Diabetics should consult their primary care provider or endocrinologist before incorporating honey into their diet.

Are bees harmed in the production of honey?

Ethical beekeeping practices ensure the health and safety of bees. Bees produce more honey than they need, which allows beekeepers to harvest the excess without harming the colony. Supporting local, sustainable beekeepers can help further promote the welfare of these crucial pollinators.

Does honey ever spoil?

Honey doesn’t spoil if stored properly. Its natural composition, low moisture content and acidic pH make it an inhospitable environment for bacteria and microorganisms. Keep it in a sealed container at room temperature to maintain its longevity.

Is raw honey safe?

Yes, for most adults, raw honey is safe and contains more antioxidants and nutrients than processed honey. However, honey of any kind should not be given to infants under 1 year due to the risk of botulism and choking.

Can honey help with allergies?

Possibly. The idea is that consuming local honey can help your body adapt to the allergens in the environment, acting as a natural antihistamine. However, scientific evidence to fully support this claim is limited.

What is the best way to store honey?

The best way to store honey is in a tightly sealed container at room temperature. Avoid refrigeration as it accelerates the honey’s crystallization process. If crystallization occurs, gently warm the honey in a water bath to dissolve the crystals and return it to its liquid state.

Honey, with its complex flavors and healthful benefits, continues to be a subject of fascination and inquiry. While it offers more nutritional value than white sugar and has been touted for its medicinal properties, it's important to consume it wisely and store it correctly to enjoy its full benefits. Whether drizzled over your morning yogurt, used as a natural sweetener in tea or as a sore throat remedy, honey's versatility and health benefits make it a pantry staple in households around the world.

Still have questions?

If you have health concerns you are seeking to treat with honey, your first stop should be a visit to your primary care provider. Your doctor can help you with a smart, comprehensive food, fitness and treatment plan that incorporates many useful tools for wellness. If you don’t have a primary care physician or nurse practitioner, use our online search to find a provider near you who is taking new patients.

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