Some Sweet News About Honey

The Folklore:We all know honey is a natural sweetener. But did you know honey has been usedto dress wounds, treat burns and remedy ulcers since antiquity? Early Egyptianseven used honey in embalming. In modern times, its soothing qualities make it anoft-recommended remedy for sore throats.

The Facts: Honeybees makehoney by mixing their saliva, which contains the enzyme invertase, with nectartaken from flowers. The process changes the composition of the sugar in thenectar from mostly sucrose to fructose and glucose. During commercialproduction, honey may be heat-treated to both kill yeast and delaycrystallization. (Raw honey is not heat-treated, but poses no health risk, noris it more healthful.) Honey, which is more than 70% sugar, 20% water plusfermentable carbohydrates, amino acids, enzymes, some B vitamins and severalminerals, varies in color, taste and sweetness depending on what flowers thebees visit. One tablespoon provides 17 grams of carbohydrate and 64 calories.

A word of caution: Never feed honey to infants.They haven’t yet developed the intestinal bacteria needed to guard against C.botulinum spores that can be present in honey.

The Findings: As a “prebiotic,”honey contains carbohydrates called oligosaccharides, which may improvegastrointestinal health by stimulating the growth of good bacteria in the colon.Other compounds in honey appear to prevent bacterial growth, may reduceinflammation and promote tissue growth.

Lab studies further document antioxidant properties fromascorbic acid, tocopherols, carotenoids and flavonoids. Darker honeys, likebuckwheat, have higher antioxidant activity than lighter varieties like cloverand alfalfa. However, the levels in honey are nowhere near those of fruits,vegetables and tea.

Honey does have a milder effect on blood sugar than othercarbohydrates, because the sugar it contains is one-third to one-half fructose,which is absorbed without triggering insulin.

But is honey more nutritious than table sugar? Notespecially. You?d have to eat an unrealistic amount for the trace nutrientsand antioxidant power to add up to anything substantial.

The Finer Points: Storehoney at room temperature; it crystallizes in the refrigerator. You can use itin place of sugar in baking (use slightly less than the amount of sugar calledfor and reduce liquid by by ?). Because honeys with a higher fructose content,like tupelo and sage, taste sweeter than sugar, you can use less and savecalories. For a gut-healthy combo, add honey (a “prebiotic”) to yogurt(a “probiotic”). And in an emergency, a layer of honey between a woundand the dressing may offer anti-inflammatory action and prevent infection.

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