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honey being poured over a healthy breakfast or snack

Is honey healthy & good for you? What is in honey?

23 Nov 2022 • 2 min read

Honey has been used for thousands of years as food, and even a medicine, but is honey healthy and is it any good for you?

What is honey?

Honey is produced naturally by honeybees in their hives. It’s made from nectar that the bees collect from flowers and water. The water is then evaporated and the golden liquid we all know and love as honey, is produced.

Is honey healthy?

Regularly used as an alternative to your regular sugar in drinks and food, honey is seen as the better option thanks to its natural profile and added benefits.

Why is honey good for you?

Yes! Honey is considered good for you in moderation due to its unique properties and natural sweetness.

Summary

  • Honey is a natural product made by bees from flower nectar
  • It is regularly used to sweeten foods and drinks in place of regular sugar and it’s generally considered better for you

What is in honey?

When choosing a higher quality honey, you’ll benefit from its vitamin, mineral, amino acid, protein and phenol antioxidant content.1

Does honey contain sugar?

Honey is made up of around 40% fructose, a fruit sugar also found in fruits and vegetables.2 Fructose is sweeter than artificial sweeteners and regular table sugar, with a lower GI, so you may find that a little honey, goes a long way to satisfy your sweet tooth.3

How many calories in a teaspoon of honey?

1 teaspoon (7g) of honey contains 21 calories.

1 tablespoon (21g) of honey contains 64 calories.4

Is honey better than sugar?

Honey contains more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and nutrients, so is seen as a better option than a regular table sugar.

Alex Glover, a Holland & Barrett Nutritionist says “Honey can be used as a substitute for sugar, but pay attention to the calorie content.”

Is honey fattening?

To expand on Alex’s point above, just because honey is usually considered a better option for normal table sugar, it doesn’t mean its calorie-free.

Honey actually contains more calories per tablespoon than sugar:

Regular sugar calories per tablespoon: 64kcal5

Average honey calories per tablespoon: 48 kcal6

Although honey does not contain fat, it can still contribute to weight gain as it contains calories (like all foods), but only if you consistently eat more calories than your body needs in a day.

However, as honey is naturally sweeter than your regular sugar, less is needed to achieve the same sweetness.

Is a spoonful of honey a day good for you?

It can be yes! Eating all foods in moderation is good for you, especially when they have wonderful health properties like honey.

Is honey good for weight loss?

No one food is good for weight loss. To lose weight you must burn more calories than you’re consuming. However, you may find that using honey to sweeten your foods and drinks instead of regular sugar, you may use less and ultimately consume fewer calories.

Summary

  • Honey contains a whole host of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antioxidants and other health-promoting properties
  • It does also contain sugar and calories
  • Honey contains more calories than regular sugar, but is also sweeter, so you probably won’t use as much

What are the different types of honey?

From your standard honeys, to your premium manuka honey, it can be tricky to navigate the wonderful world of honey and their benefits.

Honey is usually bought in a jar containing the golden liquid, but you can also buy honey in different forms.

Before some clever people discovered you could extract the honey from the hexagon cells in honeycomb, honey was served as honeycomb.

You can also buy a small piece of honeycomb within honey – this is called a cut of honeycomb.

You will also find honeys that are different flavours. Whether that’s the popular acacia honey or the more peculiar coriander honey, there’s a honey out there that’s perfect for you.

What honey is best?

That’s for you to decide!

There are many types of honey, including:

  • Clover honey
  • Buckwheat honey
  • Acacia honey
  • Manuka honey
  • Wildflower honey
  • Tupelo honey
  • Orange blossom honey
  • Sourwood honey
  • Linden honey
  • Sage honey
  • Eucalyptus honey
  • Avocado honey
  • Blueberry honey
  • Dandelion honey
  • Fireweed honey
  • Heather honey
  • Macadamia nut honey
  • Palmetto honey
  • Runny honey

Each have a different taste, given to it from the type of flower the nectar was collected from, e.g. eucalyptus honey would have been made from eucalyptus flower honey.

Some will have a mild flavour and some will have a very strong flavour, and each has their own individual health properties.

Don’t be put off by the colours of honey. Honey comes in a spectrum of colours from nearly translucent to almost treacle coloured.

It all depends how the honey has been made and from which season and country the bees collected nectar from.

Manuka honey is a special type of honey that is produced when bees source the nectar from manuka bushes that are only found in New Zealand. Manuka honey contains a special ingredient called MGO (or methylglyoxal) which boosts its profile due to its anti-bacterial properties.

Summary

  • There are many types of honey, all with their own unique tastes and textures
  • Each type is made by bees who visit different flowers, e.g. acacia honey is made from acacia flowers

Is honey vegan?

The Vegan Society do not class honey as vegan as it is an animal product.7

If you’re vegan and looking for something to satisfy a sweet tooth, or substitute in a recipe, give maple syrup a go or try another vegan honey alternative.

Alex also suggests “Agave nectar and date syrup are great vegan alternatives to honey.”

How is honey useful?

Honey isn’t just a natural sweetener; people use it in a variety of different ways. Read about some below.

Is honey good for a cold?

Has anyone ever suggested you drink some hot water lemon and honey to soothe a cold? Well, they may be speaking some sense!

Honey has natural antimicrobial properties that could help to ease the symptoms of a cold like coughing and sore throats.8

Manuka honey can be especially good for colds, as it contains high levels of methylglyoxal (MGO) – which you may have seen on labels before. The higher the MGO rating, the higher the antibacterial punch.

Is honey good for a sore throat?

Yes, it can be for the reasons stated above.

Is honey good for skin?

Yes, honey’s antibacterial and antimicrobial properties can help to moisturise your skin and sooth sore spots. Try applying Manuka honey directly to your skin in a smooth, even layer and leaving it for around 20 mins to let it soak in before washing it off.

Check out these Manuka honey face masks for some inspiration.

Summary

  • Honey is commonly used to soothe symptoms of a cold like sore throats caused by coughing, with Manuka honey being particularly useful for this
  • You can also use it to help moisturise your skin

What are the disadvantages of honey?

Hold on, there are disadvantages to wonderful honey? Although it is considered a health food by many, honey does have a few side effects to look out for.

Can you have honey when pregnant?

Honey is fine for all stages of pregnancy but should not be given to babies and children under the age of one years old.

It’s advised that children under 1 are not given honey as honey can sometimes contain bacteria that can produce toxins in a baby’s intestines, which can lead to a very serious illness called infant botulism.

Avoiding giving your baby honey can also help prevent tooth decay.9

Other honey side effects

Like with any substance, there is a small change that you can be sensitive or allergic to specific honey compounds, like bee pollen.

Summary

  • Honey is considered safe for most people, except for those who are allergic and children under 1 year of age

The final say

  • There is a reason why honey is held in such high regard around the world – it’s a health-filled alternative to your average sugar with some pretty impressive health benefits
  • It’s filled with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antioxidants, as well as antibacterial and antimicrobial properties
  • Healthy honey is sweeter than sugar gram for gram and can also help to relieve sore throats and coughs from the cold virus
  • It’s considered safe for most people, unless you are allergic or under 1 year old
The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Last updated: 2 June 2021

donia-hilal

Donia Hilal

Author

Nutritionist

Joined Holland & Barrett: January 2018

Bsc in Nutrition, Registered Associate Nutritionist and Certification in Pre and Post Natal Nutrition

Donia started her career as a freelance nutritionist, later she joined Nestle as their Market Nutritionist to help support their healthier product range, before joining the team at Holland & Barrett in January 2018.

Donia has over 6 years experience as a Nutritionist and also works with clients on a one to one basis to support their goals which include weight loss, prenatal and postnatal nutrition and children’s health.

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