Nutrition :Honey

Tuesday 08 May 2018

One of the main focuses of my last couple of blogs  was information about the adoption of a very low carbohydrate diet and any carbohydrates eaten should come mainly from vegetables and a small amount of fruit. One of the main benefits of eating in this way is the drastic reduction in glucose levels in the body and insulin growth factor. You will see from the blog that this is also called Somatotropin and is a hormone which carries messages in the body to stimulate growth by making cells divide at a faster rate ( see blog on Insulin growth factor IGF-1)

Glucose as we know, is a simple carbohydrate food. That means it takes no real digestion because it is very simple in structure and so is absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream, this in turn results in high blood sugar levels and high growth factor levels. (Having said all of that remember that if other foods are eaten at the same time as a simple carbohydrate then this does have a buffer effect on how quickly the sugar is absorbed, more on that later).

Whether people adopt a calorie restriction type of eating or not it is generally recommended that we reduce if not eliminate sugar from our diet.

As soon as I recommend  reducing sugar to people as something to consider, they immediately ask me if honey is ok. So I thought it would be a good idea to look at this as it seems a natural progression from the blogs on Calorie Restriction.

Is honey acceptable or not?
I did read one article that described honey as ‘liquid sugar’, I think that this comment is a little naive because not all honey is the same. The first thing to consider is whether it is raw or processed. And yes I am sure that you have guessed, raw honey is far superior to honey that is processed. Processed honey has been subject to clarification, and pasteurization which are both different types of heat treatment and also filtration. These processes destroy the natural enzymes and at least 50% of the nutritional value of the honey.

Processed honey is generally clear whereas raw honey tends to be thick and a much darker colour. The darker the colour the more health giving properties it contains. You can buy red brown and almost black types of raw honey. The colour is determined by the pollen of the flower that the bees use. For example buckwheat honey is almost black, red clover pollen would give you red coloured honey. Also the flavour of the honey is determined by the flower pollen collected, some have a very distinctive flavour like thyme honey or lavender honey. An interesting fact that really surprised me is that a bee will collect one twelve of an ounce of honey in a lifetime so you can see how many thousands of bees are required to supply us with our honey and perhaps why good honey is so expensive

What’s in honey?
Raw honey contains natural enzymes including a unique enzyme called glucose oxidase. This converts in the body into a powerful antiseptic which has a powerful antibacterial property.  The antibacterial potential was studied by the University of Sydney and they found that it killed nearly every type of bacteria it was exposed to including antibiotic resistant super bugs.  Manuka honey also contains flavonoids which have powerful antioxidant activity. The anti -oxidant potential has been compared favourably to that of some fresh fruits and vegetables.

A 100grams of raw honey contains approximately 304 calories and has a glycaemic load of 64. It is a ready source of energy and is made up of glucose, fructose, maltose and water. It is also alkaline forming unlike processed honey which is classed as acid forming.

Raw honey has been used for centuries for its medicinal qualities particularly for wound healing, .anti- inflammatory effects and for boosting the immune system.

Manuka honey Perhaps the most well known of these honey’s is Manuka honey which is a raw honey made by bees feeding off the Manuka bush in the East Cape region of New Zealand.  It seems to be in a class of its own. It is rated according to its potency and this rating is called the UMF or ‘unique manuka factor’. The higher the UMF the more antibacterial potency. What determines the UMF is by measuring the strength of the antibacterial properties or the MG (methylglyoxal) content. This is high in the manuka flower and can be found in most honeys but in much smaller quantities. For manuka to have a powerful antibacterial effect the UMF should be 10 or above. This is something worth remembering if you buy manuka honey. Unfortunately the higher the UMF the more expensive the honey as I am sure some of you have found out already. (I wait for the Holland and Barrett penny sale and then buy it).

The main medicinal properties of manuka honey are;

  • Preventing and treating cancer due to its healing power and immune boosting qualities. In 2010 the scientific steering committee of the National Cancer Institute approved a proposal for the use of manuka honey for the reduction of inflammation of the oesophagus associated with chemotherapy, which is interesting.
  • Reducing high cholesterol.
  • Reducing systemic inflammation.
  • Treating infections and for wound healing. In 2004 the NHS licenced it to be used for wound healing.
  • Treating gastrointestinal problems including acid reflux and getting rid of unwanted bacteria in the digestive system like Helicobacter pylori. This can thrive in the stomach when stomach acid is reduced, this can happen as a result of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Both of these treatments are known to affect the health of the digestive system. It also helps with healing stomach ulcers.
  • Immune boosting qualities because it has anti bacterial, anti microbial and anti fungal properties. All quite impressive.

So coming back to the comment that ‘Honey is liquid sugar’ I think we can see it is not true. It is clear that not all honey is equal. If you buy raw dark honey with its unique health promoting properties then this could be a very useful addition to a healthy balanced diet if used in moderation. I say this because despite its wonderful qualities remember that the main ingredients are fructose, sucrose and maltose which are all sugars.

If it is used with a complex carbohydrate like in porridge or on oat cakes or stirred into live yogurt, you will still get the benefits without any adverse effects on your blood sugar. See the blog on sugar for more detail.

You may consider using it in cooking but it seems almost cost prohibitive and also remember once it is heated it will lose some of its health benefits.

I hope that this has answered the question as to whether honey is suitable or not, it’s like everything not a straightforward answer.

 See also Nutrition IGF-1 blog ( Jan 2013)

Sugar  blog (May 2012)

Blog originally written by Caroline July 2013

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