The Power of Honey

The ancient sweetener provides many benefits

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Stirred into tea, spread on toast, blended into a smoothie or drizzled on plain yogurt — honey provides sweet flavor to meals. In addition, the ancient sweetener provides many other benefits.

“Honey is a great source of antioxidants, enzymes and minerals that support the immune system,” said Cassie Wright, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with Rochester Regional Health.

All of the Rochester Regional Health hospitals have beehives on their roofs, a program that began in 2019. A local farmer maintains the hives and the honey is bottled and made available to staff, patients and, through the gift shops, visitors.

“For its antioxidants, minerals and nutrients, honey trumps other natural sweeteners,” Wright added.

That’s not all honey can do. “It can soothe coughs,” Wright added. “The World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics recommends it for children and adults for that reason.”
Compared with medicinal-tasting cough syrup, honey is pleasanter for children to take. Wright cautioned that children less than 1 year old should not ingest honey because of the risk of botulism because of traces of bacteria in honey.

It poses no risk for children over 1 or pregnant women.

Raw manuka honey is said to be especially beneficial for pressure ulcers and wounds because of its ability to promote healing. It is made by bees gathering nectar from manuka plants, which are native to New Zealand.

“Not a lot of studies say it’s beneficial for topical application, but many people say it helps and, there’s certainly no harm for that,” Wright said. “Manuka is being used as a skin healer in the medical world.”

Wright said that there’s a difference between raw honey and the type typically found in grocery stores. The latter is pasteurized.

“There’s pollen left in raw honey and it’s proven to have more benefits than pasteurized,” Wright said. “Pasteurizing treats it with heat. That’s why raw honey is beneficial.”

Buying honey explicitly labeled as raw can ensure those properties are intact.

“Honey is a natural sweetener that when eaten from local sources, can help improve allergies and skin health,” said Joanne Wu MD, board-certified in integrative and holistic medicine and integrative nutrition. She is an integrative spine physician with Rochester Regional Health Spine and Pain. “Honey is also helpful to support honeybees and what they do for us agriculturally.”

Though honey does offer many benefits, Wright cautioned that since it is a sweetener, eating it in moderation is important. She recommends no more than six teaspoons daily for women and nine for men.

“I’d always recommend raw honey for sweetening over other sweeteners,” Wright said. “It tastes delicious, but we must be wise about how much you’re using.”