Raw honey has been used as a food and medicine by generations of people in different civilizations. When you look at honey's macronutrients, raw honey nutrition reveals it to be just simple sugar, but if you delve a little deeper you find the sticky stuff has a number of often overlooked benefits.
Before you disregard honey as just another simple or added sugar that you should avoid, learn the nutritional facts and potential benefits of raw, unprocessed honey.
Raw honey is mostly sugar, but contains trace nutrients and antioxidants that make it a valuable addition to your diet.
What Makes Honey “Raw”?
Raw honey is produced from flower nectar that's processed by the upper digestive tract of the honeybee and stored in honeycombs in a hive. The chemical composition of this raw honey depends on the flower source.
To bottle raw honey, the sticky substance is extracted from honeycombs in the hives and filtered through nylon or mesh. This process removes any beeswax or dead bees. The honey is then ready for consumption.
Any honey not labeled raw has gone through additional filtering and pasteurization processes that involve heating the product to destroy as many toxins as possible. In the process, however, some of the important nutrients may also be lost.
A study investigating the effect of filtration and heating on a specific type of honey published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology in March 2019 showed that processes such as high-speed spinning, heating and the addition of sugar syrups reduces enzyme activity, antioxidant content and nutritional makeup of honey. The quality of honey is seriously affected by processing.
Raw honey goes under almost no processing except for normal filtration.
Raw Honey Nutrition Facts
Honey is composed primarily of fructose and glucose (types of sugar.) The Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences (IJBMS) in June 2013 explained that sugar accounts for 95 to 99 percent of honey and that water is the second most abundant component.
One tablespoon of raw honey is 60 calories, 17 grams of carbohydrates and 16 grams of sugar. It contains many amino acids, vitamins, minerals and enzymes, too. The exact composition of raw honey varies depending on the plants the bees collected nectar from, explains the paper published in the Iranian journal.
Honey contains protein in minute amounts — just 0.1 to 0.5 percent. According to the Nutrition & Metabolism paper, honey contains trace amounts of the following:
- Sodium and potassium
- Calcium and magnesium
- Phosphorus and selenium
- Copper, zinc, and iron
- Manganese and chromium
- B vitamins
- Vitamin C and K
The amounts of these nutrients is so slight, just 0.1 to 1 percent, explains the IJBMS paper, that they don't register on the USDA database. The amount of these nutrients in a serving of honey doesn't contribute to your daily requirements for them.
The paper reports that honey also contains enzymes, with amylase, saccharase and glucose oxidase being most abundant.
The paper published in Nutrition & Metabolism suggests, however, that you can get a benefit from consuming 70 to 95 grams of raw honey daily. This amount, claims the researchers, affords you honey's full desirable nutritional and health benefits. Seventy to 95 grams is equal to 3 to 5 tablespoons (and 180 to 300 extra calories and 48 to 80 grams of sugar) every day.
Antioxidants in Raw Honey
The IJBMS paper explains that all natural honey contains flavonoids, phenolic acids, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), tocopherols and glutathione, among other compounds.
Antioxidants occur naturally in honey due to its origins in flower nectar. The antioxidants present depend on the type of flower the bees feasted upon. Plus, the color of honey influences its overall antioxidant content; darker honeys have a higher amount than lighter-colored versions.
These ingredients work together to create an antioxidant effect. Antioxidants combat cell damage and dysfunction that can lead to disease. You experience cell damage when exposed to free radicals, elements in the environment that disrupt your cells' natural integrity. The paper in Nutrition & Metabolism explains that consuming foods rich in antioxidants can protect against cellular damage and the resulting disease.
Raw honey nutrition facts don't always reveal all of its health benefits. As explained in the IJBMS paper, honey has an inhibitory effect on about 60 species of bacteria, some fungi and viruses. The antioxidant capacity of honey makes it a possible adjunct therapy for gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and inflammatory problems.
Raw Honey Dangers
Just like any natural product, raw honey is vulnerable to contamination by antibiotics, pesticides and heavy metals, reports the Nutrition & Metabolism paper.
A case study published in BMJ Case Reports in July 2012 that described a case of infant botulism caused by eating raw honey suggests that people be warned not to feed raw honey to infants because of risk of illness.
Honey is a natural product, but eating too much of it does add extra calories and seriously increases your sugar intake. Too much honey can cause you to gain weight, which — if you gain too much — can lead to a host of health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes. If you want to enjoy raw honey, add moderate portions of it to a diet that consists mostly of whole, unprocessed foods and reasonable portion sizes.
Naturally-occurring sugars are those that are part of the makeup of a food, such as sugar in an apple or in a glass of milk. Added sugars are those you add to foods to make them sweeter. Raw honey is an added sugar explains the American Heart Association. Generally, you don't just eat honey straight out of the jar — you add it to tea, cereal, smoothies or baked goods to make them taste better.
Added sugars can displace foods with a lot of valuable nutrients. For most people, a healthy amount of added sugar to stick to is not more than 100 calories per day for women and 150 calories per day for men, which is about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons of honey.
Too much added sugar, explains a paper in Nutrients published in November 2016, is associated with an increased risk of several chronic diseases, including obesity, diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, heart disease, cognitive decline and some cancers.
- USDA Branded Food Products Database: "Pure Raw Honey"
- Nutrition & Metabolism: "Nutraceutical Values of Natural Honey and Its Contribution to Human Health and Wealth"
- Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences: "Traditional and Modern Uses of Natural Honey in Human Diseases: A Review"
- BMJ Case Reports: "Infant Botulism Following Honey Ingestion"
- Journal of Food Science and Technology: "Composition of Acacia Honeys Following Processing, Storage and Adulteration"
- American Heart Association: "Added Sugars"
- Nutrients: "Relationship Between Added Sugars Consumption and Chronic Disease Risk Factors: Current Understanding"