Compared with other sweeteners (we're looking at you, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup), honey is sometimes touted as a "healthy" option. And there's some merit to that: Honey boasts health benefits, such as soothing a sore throat, treating burns and more.
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But as with any sweetener, enjoying it in moderation is your best bet.
What Is Honey, Anyway?
This sticky sweetener is made from the nectar of flowering plants, according to the National Honey Board.
Here's how it works: Bees collect and take the nectar back to their hives. Once there, they pass the nectar between each other's mouths until its moisture content is reduced by about 50 percent, which transforms the nectar into honey, per the Australian Honey Industry Council.
The sweetener's flavor and nutritional qualities depend on the nectar from which it's derived. You can purchase either raw honey or pasteurized honey, which has been processed, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Honey Nutrition Facts
The sticky stuff offers only trace amounts of vitamins and minerals including 1 percent of your Daily Value (DV) of copper, manganese and vitamin B2 per 1 tablespoon, according to the USDA. It also contains antioxidants.
One tablespoon of honey contains:
- 63 calories
- 0 g fat
- 17.3 grams carbs
- 17.2 g sugar
- 0.1 g protein
Is Honey Added Sugar?
6 Health Benefits of Honey
1. It Helps Ease a Cough
For children ages 1 and up, it can thin mucus and loosen the cough, per the AAP.
Compared to an over-the-counter cough suppressant or abstaining from treatment, parents found that honey was most helpful for relieving their children's nighttime coughing due to upper respiratory tract infections, per a December 2007 clinical trial published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.
And it's not just children: Honey appears to help with upper respiratory infections in adults, too, per an August 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis in BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine.
Do not give children under age 1 honey due to a risk of botulism, warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
2. It Soothes a Sore Throat
Scratchy and sore throats can also benefit from honey. Honey's antibacterial properties can help heal wounds (like that irritation in your throat), according to Penn Medicine.
3. It May Help With Diarrhea
Honey can also help with digestive woes — such as diarrhea associated with gastroenteritis — per the Mayo Clinic.
One randomized clinical trial found that for children with diarrhea, taking honey reduced bowel movements and the amount of time the bout of diarrhea lasted, per January 2017 findings published in the Journal of Research in Medical and Dental Science.
4. It's a Source of Antioxidants
Compounds in honey have antioxidant qualities, which help protect your cells against damage from the natural aging process and exposure to toxins in the environment, per a 2017 meta-review published in Pharmacognosy Research.
Antioxidants may help ease the types of inflammation that put you at greater risk of developing chronic disease. More research is needed, but it's possible that honey can act as "a potential natural antioxidant medicinal agent," per a January 2018 article in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity.
Some forms of honey have more antioxidants than others. In general, darker varieties of honey have higher values of antioxidants, per the Pharmacognosy Research meta-review. Buckwheat honey has the greatest antioxidant activity, while honey made from rapeseed has the weakest, per a study published in Molecules in August 2018.
5. It Treats Burns and Wounds
Honey has both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, making it a natural treatment. It's been used since ancient times to heal wounds, per the Pharmacognosy Research meta-review.
Slathering medical-grade honey (which is sterilized) on wounds and burns promotes healing, per the Mayo Clinic.
6. It Might Be Good for the Heart
In a small study of 70 healthy college students in Pakistan, those who ate honey had decreased total cholesterol levels along with LDL ("bad") cholesterol and triglycerides, per a 2013 study in the Journal of Ayub Medical College.
That same effect has been seen in other studies, but more research is needed to confirm these potential heart-health benefits, per the American Heart Association.
Does Eating Honey Have Any Risks?
With all these potential health perks — not to mention honey's delightful flavor — it may feel hard to believe there's a downside to honey.
Try not to eat more than 6 to 9 tablespoons, or 25 to 36 grams, of added sugar per day, recommends the American Heart Association.
Taking honey is likely safe, whether you're doing it to suppress a cough or make a dish sweeter, per the Mayo Clinic. Some people may have an allergic reaction to components in honey, leading to symptoms including wheezing, vomiting and dizziness, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- National Honey Board: "How Honey Is Made"
- Australian Honey Industry Council: "How Bees Make Honey"
- Cleveland Clinic: "The Benefits of Honey + How to Incorporate It Into Your Diet"
- USDA: "Honey"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Looking to Reduce Your Family's Intake of Added Sugars? Here's How"
- FDA: "Guidance for Industry: Declaration of Added Sugars on Honey, Maple Syrup, Other Single-Ingredient Sugars and Syrups, and Certain Cranberry Products"
- American Academy of Pediatrics: "Coughs and Colds: Medicines or Home Remedies?"
- Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine: "Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents"
- BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine: "Effectiveness of honey for symptomatic relief in upper respiratory tract infections: a systematic review and meta-analysis"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Botulism"
- Penn Medicine: "6 At-Home Remedies to Ease Your Sore Throat"
- Mayo Clinic: "Honey"
- Journal of Research in Medical and Dental Science: "A randomized clinical trial on the effect of honey in the acute gastroenteritis"
- Pharmacognosy Research: "Honey and Health: A Review of Recent Clinical Research"
- Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity: "Honey as a Potential Natural Antioxidant Medicine: An Insight into Its Molecular Mechanisms of Action"
- Molecules: "Antioxidant Activity as Biomarker of Honey Variety"
- American Heart Association: "Is honey healthy? How to make sure you don't get stung"
- Mayo Clinic: "The Mayo Clinic Diet: What is your weight-loss goal? 5-10 lbs, 11-25 lbs, or 25+ lbs Free E-newsletter Subscribe to Housecall Our general interest e-newsletter keeps you up to date on a wide variety of health topics. Sign up now I have diabetes, and I'm wondering if I can substitute honey for sugar in my diet?"
- American Heart Association: "Added Sugars"