Honey Has Even More Health Benefits Than You Realize

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Winnie the Pooh got something right: honey is one of the most special, natural foods we have. Besides being a sweetener in your pantry, the health benefits of honey are numerous: it's an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial agent, according to Mayo Clinic. It's commonly used to treat coughs, burns, and other wounds — and while those natural cures may seem like old-fashioned old wives' tales, there's actually some research behind them. But while the health benefits of honey are impressive, nutritionally-speaking, is honey good for you?

It depends on what you mean by "good," of course. And it's important to remember that honey has so many amazing uses: as an ingredient in skin-care, for instance. But it's better for you, nutritionally, than you might assume, given its sweetness. Honey contains a mix of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, iron, zinc and antioxidants, which is great for a balanced diet and makes honey a good alternative to other forms of sugar. But honey, like all sweeteners, is best when used in moderation — it's sugary, after all, and that can affect blood sugar levels. (So maybe skip the frozen honey TikTok trend.)

But you may still have questions about the health benefits of honey, including the health benefits of raw honey or whether manuka honey is good for you. So we dug into the research to answer: is honey healthy? Here's what the facts say.

Health Benefits of Honey

There are plenty of health benefits to this natural sweetener — from holistic medicinal properties to boosting immunity.

  • Antibacterial. Folk remedies and research both show that cuts and scrapes can benefit from a honey dressing. Researchers in one study published in the FASEB Journal found that bees impart an immune-boosting, bacteria-killing protein into honey during its production, and a 2021 review in the journal Open Life Sciences confirmed that some honeys have wound-healing benefits. (But not all the honey you can buy at the store is appropriate for this use; you may want to talk to your doctor before slathering the sticky stuff on a cut.)
  • Cough. A spoonful of honey goes down easier than cough syrup, and it may just be more effective as well. Studies have shown that honey beats out the cough suppressant dextromethorphan for easing nighttime cough in children with colds, according to Mayo Clinic.
  • Antioxidants. You know that eating more fruits and vegetables can help you live longer, and so can eating honey. Like dark chocolate, honey is packed with disease-fighting flavonoids, according to a review in the journal Current Medicinal Chemistry, which are good for the heart.
  • Neurological disease. Honey might offer antidepressant, anticonvulsant and anti-anxiety benefits, according to Mayo Clinic. And in some cases it can help prevent memory disorders.
  • Gastrointestinal disease. Honey might help relieve gastrointestinal tract conditions such as diarrhea associated with gastroenteritis, the Mayo Clinic reports. It may have prebiotic benefits (meaning, it helps feed the good bacteria that live in your gut and keep your digestion on track), notes the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.

Is Raw Honey Good For You?

Raw honey isn't filtered, strained, or heated above natural hive temperatures, a process used in conventional honey production that can destroy the beneficial enzymes, nutrients, and antioxidants. As a result, raw honey specifically may have higher levels of healthy compounds like phytonutrients, Healthline notes, and may be especially powerful at perks like boosting your immune system or soothing coughs.

That said, raw honey may not be an appropriate choice for kids or anyone with a weakened immunity; be sure to talk to your doctor before ingesting. For instance, children under the age of 1 shouldn't consume raw honey since it contains the bacteria that causes infant botulism, according to the CDC.

Is Manuka Honey Good For You?

Manuka honey is produced by bees that feed on the tea tree nectar in New Zealand and Australia, and it has long been the best-kept secret in natural households everywhere. All types of honey contain hydrogen peroxide, a powerful disinfectant, but manuka honey contains even more bacteria-fighting punch. That's because it contains high concentrations of a compound called methylglyoxal, which is the reason studies have shown manuka honey's disinfecting activity against gnarly bugs like E. coli and E. faecalis. Plus, like other honeys, some studies have found that wounds dressed with manuka honey heal faster than traditional dressings. The most benefit was seen in mild burn wounds; other wounds such as diabetes-related ulcers did not show the same benefit. (Again, not something you should try at home until you talk to your doctor.)

If you're interested in dabbling in manuka honey, make sure to look for high-quality, reputable brands, since many manuka honey products may not have the potency you need for them to be effective — or may not be authentic manuka honey at all. The Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) Honey Association has a rating system to help ensure that consumers know what they're buying; according to the association, you should look for any product with a certified UMF rating of 10 or over, since those will have the highest concentrations of methylglyoxal. Two options that fit the bill: Comvita Manuka Honey ($26.99) and New Zealand Honey Co. Raw Manuka Honey ($34.99).