The best-known natural sweetener is also the oldest: honey. Hundreds of varieties exist around the globe
Honey's Health Advantages

Humans have always been drawn to the alluring sweetness of honey. Before the advent of sugar refinement, it was the only food available -- other than fruit -- that satisfied a sweet tooth. It was worth a few bee stings to come home with the prize: a golden honeycomb. Honey also was valued as "medicine" by folk healers for conditions such as lack of vigor and skin healing. Today, modern science is beginning to confirm that honey possesses unique health properties.

How Honeybees Create Honey

How do honeybees create this delicious concoction we know as honey? It all starts with a colony of up to 80,000 bees that live together in a beehive. The bees collect nectar from plants in their mouths, which mixes with enzymes in their saliva that turns it into honey. They carry back their precious cargo and deposit it into cells in walls of the beehive for future use. The fluttering of their wings reduces the moisture content of the honey. The bees from a colony may collectively visit more than 2 million flowers in order to make a pound of honey.

Honey's Health Benefits

Recently researchers have put honey under the microscope, discovering that it holds interesting biochemical properties. Honey contains phenolic compounds -- plant antioxidants linked with health benefits -- that originate from the nectar in the plant. Malaysian researchers found that ellagic acid, the phtyochemical also found in berries and pomegranates, is the most abundant phenolic present in Malaysian samples, as they reported in Nutrition Research in 2010. Honey also shows anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer activity in cell studies. And honey is an effective antibacterial agent through many body mechanisms, such as reducing inflammation, antioxidant effects, and stimulation of immunity, according to a 2011 review on honey and microbial infections published in the Journal of Medicinal Food.

Although a few studies hint that honey may exhibit better glucose response than table sugar, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans lists honey among the "added sugars," such as high fructose corn syrup and table sugar, that we should keep to a minimum in our diets. Honey contains 64 calories and 17 grams of carbohydrate per tablespoon. We don't know enough about its potential benefits, so it's prudent to keep honey -- like all added sugars -- to a moderate intake level for now.

Honey Varieties

Just as there are varieties of grapes that impart unique flavors to wine, so there are varieties of honey that produce specific colors and flavors -- all dependant on the bees' nectar sources. Today, chefs pair honey varieties with savory dishes and aged cheeses, as well as desserts. Honey is also a popular ingredient in food products, such as dressings, cereals and cookies.

Keep in mind that "honey laundering" is occurring in some imported honeys, which may be included in products containing honey, according to an August 2011 Food Safety News report. One-third of the "honey" Americans consume isn't real honey but rather a sweetener that contains artificial sugars such as corn or rice syrup, along with a tiny bit of honey and perhaps even contaminants such as lead from storage containers, the report said. Look for the real stuff made in the U.S., where labeling regulations require any ingredient other than honey to be listed in an ingredients statement.


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Honey has Health Advantages, But Moderation is Key - Healthy Eating

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