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Can honey make you healthier?

By Nicci Micco, March 30, 2009 - 4:36am

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When I’m feeling a little under the weather, nothing makes me feel better than a cup of tea, lightened with milk and sweetened with honey. I’ve always assumed this “cure” works because of some sort of placebo effect: drinking tea when you’re sick is supposed to make you feel better.

But many people would argue that it’s the honey in my tea that’s helping to get me healthy. To believe the theories about honey’s healing powers, I needed to see bona fide science supporting them. And when I dug into the research on honey’s health boons, I was happy to discover that while some may be too-good-to-be-true, others are just plain true. Here’s what I found:

Can honey help you lose weight? In a 2008 study in the Journal of Food Science, scientists reported that rats fed a diet sweetened with honey gained 23 percent less weight than those who ate refined sugar. The researchers suggested that antioxidants in the honey might have made the rats burn more calories. But not all honey is rich in antioxidants; in fact the most common type, clover honey, has no more antioxidants than sugar. Upshot: The best way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories and move more. (One—very, very indirect—way honey might help: You could replace your favorite high-cal cookies with yummy lower-calorie Almond & Honey Butter Cookies.)

Can honey help cure your cough? Researchers at Penn State University tested honey against dextromethorphan—the active ingredient in most cough medicines—as a cough suppressant for kids and found honey to be more effective. Honey’s sweetness may be the reason. The part of the brain that registers sweet tastes and the part that causes coughing are located near each other, so sensing sweetness may affect coughing. Upshot: Next time you have a cough, give a spoonful of honey a shot. (Don’t ever feed honey to a child younger than one: it puts them at risk for botulism.)

Can honey provide allergy relief? Some believe that eating local honey can stimulate your immune system and relieve allergies. The theory is this: bees gather pollen from the plants that cause your eyes to itch so consuming a small daily dose of the local honey, and in it, these pollens, will bolster immunity. Thing is, the pollens most likely to cause allergies aren’t the ones bees generally are picking up from flowers. Upshot: To date, there’s no science to show that eating local honey will help your allergies.

Can honey make you happy? OK, so there’s no clinical evidence behind this one but anecdotal reports from the EatingWell staff and pleased readers suggest that making delicious recipes with honey—such as Chicken with Honey-Orange Sauce—can make your day more pleasant. Upshot: While science has yet to show it, cooking with honey may boost your mood. Try it, and let us know what happens.

TAGS: Nicci Micco, Health Blog

Nicci Micco
Nicci Micco is co-author of EatingWell 500-Calorie Dinners. She has a master's degree in nutrition and food sciences, with a focus in weight management.

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