Honey: The Sweet (and the Bittersweet) Facts

Honey Comb

 

“Farm-to-table” and “locally-sourced” are the terms of the season, and these terms could not be more important than when it comes to honey. Would you believe that an estimated 90% of the honey on our shelves in South Africa is imported? Imported honey tends to be cheaper and tends to remain liquid for longer. This sounds like a good thing, right? Well as it turns out, cheap and imported may actually mean harmful to your health.

 

Honey and Your Health

Honey naturally contains a variety of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and antioxidants, as well as antibacterial properties. This makes it a nutrient-dense addition to a healthy, balanced diet.  Honey consumption in moderation is beneficial for the immune system, wound healing, blood sugar balance, and gut health, as well as overall disease prevention due to the antioxidant profile.

 

The most famous property of honey is in its ability to promote wound healing and serve as a natural antibiotic.  Research has focused on diabetic wounds and honey’s ability to speed up healing time, and manage and treat infections at the wound site. Honey has also been used to prevent and treat throat infections, as well as soothing the area and providing relief from the classic “scratchiness”.

 

Some other quick facts about Honey and Your Health:

  • Honey is fructose-based, meaning that it will have an impact on blood sugar levels. However, honey has a lower glycaemic index (GI) than traditional sugar, and if consumed mindfully will not trigger the same spike in blood sugar levels that processed sugar would.
  • Honey can improve gut health by providing pre-biotics to the body. Pre-biotics are carbohydrate compounds that serve as fuel for healthy gut bacteria (probiotics), and promote their growth.
  • Honey is a source of antioxidants. The antioxidant capacity of honey will vary depending on the species of bee, variety of plant, season of the year, environment of the bees, and processing and storage methods. Depending on these factors, antioxidant capacity can vary from as little as 56mg to as much as 500mg per kg of honey.

Honey

The Difference Between Locally Sourced and Imported Honey

Arguably, processing has the greatest impact on the nutrient profile of honey. The typical processing methods of honey include filtration, pasteurisation, irradiation, and “dilution” of sorts. These all impact the final product and often leave it with very little health benefit at all.

 

As mentioned in the introduction, imported honey seems to be dominating our shelves. Honey is a food product, and as such is subject to the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, 1972 (Act 54 of 1972). This Act prohibits the importation of any foodstuff, including honey, which does not comply with the provisions of the Act. It further provides for the irradiation requirements of honey. From a safety perspective you can understand these laws, as companies need to ensure that they are not importing products with any contamination. From a health perspective however, you can see why this might be a problem.

 

Recently, Business Insider SA published an article stating that “there is a high likelihood that South Africans may be unwittingly eating natural honey that in fact has been mixed with syrup”. This is due to the fact that 89% of the honey imported into South Africa in 2016 was from China. Chinese honey notoriously is mixed with rice or corn syrup to make it go further (as raw honey itself is quite expensive), and can often contain antibiotics that are harmful to humans.

 

The report further called into question some of the South Africa brands on the shelves by saying they are “improbably cheap”. This makes sense as beekeeping is an expensive career due to the dying bee populations. It makes you wonder whether these cheaper South Africa brands are also engaging in dilution techniques to keep their costs low?

 

How to Choose a Good Honey

It’s not all doom and gloom, and there are some very ethical beekeepers in our beloved country. It is up to us as the consumers to make educated decisions. If you want to use honey for your health, choose one that meets the following criteria:

  • Locally sourced (not just locally bottled – watch out for misleading language)
  • Raw and unpasteurised
  • Over time, the honey naturally crystallizes. If this doesn’t happen, then the honey may have been diluted with other ingredients
  • Reasonably priced. Look at factors such as packaging (glass is more expensive but arguably a better option than plastic), the variety of honey, and product size.

 

Final Thoughts

Honey is considered a healthy sweetener when consumed in moderation. Honey is a great product to keep in your pantry, and medicine cabinet, as it never goes off, due to its antibacterial properties. Make sure that you choose the right honey, from local farmers, and don’t compromise when it comes to your health and the health of your family.

 

 

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