Honey is the sweetest food found in nature
Flowering plants secrete sugary nectar made of dilute sucrose in order to attract insects which, in moving from plant to plant collecting this nectar, transfer pollen providing plants the evolutionary benefit of sexual reproduction. The bees evaporate water from the nectar concentrating it and add an enzyme which catalyzes the breakdown of the sucrose into glucose and fructose.
Fructose is perceived as tasting very sweet, much more so than glucose or sucrose. Honey, gram for gram or calorie for calorie, tastes much sweeter than any other sugar.
The practice of finding and robbing honey from wild bee hives dates back five million years or more. The first major advancement in honey production, keeping bees in moveable hives, occurred about 5,000 years ago in Egypt . The classic domed shaped bee hive called a skep is still universally recognized, even though its use was outlawed a hundred years ago.
Even with potable skep hives, the honey bee colony had to be destroyed in order to harvest the honey. The modern box beehive with removable frames was invented in the 1850s and centrifugal honey extractors soon after. These allowed honey to be harvested without disrupting the colony or destroying the comb. These innovations brought us into the modern honey era in which honey has been easy to produce and cheap to purchase.
Honey has a long history of use as a medicine
You’ve got to figure that in a world without sugar, the taste of honey was unimaginably delicious. Anything this good should work magic. Interestingly enough, it often does.
Honey taken orally (eaten) will lower fasting blood sugars, homocysteine, c-reactive protein and LDL cholesterols in hyperlipidemic and diabetic people. As all of these are risk factors for heart disease, we can translate this into ‘honey prevents heart disease.’ Two weeks of eating honey significantly increases antioxidant levels in the blood while quieting immune over reactivity.
This probably explains in part the common practice of eating honey regularly to decrease allergies. Honey also appears to rev up the immune defenses making it better able to fight off attacking infectious agents: “…. oral honey stimulates antibody production during primary and secondary immune responses against thymus-dependent and thymus-independent antigens”
Eating honey increases nitrite excretion from the body
Nitrite is a metabolite of nitrous oxide and the implication is that honey increases nitrous oxide (NO) levels. Nitrous oxide is the cool chemical that everyone is excited about these days. Increasing levels of NO supposedly are good for almost everything that ails modern man, from impotence to heart disease.
Honey consumption also decreased urinary prostaglandin excretion, the implication here that it decreases prostaglandin production throughout the body.
Although prostaglandins have their role, the consensus is that we generally make too much prostaglandin and that lowering levels will be beneficial. Intravenous administration of honey, injecting it with a needle, although not a common method of ingestion, has also been demonstrated to increase blood nitrous oxide levels without any apparent side effect.
There is some evidence that increased nitrite levels in urine may be linked to bedwetting in children , theoretically, honey may increase bed wetting, though I haven’t found any evidence to support this worry.
Honey can be watered down and inhaled through a nebulizer in the same way asthma medications may be given
When done for ten minutes twice a day, “honey inhalation was safe and effective in reducing blood glucose level, in normal and diabetic subjects, it could improve glucose tolerance test, elevate plasma insulin and C-peptide and PEFR [peak expiratory flow rate], and reduce elevated blood pressure in hypertensive patients.Though I haven’t seen a study yet, one would suspect this would also work to treat hay fever.
It is often tempting to lump honey together with all other sugars and suggest minimizing consumption
Yet it appears we should be suggesting the opposite. Honey in moderate amounts appears to have beneficial health effects exactly the opposite as those we associate with sugar over consumption.
For five million years our ancestors have collected honey and used it both as food and medicine. With its sweet flavor and its medicinal uses, people regarded honey as a magical substance. We probably still should.
As we make our wish for a sweet new year next week, we can pause to marvel what a simple and timeless miracle we have in honey. I plan on making baklava next week for the holiday. A recipe follows
Typical recipes use a sweet syrup made from a mixture of honey and sugar. Sugar is a relatively recent invention and we must assume that this pure honey syrup is more authentic.