New Year’s resolutions are easy to make — and just as easy to break. And it’s no wonder! Deciding that regular 6 am workouts are in your future seems more realistic after a glass of NYE bubbly than it does on the gloomy morning of January 1st. Luckily, this doesn’t have to mean all your healthy intentions will fall by the wayside.
Hugely ambitious resolutions may lead to bigger changes but can be challenging to sustain. In contrast, smaller and more incremental shifts are a much more attainable way of getting healthy this year. Incorporating raw honey into your diet is one of the easiest ways to make a healthy shift. Here’s why.
Honey helps fight inflammation.
When your body detects harmful stimuli like an infection or tissue damage, it responds with inflammation. This is the kind of inflammation you want — acute, time-limited, and specific. Under these circumstances, inflammation is one of your immune system’s most potent weapons for fighting off viruses and other pathogens.
However, while inflammation can be beneficial for acute issues, chronic inflammation is another story. As you may know, free radicals are unstable atoms that can damage cells. In fact, they trigger the signs of aging and can cause illness. Free radicals are also a byproduct of immune system activation. At high levels, like in autoimmune conditions, they cause oxidative stress which can lead to chronic inflammation and damage your cells.
Outside of your immune system, chronic inflammation can also be brought on by stress, obesity, and alcohol consumption (just to name a few). And it’s no joke. In fact, it’s implicated in everything from arthritis to Alzheimer’s disease.
Thankfully, proper rest, nutrition, and exercise are all powerful ways of counteracting chronic inflammation. For those looking for a more immediate measure, honey may offer a potent shortcut.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that honey is a superfood. It’s been used for thousands of years for a long list of health issues. Analysis shows that honey is high in both flavonoids and polyphenols, which function as antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules that neutralize free radicals.
If all of these terms have you a little confused — or worse, are making you sleepy, here’s the bottom line. Honey contains dietary compounds that counteract some of the causes of inflammation, aging, and chronic illness. Eating a couple of tablespoons of honey daily may not guarantee lifelong health, but it’s a sweet and easy method to incorporate a healthy element into your daily routine.
Honey is good for your gut health.
Often called your second brain, your microbiome is a complex ecosystem of bacteria. And, these bacterial microbes release an array of hormones that govern a number of processes in the body — from digestion to your immune system to your mood.
As you might expect, your diet has a direct and profound effect on the bacteria species that call your intestines home. For example, taking antibiotics can wipe out many different strains. In contrast, consuming probiotics can help to boost various types of beneficial bacteria. A third type of “biotic” known as prebiotics, may be less familiar.
Prebiotics are foods that contain compounds known as oligosaccharides. The funny thing about oligosaccharides is that, while they’re a form of carbohydrate, humans can’t digest them. What’s the point of them then? It turns out that while humans may not be able to eat them, certain gut bacteria can — and not just any bacteria. Only beneficial strains of gut microbes are able to digest prebiotics, which means that consuming them ensures that your inner microbiome is properly balanced.
Honey, it turns out, is a prebiotic. In studies, honey consumption has been shown to boost multiple beneficial bacterial populations. These changes in gut bacteria can affect various functions, especially the immune system. One study on rats with ulcers showed that honey consumption sped up the ulcer healing process significantly for those who ate it. Another study looking at the effects of honey on ulcerative colitis in rats returned similar findings. Rats who were given honey had fewer symptoms and better outcomes than the rats who didn’t get it.
Prebiotics may also help to regulate your digestion and ease any digestive discomfort. And while modern medicine is only just discovering this, people have used honey for digestive complaints for thousands of years. All the way back to Roman physicians during the first century.
Despite its benefits, honey isn’t a silver bullet for a fast food-only diet. However, consuming it regularly can help. For example, substituting honey in place of sugar in your tea or coffee or on your oatmeal in the morning is a great way to introduce a prebiotic and a healthier sweetener. Just make sure that you reach for a jar of raw honey. Pasteurized honey is heated to 63°C which removes all of its prebiotic benefits (among other things). If your honey doesn’t say raw, it’s not a prebiotic.
Honey may have brain-boosting properties.
Ok, so we’re not promising that adding honey to your diet will turn you into Stephen Hawking. But, because of its unique properties, honey has the potential to affect your brain in a few different ways.
In yet another study in rats (the unsung heroes of modern medicine), honey was able to mitigate the effects of stress on the brain. These poor rats were exposed to loud noises, negatively affecting their cognitive function. However, a group of rodents receiving honey had a different outcome. For them, the honey was able to counteract the ill effects of the noise, meaning they didn’t experience the same drop in cognitive function. On top of that, this group also showed fewer signs of depression than the rats that didn’t get the honey.
This isn’t the only study highlighting the potential pharmacological effects of honey. Honey-fed rats also display less anxiety and better spatial memory than sugar-fed rats of the same age.
Scientists think that these results might be attributable to how honey increases the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in certain parts of the brain. Among other things, BDNF serves as a neurotransmitter modulator. Without jumping too far into the granular workings of the brain, BDNF is crucial for neuronal plasticity, which we need for both learning and memory.
Insufficient levels of BDNF can contribute to loss of function of nerve cells in the brain and nervous system. This can result in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Honey, it appears, may have a protective effect on some of this neuronal damage. A study from the mid 2000s suggests that honey may help to lower your risk of developing dementia.
In other words, if you’re looking to add just one brain-boosting food to your diet, honey is a great choice.
Honey aids perimenopause and mental health
One population that has seen particularly beneficial results from honey is perimenopausal and postmenopausal women.
Leading up to menopause (perimenopause) and after it (menopause), women experience declining levels of estrogen in the body. This doesn’t just trigger stereotypical menopause symptoms like hot flashes. It can result in a number of different symptoms, including concentration and memory issues.
Here again, honey comes to the rescue. Honey is a phytoestrogen, a plant-based compound that mimics estrogen in the body. Since estrogen is essential for maintaining proper levels of BDNF (the neurotransmitter we discussed earlier that is crucial for learning and memory), it may help to address some of these symptoms.
A small study of just over a hundred postmenopausal women put this to the test. It found that participants who supplemented their diet with honey did as well on verbal learning and memory tasks as those who received synthetic estrogen and progestin. While more research is needed, it seems that honey’s phytoestrogen properties may make it especially helpful for women both leading up to menopause and after it.
Since low BDNF levels also play a role in depression, these same phytoestrogen qualities may also give honey neuroprotective benefits against mental illness as well. A study in rats showed that after a stress-inducing activity to promote depression, rats managed to recover whether they were given honey or estrogen. Given that dropping estrogen levels in perimenopause can trigger depression in many women, honey may be able to play a role in promoting healthy hormonal levels.
How to add more honey to your life
There are several ways of adding this superfood to your diet. From salad dressing to marinades to cocktails, honey goes in and on just about anything. Check out some of our favourite recipes for incorporating honey into your diet.
And, for anyone trying to cut down on their consumption of refined sugar this year, consider substituting honey anywhere you would normally use sugar. Not only is it healthier, but you also need less of it to achieve the same level of sweetness. However, you don’t need a fancy recipe to incorporate raw honey into your diet this year. One of our favourite ways to eat it is on a spoon, straight from the jar.