Honey. A popular sweetener often used on its own and in cooking. Did you know that most honeys share 80% of the same physical and chemical properties? They’re good for you if you know what to do and not do. Here’s what we mean, but first, a word of love:
Honey creates heat in the body so be mindful of not overdoing it. And as always, this blog aims to share a different, ayurvedic perspective on health so you can decide what you want to do.
Truth #1: It can be beneficial in small quantities
Most therapeutic uses come from its polyphenols, which have high bioavailability. Thus, honey is often used as a medium for medicine. It carries the medicinal properties of herbs to the tissues.
It has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiproliferative (i.e., inhibits cell growth), antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, anticancer, cardiovascular and anti-diabetic properties. As such, it’s said to help heal wounds, ulcers, skin burns and other skin disorders; purify the blood, alleviate gastric disturbances, and support the eyes and teeth. In small quantities, it can also help reduce fat. And when taken with water, it helps energize the body and flush the kidneys.
Truth #2: It’s great for kapha imbalances
I threw this in for all the ayurveda lovers. Because of its sharp, rough and astringent qualities, it’s helpful in reducing the oily/moist, dull and sweet qualities of excess kapha. You can use it to alleviate colds, cough and congestion. In small amounts, it can also balance vata.
And the lie: Cooking with honey is good for you
Charak Samhita, an ancient ayurvedic text advises against heating honey or taking it if you’re suffering from heat. Heating it alters its attributes as the chemical composition of the sugar and fructose in it changes. This creates ama (roughly translated as toxins) in the body. Ama is undigested or improperly digested food particles, which interfere with your digestive processes.
In Western terms, cooking honey increases the production of HMF (5-hydroxymethylfurfural), a toxic substance. While this may not be the only contributing factor to honey becoming heavy on the digestive system, HMF is a factor. In fact, a study with mice found that at a dosage of 250 mg/kg, most animals died after 5 – 11 days. And a study with honey bees reported 15 – 58.7% death rates for caged bees within 20 days after feeding them a sugar solution containing 30-150 mg/kg HMF.
While new research is emerging to suggest that some levels of HMF may have health benefits, the HMF level in honey has been set at 40 mg/kg for humans to be safe, with a higher limit of 80 mg/kg for honeys from tropical regions.
And in a study that looked at cooking honey and ghee together, HMF levels became unhealthy at >284F (>140C). Other sources cite that honey can start changing its chemical composition at >104F (>40C) and recommend against consuming it at that temperature.
Besides the HMF issue, honey loses its nutritional value and health benefits when it’s heated. Hence, ayurveda recommends consuming it in its raw, natural form. Uncooked.
If you want to learn more about honey and other contraindications, especially for infants less than a year old, check out the “Honey consumption and contradiction” section of this report.
Just remember: everything in moderation. Enjoy your honey! Preferably without cooking.
P.S.: We love honey, too. It goes well with our teas and we even use it in our coconut milk and honey face mask.
Image by Roman Odintsov, Pexels