I’ve learned over the course of my studies and experience that nearly all sweeteners have their downfalls, and the state in which we consume them is immeasurably important. I don’t use any sweeteners in my food anymore unless I’m purposefully indulging. I understand, however, that folks are looking for healthier options when it comes to savory’s counterpart.
Every Thursday, over the course of the coming weeks, I’ll examine the virtues and downfalls of popular sweeteners in an attempt to educate and allow you to make your own decision about which to ingest. One note: I won’t be addressing artificial sweeteners in these blogs. In case you don’t already know, I despise the idea of fake “food.” If it has to be made in a lab, I don’t want it in my body.
Without further ado, welcome to the first ever installment of Sweet Thursday. Today’s edition is devoted to the hippies’ favorite, honey.
When I figured out decades ago that processed white sugar is nothing more than a drug, I began to sweeten all my food with honey. Ultimately, I found I dug the taste more; I still do. The danger is in interpreting alternatives to the white stuff as exponentially healthier. It’s a trick we’ve all played on ourselves from time to time, and it only serves to make those sweet foods easier to consume. Calorie counters beware.
Honey is a thick, golden liquid produced by industrious bees. It’s made using the nectar of flowering plants and is saved inside the beehive for the bees to eat during times of scarcity.
I remember my dad grabbing a spoon of the sticky stuff at my first sign of a cold, adding a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of cayenne pepper, and shoving it my direction. “Here,” he’d tell me, “This will make your throat feel better.” It always seemed to work; now I try similar tricks on my young men (I told you I was becoming my father). Tradition, tradition.
In its raw, unrefined form, it has been shown in studies to work as an anti-allergenic, anti-inflammatory and expectorant. It contains some smaller quantities of B6, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and certain amino acids. The minerals found in honey include calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc.
You’re excited right now, thinking that honey is something you have in your pantry, unlike, say, turmeric root. Hold on though, the “honey” in the cute little squeezy bear isn’t going to give you the magic health benefits my dad promised. Raw, unrefined honey with your nutritional goodness intact will look like this.
Once honey is heated, processed, refined, etc., its nutritional content is greatly reduced. Many brands of honey don’t contain pollen. Wait, pollen? The stuff making you sneeze right about now?
Food Matters articulates some of the benefits of bee pollen:
Energy Enhancer – The range of nutrients found within bee pollen makes it a great natural energizer. The carbohydrates, protein and B vitamins can help keep you going all day by enhancing stamina and fighting off fatigue.
Skin Soother – Bee pollen is often used in topical products that aim to treat inflammatory conditions and common skin irritations like psoriasis or eczema. The amino acids and vitamins protect the skin and aid the regeneration of cells.
Respiratory System – Bee pollen contains a high quantity of antioxidants that may have an anti-inflammatory effect on the tissues of the lungs, preventing the onset of asthma.
Like many foods, processed honey barely resembles its natural, unfiltered state. Prior to filtration, honey contains royal jelly, bee pollen and propolis — three major sources of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. When heated and filtered, honey loses vitamins A, C, D, E and K, various B vitamins, calcium, potassium, magnesium and live enzymes. Buying local, organic raw honey ensures that you receive these nutrients at their most powerful, and it acclimates your body to the region.
I’m not suggesting that you eat a jar of honey a day, Winnie the Pooh. You’re still consuming sugar, albeit a form with a few added benefits. You’re well aware of my mantra by now, fat doesn’t make you fat, sugar makes you fat. You’re consuming 17 grams of sugar per tablespoon, so go easy.
Here’s my recommendation. Learn to appreciate the intense sweetness that comes from the natural sugars already present in your food, then use honey as a condiment. An apple without the gooey spread is already exceptionally sweet; drizzle with a bit of honey and you’ve got a healthier alternative to desert. A few drops in green tea will satisfy you after you’ve taught yourself to taste the natural sweet flavor of the tea leaf independently.
In moderation, I endorse your exploration of the sweet darling of the 70’s.