Humans appear to have been eating honey for at least 8,000 years, and some scientists have even theorized that its energy dense and glucose-rich nature helped us evolve our big brains! However, in our modern world, where sugar often does more harm than good, can we still consider honey a healthy food?

Honey is made when bees suck up nectar from flowers using an elongated nose-like appendage called a proboscis. They then store it in a special "honey stomach," and begin to secrete enzymes that will help them convert it to a form more suitable for long-term storage, which is what we call "honey."

The bees then take this honey back to their hive, where they store it in wax-like structures called honeycombs. These honeycombs are gathered by beekeepers, who will then extract the liquid from them and strain it.

This honey can come in many different varieties, depending on what sort of flower the bees gather their honey from, which will naturally vary by region. These different kinds of honey tend to have distinctly different flavors.

The calorie content of honey can vary by type, but an average tablespoon will contain 64 calories, practically all of which come from sugar, which is why it is not allowed on the 123Diet. This sugar is composed of about 30 percent glucose and less than 40 percent fructose, as opposed to table sugar, which is made up of about 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose.

The difference between the composition of honey and that of table sugar means that it is actually higher in calories than sugar, but it is also sweeter, meaning a smaller amount of it might suffice in a recipe.

The remaining 30 percent of sugar in honey is made up of more than 20 other forms of sugar, some of which are far more complex than fructose or glucose, meaning that they will take more energy to digest.

This means that honey has a slightly lower glycemic index than sugar despite its higher calorie content, and a study done in people with diabetes confirmed that honey increased their blood sugar levels less than sugar did.

However, honey still is high-sugar enough to contribute to the cycle of blood sugar spikes and crashes that can lead to the development of metabolic syndrome, especially if it's eaten with other food that is high in refined carbohydrates. This is why honey is classified as an added sugar by the United States Department of Agriculture a food that experts suggest you should consume only 6-9 teaspoons of per day.

That doesn't mean that honey doesn't have its good points. Another study that directly compared honey and table sugar found that honey seemed to help decrease bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol. It was also associated with lower triglyceride levels and a mild reduction in body weight!

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Honey also contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals, though the amount in a serving will probably be less than 1 percent of your RDI (recommended daily intake).

The better news is that honey tends to be high in antioxidants and other plant compounds, which give it powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Dark honeys like buckwheat and honeydew honey seemed to have the most antioxidant activity, with lighter versions like alfalfa honey having less.

Honey has been used in some forms of traditional medicine for years, and modern medicine is now catching up to these observations with formal evidence. Though honey should never be given to children under one because of the risk of infant botulism, studies have shown that honey can ease the symptoms of older children who are suffering from coughing and sore throat.

Honey can actually treat these symptoms more effectively than dextromethorphan, a cold medicine known commercially as "Robitussin," and it can also help improve the quality of sufferer's sleep!

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Additionally, honey has been found to reduce the symptoms of diarrhea caused by acute gastroenteritis, to prevent the brain damage normally induced by toxins, and to have a beneficial effect on blood pressure.

Honey has also shown potential as a topical antibacterial, and one area where it is a clear winner over sugar is the area of oral health. These antibacterial properties mean that honey can be useful in fighting plaque and gingivitis, in quite a contrast to cavity-causing sugar.

Honey also seems to have a prebiotic effect, meaning that it can serve as a food source for the good bacteria in the gut, whereas sugar and artificial sweeteners both tend to have a negative effect on the delicate balance of our intestinal bacteria.

There are also situations where honey's easily digestible nature and high energy content work in its favor, such as during exercise. Ingesting a honey drink was found to help cyclists keep up their energy and performance during a bike ride.

Though less "natural" sugar dextrose had the same effect, honey is still a more healthful option for a quick refuel between bouts of intense exercise than a sports drink because it can reduce the oxidative stress and DNA damage that might usually occur.

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Before you make like Winnie the Pooh and start reaching for the honey jar, you should also bear in mind the difference between raw honey and processed honey; Processed honey undergoes a pasteurization process and more extensive filtration than raw honey does, and can also be treated with preservatives.

This can increase its shelf life, remove any lingering impurities, and make it look more attractive, but it does so at the cost of reducing honey's concentration of beneficial nutrients like propolis and pollen.

Note also that honey labeled pure, clover, or organic may still not be raw, and you should also be aware that anything that's merely honey-flavored is unlikely to contain much honey at all.

Along with paying close attention to the label of your honey, know that it should be thick and slow moving and have a distinct floral smell; if it doesn't have these qualities, it has likely been mixed with less healthy syrups. For the most wholesome and least processed honey possible, it may be a good idea to head to your local farmer's market instead of your supermarket.

Though honey isn't as empty as sugar, just because it may be healthful in moderation doesn't mean you can use it unthinkingly, which is why it is prohibited on the 123Diet. Despite all of its pros, honey is still a high calorie food, and thus should be used sparingly if weight loss or weight maintenance is your goal.

Better choices calorie-wise include stevia and nativia, but if you're in a place in your health journey where you'd be willing to choose a more nutrient rich option that's also a little more energy dense, honey just may be a great addition to your diet. To minimize your risk of a blood sugar spike, try pairing it with a high-protein and low-sugar food like some plain yogurt!

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