After: American Journal of the College of Nutrition, 2008, 27: 677-689
Honey for Nutrition and Health: a Review
Stefan Bogdanov, PhD, Tomislav Jurendic, Robert Sieber, PhD, Peter
Swiss Bee Research Centre, Agroscope Liebefeld-Posieux Research Station ALP,
Key words: honey, nutrition, composition, glycemic index
Due to the variation of botanical origin honey differs in appearance, sensory
perception and composition. The main nutritional and health relevant components
are carbohydrates, mainly fructose and glucose but also about 25 different
oligosaccharides. Although honey is a high carbohydrate food, its glycemic index
varies within a wide range from 32 to 85, depending on the botanical source. It
contains small amounts of proteins, enzymes, amino acids, minerals, trace elements,
vitamins, aroma compounds and polyphenols. The review covers the composition,
the nutritional contribution of its components, its physiological and nutritional effects.
It shows that honey has a variety of positive nutritional and health effects, if
consumed at higher doses of 50 to 80 g per intake.
1 Adress reprint requests to: Peter Gallmann, PhD, Swiss Bee Research Centre,
Agroscope Liebefeld-Posieux Research Station ALP, CH-3003 Bern, Switzerland
Abbreviations: CHO = carbohydrate, GI = glycemic index, GL = glycemic load, ORAC =
oxygen radical absorbance capacity; PGE = prostaglandin E; PGF = prostaglandin F, RDI
= recommended daily intake
Key teaching points:
• About 95% of the honey dry matter is composed of carbohydrates, mainly
fructose and glucose. 5-10 % of the total carbohydrates are oligosaccharides,
in total about 25 different di- and trisaccharides.
• The Glycemic Index of honey varies from 32 to 85, depending on the
botanical source which is lower than sucrose (60 to 110). Fructose-rich
honeys such as acacia honey have a low GI.
• Besides, honey contains small amounts of proteins, enzymes, amino acids,
minerals, trace elements, vitamins, aroma compounds and polyphenols.
• Honey has been shown to possess antimicrobial, antiviral, antiparasitory, anti-
inflammatory, antioxidant, antimutagenic and antitumor effects.
• Due to its high carbohydrate content and functional properties honey is an
excellent source of energy for athletes.
• Most of the health promoting properties of honey are only achieved by
application of rather high doses of honey such as 50 to 80 g per intake.
As the only available natural sweetener honey was an important food for Homo
sapiens from his very beginnings. Indeed, the relation between bees and man
started as early as Stone Age . In order to reach the sweet honey, man was ready
to risk his life (Figure 1). The first written reference to honey, a Sumerian tablet
writing, dating back to 2100-2000 BC, mentions honey’s use as a drug and an
ointment . In most ancient cultures honey has been used for both nutritional and
medical purposes [2-5]. According to the bible, King Solomon has said: “Eat honey
my son, because it is good” (Old Testament, proverb 24:13). The belief that honey is
a nutrient, a drug and an ointment has been carried into our days. For a long time in
human history it was an important carbohydrate source and the only largely available
sweetener until industrial sugar production began to replace it after 1800 . In the
long human tradition honey has been used not only as a nutrient but also as a
medicine . An alternative medicine branch, called apitherapy, has developed in
recent years, offering treatments based on honey and the other bee products against
many diseases. The knowledge on this subject is compiled in various books [e.g.
6,7] or on relevant web pages such as www.apitherapy.com, www.apitherapy.org.
The major use of honey in healing today is its application in the treatment of wounds,
burns and infections which is not a subject of this review since it is reviewed
At present the annual world honey production is about 1.2 million tons, which is less
than 1% of the total sugar production. The consumption of honey differs strongly
from country to country. The major honey exporting countries China and Argentina
have small annual consumption rates of 0.1 to 0.2 kg per capita. Honey consumption
is higher in developed countries, where the home production does not always cover
the market demand. In the European Union, which is both a major honey importer
and producer, the annual consumption per capita varies from medium (0.3-0.4 kg) in
Italy, France, Great Britain, Denmark and Portugal to high (1-1.8 kg) in Germany,
Austria, Switzerland, Portugal, Hungary and Greece, while in countries such as USA,
Canada and Australia the average per capita consumption is 0.6 to 0.8 kg/year [see
Different surveys on nutritional and health aspects of honey have been compiled [8-
13]. However, as they are not complete and comprehensive, we undertook the task
to review all the available relevant sources on this topic.
Table 1 The overall composition of honey is shown in Table 1. The carbohydrates are the
main constituents, comprising about 95% of the honey dry weight. Beyond
carbohydrates, honey contains numerous compounds such as organic acids,
proteins, amino acids, minerals, polyphenols, vitamins and aroma compounds.
Summarising the data shown in Table 1 it can be concluded that the contribution of
honey to the recommended daily intake is small. However, its importance with
respect to nutrition lies in the manifold physiological effects . It should be noted
that the composition of honey depends greatly on the botanical origin , a fact that
has been seldom considered in the nutritional and physiological studies.
The main sugars are the monosaccharides fructose and glucose. Additionally, about
25 different oligosacharides have been detected [18,19]. The principal
oligosaccharides in blossom honey are the disaccharides sucrose, maltose,
trehalose and turanose, as well as some nutritionally relevant ones such as panose,
1-kestose, 6-kestose and palatinose. Compared to blossom honey honeydew honey
contains higher amounts of the oligosaccharides melezitose and raffinose. In the
process of digestion after honey intake the principal carbohydrates fructose and
glucose are quickly transported into the blood and can be utilized for energy
requirements by the human body. A daily dose of 20 g honey will cover about 3% of
the required daily energy (Table 2).
Proteins, enzymes and amino acids
Honey contains roughly 0.5% proteins, mainly enzymes and free amino acids. The
contribution of that fraction to human protein intake is marginal (Table 2).
The three main honey enzymes are diastase (amylase), decomposing starch or
glycogen into smaller sugar units, invertase (sucrase, α-glucosidase), decomposing
sucrose into fructose and glucose, as well as glucose oxidase, producing hydrogen
peroxide and gluconic acid from glucose.
Vitamins, minerals and trace compounds
The amount of vitamins and minerals is small and the contribution of honey to the
recommended daily intake (RDI) of the different trace substances is marginal (Table
2). It is known that different unifloral honeys contain varying amounts of minerals and
trace elements . From the nutritional point of view chromium, manganese and
selenium are important, especially for 1 to 15 years old children. The elements
sulphur, boron, cobalt, fluoride, iodide, molybdenum and silicon can be important in
human nutrition too, although there are no RDI values proposed for these elements
Honey contains 0.3-25 mg/kg choline and 0.06 to 5 mg/kg acetylcholine . Choline
is essential for cardiovascular and brain function as well as for cellular membrane
composition and repair, while acetylcholine acts as a neurotransmitter.
Aroma compounds, taste-building compounds and polyphenols
There is a wide variety of honeys with different tastes and colours, depending on
their botanical origin . The sugars are the main taste-building compounds.
Generally, honey with a high fructose content (e.g. acacia) are sweeter compared to
those with high glucose concentration (e.g. rape). The honey aroma depends also on
the quantity and type of acids and amino acids present. In the past decades
extensive research on aroma compounds has been carried out and more than 500
different volatile compounds were identified in different types of honey. Indeed, most
aroma building compounds vary in the different types of honey depending on its
botanical origin . Honey flavour is an important quality for its application in food
industry and also a selection criterion for the consumer’s choice.
Polyphenols are another important group of compounds with respect to the
appearance and the functional properties of honey. 56 to 500 mg/kg total
polyphenols were found in different honey types [31,32]. Polyphenols in honey are
mainly flavonoids (e.g. quercetin, luteolin, kaempferol, apigenin, chrysin, galangin),
phenolic acids and phenolic acid derivatives . These are compounds known to
have antioxidant properties. The main polyphenols are the flavonoids, their content
can vary between 60 and 460 μg/100 g of honey and was higher in samples
produced during a dry season with high temperatures .
Contaminants and toxic compounds
The same as any other natural food, honey can be contaminated by the
environment, e.g. by heavy metals, pesticides, antibiotics etc. . Generally, the
contamination levels found in Europe do not present a health hazard. The main
problem in recent years was the contamination by antibiotics, used against the bee
brood diseases, but at present this problem seems to be under control. In the
European Union antibiotics are not allowed for that purpose, and thus honey
containing antibiotics is also not permitted to be traded on the market.
A few plants used by bees are known to produce nectar containing toxic substances.
Diterpenoids and pyrrazolidine alkaloids are two main toxin groups relevant in
nectar. Some plants of the Ericaceae family belonging to the sub-family
Rhododendron, e.g. Rhododendron ponticum contain toxic polyhydroxylated cyclic
hydrocarbons or diterpenoids . The substances of the other toxin group, the
pyrrazolidine alkaloids, found in different honey types and the potential intoxication
by these substances is reviewed . Cases of honey poisoning have been reported
rarely in the literature and have concerned individuals from the following regions:
Caucasus, Turkey, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Nepal, South Africa, and also
some countries in North and South America. Observed symptoms of such honey
poisoning are vomiting, headache, stomach ache, unconsciousness, delirium,
nausea and sight weakness. In general the poisonous plants are known to the local
beekeepers and honey, which can possibly contain poisonous substances, is not
marketed. To minimise risks of honey born poisoning in countries where plants with
poisonous nectar are growing tourists are advised to buy honey in shops and not on
the road and from individual beekeepers.
Glycemic index and fructose
The impact of carbohydrates on human health is discussed controversially,
especially the understanding of how the carbohydrates of a given food affect the
blood glucose level. Today, the dietary significance of carbohydrates is often
indicated in terms of the glycemic index (GI). Carbohydrates with a low GI induce a
small increase of glucose in blood, while those with a high GI induce a high blood
glucose level. The only comprehensive data on honey GI are the one presented in
Table 4, based mainly on data of different Australian honeys [38,39]. There is a
significant negative correlation between fructose content and GI, probably due to the
different fructose/glucose ratios of the honey types tested. It is known that unifloral
honeys have varying fructose content and fructose/glucose ratios . Some
honeys, e.g. acacia and yellow box, with relatively high concentration of fructose,
have a lower GI than other honey types (Table 4). There was no significant
correlation between GI and the other honey sugars. The GI values of 4 honeys found
in one study varied between 69 and 74 , while in another one the value of a
honey unidentified botanical origin was found to be 35 . As the GI concept claims
to predict the role of carbohydrates in the development of obesity , low GI honeys
might be a valuable alternative to high GI sweeteners. In order to take into
consideration the quantity of ingested food, a new term, the glycemic load, was
introduced. It is calculated as follows: the GI value is multiplied by the carbohydrate
content in a given portion and divided by 100. Values lower than 10 are considered
low, between 10 and 20 are intermediate and above 20 belong to the category high.
For an assumed honey portion of 25 g the glycemic load of most honey types is low
and some types are in the intermediate range (Table 4).
The GI concept was developed to provide a numeric classification of carbohydrate
foods, assuming that such data are useful in situations where the glucose tolerance
is impaired. Therefore, food with a low GI should provide benefits with respect to
diabetes and to the reduction of coronary heart disease . The consumption of
honey types with a low GI, e.g. acacia honey might have beneficial physiological
effects and could be used by diabetes patients. An intake of 50 g honey of
unspecified type by healthy people and diabetes patients led to smaller increases of
blood insulin and glucose than the consumption of the same amounts of glucose or
of a sugar mixture resembling to honey [44,45]. It was shown that consumption of
honey has a favourable effect on diabetes patients, causing a significant decrease of
plasma glucose [46-48]. Honey was well tolerated by patients with diabetes of
unspecified type  and by diabetes type-2 patients [50-52]. According to recent
studies, long term consumption of food with a high GI is a significant risk factor for
type-2 diabetes patients . However, the GI concept for the general population is
still an object of discussions .
Fructose is the main sugar in most honey types (Table 1). A surplus consumption of
fructose in today’s American diet, mainly in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, is
suspected to be one of the main causes for overweight problems . By reviewing
clinical studies these authors found that fructose ingestion causes a rise of de-novo
lipogenesis, which has an unfavourable effect on energy regulation and on body
weight. In rat feeding experiments the hypertriglyceridemic effect observed after
intake of fructose does not take place after feeding of honey . Compared to rats
fed with fructose, honey-fed rats had higher plasma α-tocopherol levels, higher α-
tocopherol/triacylglycerol ratios, lower plasma NOx concentrations and a lower
susceptibility of the heart to lipid peroxidation. These data suggest a potential
nutritional benefit of substituting fructose by honey in the ingested diets.
Ingestion of both honey (2 g/kg body weight) and fructose prevented the ethanol-
induced transformation of erythrocytes in mice. In humans faster recovery from
ethanol intoxication after honey administration has been reported while a higher
ethanol elimination rate has also been confirmed [58,59].
DIFFERENT PHYSIOLOGICAL EFFECTS
Antimicrobial, antiviral and antiparasitic activity
Honey inhibits the growth of micro-organisms and fungi. The antibacterial effect of
honey, mostly against gram-positive bacteria, is well documented [60-63]. Both
bacteriostatic and bactericidal effects have been reported for many strains, many of
them pathogenic (Table 5). Further, it was reported that honey has also been shown
to inhibit Rubella virus in vitro , three species of the Leishmania parasite  and
The antimicrobial effect of honey is due to different substances and depends on the
botanical origin of honey [60-63]. The low water activity of honey inhibits bacterial
growth. Honey glucose oxidase produces the antibacterial agent hydrogen peroxide
, but the peroxide production capacity depends also on honey catalase activity
. There are also other non-peroxide antibacterial substances with different
chemical origin, e.g. aromatic acids , unknown compounds with different
chemical properties  and phenolics and flavonoids [70,71]. The low honey pH
can also be responsible for the antibacterial activity .
Contrary to the non-peroxide activity, the peroxide one can be destroyed by heat,
light and storage  (Table 6). These different factors had a bigger effect on the
antibacterial activity of blossom honey than on honeydew honey. Thus, for optimum
antibacterial activity, honey should be stored in a cool, dark place and be consumed
The term “oxidative stress” describes the lack of equilibrium between the production
of free radicals and the antioxidant protective activity in a given organism. Protection
against oxidation is thought to prevent some chronic diseases . The oxidative
modification of the lipoproteins is considered to be an important factor for the
pathogenesis of arteriosclerosis . Honey has been found to contain significant
antioxidant activity including glucose oxidase, catalase, ascorbic acid, flavonoids,
phenolic acids, carotenoid derivatives, organic acids, Maillard reaction products,
amino acids and proteins [31,75-84]. The antioxidative activity of honey polyphenols
can be measured in vitro by comparing the oxygen radical absorbance capacity
(ORAC) with the total phenolics concentration (Table 7). There is a significant
correlation between the antioxidant activity, the phenolic content of honey and the
inhibition of the in vitro lipoprotein oxidation of human serum . Furthermore, in a
lipid peroxidation model system buckwheat honey showed a similar antioxidant
activity as 1 mM α-tocopherol . The influence of honey ingestion on the
antioxidative capacity of plasma was tested in two studies [86,87]. In the first one,
the trial persons were given maize syrup or buckwheat honeys with a different
antioxidant capacity in a dose of 1.5 g/kg body weight. In comparison to the sugar
control, honey caused an increase of both the antioxidant and the reducing serum
capacity. In the second study humans received a diet supplemented with a daily
honey serving of 1.2 g/kg body weight. Honey increased the body antioxidant
agents: blood vitamin C concentration by 47%, β-carotene by 3%, uric acid by 12%,
and glutathione reductase by 7% . It should be borne in mind that the antioxidant
activity depends on the botanical origin of honey and varies to a great extent in
honeys from different botanical sources [31,77,78,88-90].
The impact of heat and storage time on the antioxidant capacity of clover and
buckwheat honey was analysed recently . While processing of clover honey did
not significantly influence its antioxidant capacity, storage during 6 months reduced it
by about 30%. After a given storage period the antioxidant capacity of processed
and raw honeys was similar. In another study both antioxidant activity and brown
pigment formation increased upon heat treatment and storage .
Antimutagenic and antitumor activity
Mutagenic substances act directly or indirectly by promoting mutations of the genetic
structure. During the roasting and frying of food heterocyclic amines are formed, e.g.
Trp-p-1 (3-Amino-1,4-dimethyl-5H-pyridol [4,3-b] indole). The antimutagenic activity
of honeys from seven different floral sources (acacia, buckwheat, fireweed, soybean,
tupelo and Christmas berry) against Trp-p-1 was tested by the Ames assay and
compared to a sugar analogue as well as to individually tested simple sugars . All
honeys exhibited a significant inhibition of Trp-p-1 mutagenicity. Glucose and
fructose were found to have a similar antimutagenic activity as honey. Nigerose,
another sugar, present in honey [18,19] has an immunoprotective activity . The
anti-metastatic effect of honey and its possible mode of anti-tumor action was
studied by the application of honey in spontaneous mammary carcinoma in
methylcholanthrene-induced fibrosarcoma of CBA mice and in anaplastic colon
adenocarcinoma of Y59 rats . A statistically significant anti-metastatic effect was
achieved by oral application of honey. These findings indicate that honey activates
the immune system and honey ingestion may be advantageous with respect to
cancer and metastasis prevention. In addition, it is postulated that honey given orally
before tumour cell inoculation may have a decreased effect on tumour spreading. In
another study of the same group the effect of honey on tumour growth,
metastasising activity and induction of apoptosis and necrosis in murine tumour
models (mammary and colon carcinoma) was investigated . A pronounced
antimetastatic effect was observed when honey was applied before tumour-cell
inoculation (per oral 2 g kg-1 for mice or 1 g kg-1 for rats, once a day for 10
In another study the anti-tumour effect of honey against bladder cancer was
examined in vitro and in vivo in mice . According to these results honey is an
effective agent for inhibiting the growth of different bladder cancer cell lines (T24,
RT4, 253J and MBT-2) in vitro. It is also effective when administered intralesionally
or orally in the MBT-2 bladder cancer implantation mice models.
Anti-inflammatory effects of honey in humans were studied by Al Waili and Boni 
after ingestion of 70 g honey. The mean plasma concentration of thromboxane B(2)
was reduced by 7%, 34%, and 35%, that of PGE(2) by 14%, 10%, and 19% at 1, 2,
and 3 hours, respectively, after honey ingestion. The level of PGF(2α) was
decreased by 31% at 2 hours and by 14% at 3 hours after honey ingestion. At day
15, plasma concentrations of thromboxane B(2), PGE(2) and PGF(2α) decreased by
48%, 63% and 50%, respectively. The ingestion of honey decreased inflammation in
an experimental model of inflammatory bowel disease in rats . Honey
administration is as effective as prednisolone treatment in an inflammatory model of
colitis. The postulated mechanism of action is by preventing the formation of free
radicals released from the inflamed tissues. The reduction of inflammation could be
due to the antibacterial effect of honey or to a direct antiinflammatory effect. The
latter hypothesis was supported in animal studies, where antiinflammatory effects of
honey were observed in wounds with no bacterial infection .
Various physiological effects
The effect of honey on the antibody production against thymus-dependent antigen in
sheep red blood cells and thymus-independent antigen (Escherichia coli) in mice
was studied . Oral honey intake stimulates antibody production during primary
and secondary immune responses against thymus-dependent and thymus-
In animal experiments honey showed an immunosuppressive activity . This
might explain why it has been hypothesised, that ingestion of honey can relieve
In a study humans received a diet supplemented with a daily honey consumption of
1.2 g/kg body weight . The effects observed in blood serum were an increase of
monocytes (50 %), iron (20%), copper (33%), a slight increase of lymphocyte and
eosinophil percentages, zinc, magnesium, hemoglobin and packed cell volume and a
reduction of: ferritin (11%), immunoglobulin E (34%), aspartate transaminase (22%),
alanine transaminase (18%), lactic acid dehydrogenase (41%), creatine kinase (33%)
and fasting sugar (5%).
NUTRITION AND HEALTH EFFECTS
There is much debate whether honey is harmful to teeth. Some reports show a
cariogenic effect of honey [103-106] or a much less cariogenic effect than sucrose
. Due to its antibacterial activity honey ingestion inhibits the growth of bacteria,
causing caries [108,109] and might induce a carioprotective effect [110,111]. It was
shown that Manuka honey, a very potent antimicrobial honey, has a positive effect
against dental plaque development and gingivitis  and can be used instead of
refined sugar in the manufacture of candy .
According to electron microscope studies the ingestion of honey causes no erosion
of tooth enamel as observed after drinking fruit juice . Ten minutes after
consumption of fruit juice tooth erosion was observed, while 30 minutes after honey
ingestion the erosion was only very weak. This effect can be explained only partially
by the calcium, phosphorous and fluoride levels of honey and other colloidal honey
components might also play a role.
Summarising the different findings, it can be concluded that honey is probably not as
cariogenic as other sugars and in some cases it can be carioprotective. But to be on
the safe side, it is advised to clean the teeth after consumption of honey.
According to the Muslim holy book “The Holy Hadith”, dating back to the 8th century
AD prophet Mohamed recommended honey against diarrhoea . Also, the
Roman physician Celsus (ca. 25 AD) used honey as a cure for diarrhoea . The
application of honey for prevention and treatments of gastro-intestinal disorders such
as peptic ulcers, gastritis, gastroenteritis has been reported in various books and
publications from Eastern Europe [6,7,116-120] and from Arab countries .
Honey is a potent inhibitor of the causing agent of peptic ulcers and gastritis,
Helicobacter pylori [122-124]. In rats honey acted against gastric ulcers
experimentally induced by indomethacin and alcohol [125-128]. Honey is not
involved in prostaglandin production, but it has a stimulatory effect on the sensory
nerves in the stomach that respond to capsaicin [125,129]. A second mechanism of
action has been proposed, postulating that this effect is due to the antioxidant
properties of honey. Honey intake in rats prevented indomethacin-induced gastric
lesions in rats by reducing the ulcer index, microvascular permeability, and
myeloperoxidase activity of the stomach . In addition, honey was found to
maintain the level of non-protein sulfhydryl compounds (e.g. glutathione) in gastric
tissue subjected to factors inducing ulceration [125,129,131,132]. Ingestion of
dandelion honey reduced gastric juice acidity by 56% . The gastric emptying of
saccharides after ingestion of honey was slower than that after ingestion of a mixture
of glucose and fructose .
Other important effects of honey on human digestion have been linked to
oligosaccharides. These honey constituents have prebiotic effects, similar to that of
fructo-oligosaccharides [135,136]. The oligosaccharide panose was the most active
oligosaccharide. The oligosaccharides cause an increase of bifidobacteria and
lactobacilli and exert the prebiotic effect in a synergistic mode of action .
According to an invitro study on five bifidobacteria strains honey has a growth
promoting effect similar to that of fructose and glucose oligosaccharides .
Unifloral honeys of sour-wood, alfalfa and sage origin stimulated the growth of five
human intestinal bifidobacteria . In another study honey increased both in vivo
(small and large intestines of rats) and in vitro the building of Lactobacillus
acidophilus and Lactobacillus plantarum, while sucrose had no effect .
In clinical studies with infants and children honey shortens the duration of bacterial
diarrhoea and did not prolong the duration of non-bacterial diarrhoea .
In certain cases, consumption of relatively large amounts of honey (50 to 100 g) can
lead to a mild laxative effect in individuals with insufficient absorption of honey
fructose [142,143]. Fructose alone is less readily absorbed in the intestinal tract than
fructose together with glucose . The mild laxative properties of honey are used
for the treatment of constipation in Eastern Europe .
Supplementation of honey in concentrations of 2, 4, 6 and 8 g/100 g protein fed to
rats, improved protein and lipid digestibility .
The effects of ingestion of 75 g of natural honey compared to the same amount of
artificial honey (fructose plus glucose) or glucose on plasma glucose, plasma insulin,
cholesterol, triglycerides (TG), blood lipids, C-reactive proteins and homocysteine,
most of them being risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, were studied in humans
. Elevation of insulin and C-reactive protein was significantly higher after glucose
intake than after honey consumption. Glucose reduced cholesterol and low-density
lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C). Artificial honey slightly decreased cholesterol and
LDL-C and elevated TG. Honey reduced cholesterol, LDL-C, and TG and slightly
elevated high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-C). In patients with
hypertriglyceridemia, artificial honey increased TG, while honey decreased TG. In
patients with hyperlipidemia, artificial honey increased LDL-C, while honey
decreased LDL-C. In diabetic patients, honey compared with dextrose caused a
significantly lower rise of plasma glucose .
Honey can contain nitric oxide (NO) metabolites which are known indicators for
cardiovascular disease risk. Increased levels of nitric oxides in honey might have a
protecting function in cardiovascular diseases. Total nitrite concentration in different
biological fluids from humans, including saliva, plasma, and urine was measured
after ingestion of 80 g of honey [146,147]. Salivary, plasma and urinary NO
metabolite concentrations showed a tendency to increase. Different honey types
contained various concentrations of NO metabolites, darker or fresh honeys
containing more NO metabolites than light or stored honey. After heating, NO
metabolites decreased in all honey types.
Compared to fructose-fed rats, honey-fed rats had a higher plasma α-tocopherol
level, and a higher α-tocopherol/triacylglycerol ratio, as well as lower plasma nitrate
levels and lower susceptibility of the heart to lipid peroxidation .
The application of honey in infant nutrition used to be a common recommendation
during the last centuries and there are some interesting observations. Infants on a
diet with honey had better blood formation and a higher weight gain than when a diet
without honey was applied . Honey was better tolerated by babies than sucrose
 and compared to a water based placebo significantly reduced the crying
phases of infants . Infants had a higher weight increase when fed by honey than
by sucrose, and showed less throw up than the sucrose controls . When infants
were fed on honey rather than on sucrose an increase of haemoglobin content, a
better skin colour and no digestion problems were encountered [152,153]. Infants on
honey diet had a better weight increase and were less susceptible to diseases than
infants fed normally or when given blood building agents .
The positive effects of honey in infant diet are attributed to effects on the digestion
process. One possible cause is the well established effect of oligosaccharides on B.
bifidus , see also section Gastroenterology. When fed on a mixture of honey
and milk infants showed a regularly steady weight gain and had an acidophilic micro-
organism flora rich in B. bifidus . Another experiment with honey and milk
showed that infants were suffering less frequently from diarrhoea, and their blood
contained more haemoglobin compared to those on a diet based on sucrose
sweetened milk . Honey fed infants had an improved calcium uptake, and
lighter and thinner faeces .
However, there is a health concern for infants regarding the presence of Clostridium
(Cl.) botulinum in honey. Since the presence of this bacterium in natural foods is
ubiquitous and honey is a non sterilized packaged food from natural origin the risk of
a low contamination level cannot be excluded. Spores of this bacterium can survive
in honey, but they cannot build toxin. Thus, in the stomach of infants younger than
one year the bacteria spores from honey can survive and theoretically build the toxin,
while children older than 12 months can ingest honey without any risk. In some
cases, infant botulism has been attributed to ingestion of honey [157-160]. In
Germany one case of infant botulism per year is reported . As a result of the
reported infant botulism cases some honey packers (e.g. the British Honey Importers
and Packers Association) place a warning on the honey label that “honey should not
be given to infants under 12 months of age”. Recently, a scientific committee of the
EU examined the hazard of Cl. botulinum in honey . It has concluded that
microbiological examinations of honey are necessary for controlling the spore
concentration in honey, as the incidence of Cl. botulinum is relatively low and
sporadic and as such tests will not prevent infant botulism. In the EU countries the
health authorities have not issued a regulation for placing a warning label on honey
The physiological action of gel and powdered forms of honey as a carbohydrate
source for athlete performance was studied recently under controlled conditions by
Kreider and coworkers [162-165]. Honey increased significantly the heart frequency
and the blood glucose level during the performance . It did not promote physical
or psychological signs of hypoglycaemia in fasted athletes , or during resistance
training . In another trial the effect of low and high GI carbohydrate gels and
honey were tested on a 64 km cycling performance [162,165]. Both high (glucose)
and low GI (honey) gels increased cycling performance and the effect of honey was
slightly better than the one of glucose. According to the above studies honey is well
tolerated and can be an effective carbohydrate source for athletic performance.
Different health enhancing effects
A positive effect of honey on hepatitis A patients was found after ingestion of clover
and rape honey, causing a decrease of the alanine aminotranferase activity (by 9 to
13 times) and a decrease of bilirubin production by 2.1 to 2.6 times .
Honey has a supportive effect on patients who have undergone a cancer radiation
therapy by reducing the incidence of radiation mucositis. Patients with head and
neck cancer treated with radiation therapy were given honey. There was a significant
reduction in the symptomatic grade 3/4 mucositis among honey-treated patients
compared to the controls; i.e. 20% versus 75%. The compliance of the honey-treated
group of patients was better than the controls. 55% of the patients treated with honey
showed no change or a positive gain in body weight compared to the controls, the
majority of which lost weight . Honey was administered to chemotherapy
patients with neutropenia and was found to reduce the need for colony-stimulating
factors . Febrile neutropenia is a serious side effect of chemotherapy.
Honey allergy seems relatively uncommon; allergies reported can involve reactions
varying from cough to anaphylaxis . In this study it was reported that patients
allergic to pollen are rarely allergic to honey, although there is one reported case of
combined honey pollen allergy . The incidence of honey allergy, reported in a
group of 173 food allergy patients was 2.3% [cited in 169]. In this study the honey
allergy is explained by the presence of components of bee origin.
Due to variation of botanical origin honey differs in appearance, sensory perception
and composition. It contains mainly carbohydrates. The glycemic index of honey
varies from 32 to 87, depending on botanical origin and on fructose content. The
main nutrition- and health relevant components are the carbohydrates, which make it
an excellent energy source especially for children and sportsmen. Besides its main
components, the carbohydrates fructose and glucose, honey contains also a great
number of other constituents in small and trace amounts, producing numerous
nutritional and biological effects: antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiviral, antiparasitic,
antiinflammatory, antimutagenic, anticancer and immunosuppressive activities.
Different nutritional studies have confirmed various effects after honey ingestion, e.g.
enhanced gastroenterological and cardiovascular health. Besides, honey showed
physiological effects on blood health indicators as well as effects on hepatitis A and
radiation mucositis patients. However, it should be pointed out that most of these
studies were based on relatively high honey intakes of 50 to 80 g. Honey
compositions, and also its different biological effects, depend to a great extent on the
botanical origin of honey. This fact was often not considered in the reviewed studies.
Figure 1: Prehistoric man gathering honey 1
A rock painting, made around 6000 BC. La Arana shekter, Bicorp, Eastern Spain.
Table 1: Honey composition (data in g/100 g) [14,15]
Blossom honey Honeydew honey
average min. - max. average min. - max.
Water 17.2 15-20 16.3 15-20
fructose 38.2 30-45 31.8 28-40
glucose 31.3 24-40 26.1 19-32
sucrose 0.7 0.1-4.8 0.5 0.1-4.7
others 5.0 2-8 4.0 1-6
melezitose <0.1 4.0 0.3-22.0
erlose 0.8 0.5-6 1.0 0.1-6
others 0.5 0.5-1 3.0 0.1-6
Undetermined oligosaccharides 3.1 10.1
Total sugars 79.7 80.5
Minerals 0.2 0.1-0.5 0.9 0.6-2.0
Amino acids, proteins 0.3 0.2-0.4 0.6 0.4-0.7
Acids 0.5 0.2-0.8 1.1 0.8-1.5
pH-value 3.9 3.5-4.5 5.2 4.5-6.5
Table 2: Honey nutrients (values compiled after different authors [14,20-27] and
recommended daily intake )
in 100 g
Recommended Daily Intake1
Carbohydrates kcal 300 1000-1100 1400-2700 2400-3100
Proteins g 0.5 13-14 17-46 44-59
Fats g 0 - - -
Sodium (Na) 1.6-17 300 410-550 550
Calcium (Ca) 3-31 600 700-1200 1000-1200
Potassium (K) 40-3500 1000 1400-1900 2000
Magnesium (Mg) 0.7-13 80 120-310 300-400
Phosphorus (P) 2-15 500 600-1250 700-1250
Zinc (Zn) 0.05-2 3 5-9.5 7-10
Copper (Cu) 0.02-0.6 0.5-1 0.5-1 0.5-1
Iron (Fe) 0.03-4 8 8-15 10-15
Manganese (Mn) 0.02-2 1-1.5 1.5-5 2-5
Chromium (Cr) 0.01-0.3 0.02-0.06 0.02-0.1 0.03-1.5
Selenium (Se) 0.002-0.01 0.001-0.004 0.001-0.006 0.003-0.007
Phyllochinon (K) ca. 0.025 15 20-50 60-70
Thiamin (B1) 0.00-0.01 0.6 0.8-1.4 1-1.3
Riboflavin (B2) 0.01-0.02 0.7 0.9-1.6 1.2-1.5
Pyridoxin (B6) 0.01-0.32 0.4 0.5-1.4 1.2-1.6
Niacin20.10-0.20 7 10-18 13-17
Panthothenic acid 0.02-0.11 4 4-6 6
Ascorbic acid (C) 2.2-2.5 60 70-100 100
*-only major components considered
1 after the German Nutrition Society 
2 Niacin equivalents: 1 mg nicotinamide = 1 mg niacin = 60 mg tryptophan (= niacin-precursor)
Table 3: Other trace elements in honey [14,20-27]
Element mg/100 g Element mg/100 g
Aluminium (Al) 0.01-2.4 Lead (Pb)* 0.001-0.03
Arsenic (As) 0.014-0.026 Lithium (Li) 0.225-1.56
Barium (Ba) 0.01-0.08 Molybdenum (Mo) 0-0.004
Boron (B) 0.05-0.3 Nickel (Ni) 0-0.051
Bromine (Br) 0.4-1.3 Rubidium (Rb) 0.040-3.5
Cadmium (Cd)* 0-0.001 Silicon (Si) 0.05-24
Chlorine (Cl) 0.4-56 Strontium (Sr) 0.04-0.35
Cobalt (Co) 0.1-0.35 Sulfur (S) 0.7-26
Floride (F) 0.4-1.34 Vanadium (V) 0-0.013
Iodide (I) 10-100 Zirconium 0.05-0.08
*- elements regarded as toxic, can be partially of man-made origin
Table 4: Glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) for a serving (25 g) of honey
Acacia (black locust)* Romania 43 32 21 7
Yellow box Australia 46 35±4 18 6
Stringy bark Australia 52 44±4 21 9
Red gum Australia 35 46±3 18 8
Iron bark Australia 34 48±3 15 7
Yapunya Australia 42 52±5 17 9
Pure Australia Australia 58±6 21 12
Commercial blend Australia 38 62±3 18 11
Salvation June Australia 32 64±5 15 10
Commercial blend Australia 28 72±6 13 9
Honey of unspecified origin Canada 87±8 21 18
average 55 55±5 18 10
Sucrose (mean of 10 studies) 68±5
AC = available carbohydrate
Table 5: List of bacteria that were found to be sensitive to honey [60,61] 1
Pathogen Infection caused
Bacillus anthracis anthrax
Corynebacterium diphtheriae diphtheria
Escherichia coli diarrhoea, septicaemia, urinary
infections, wound infections
Haemophilus influenzae ear infections, meningitus, respiratory
Klebsiella pneumoniae pneumonia
Mycobacterium tuberculosis tuberculosis
Proteus sp. septicaemia, urinary infections
Pseudomonas aeruginosa urinary infections, wound infections
Salmonella sp. diarrhoea
Salmonella cholerae-suis septicaemia
Salmonella typhi typhoid
Salmonella typhimurium wound infections
Serrata marcescens septicaemia, wound infections
Shigella sp. dysentery
Staphylococcus aureus abscesses., boils, carbuncles,
impetigo, wound infections
Streptococcus faecalis urinary infections
Streptococcus mutans dental carries
Streptococcus pneumoniae ear infections, meningitis, pneumonia,
Streptococcus pyogenes ear infections, impetigo, puerperal
fever, rheumatic fever, scarlet fever,
sore throat, wound infections
Vibrio choleriae cholera
Actinomyces pyogenes, Klebsiella
pneumoniae, Nocardia asteroids,
Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus
agal., dysgal., uber
Epidermophyton floccosum, Microsporum
canis, M.. gypseum, Trichophyton rubrum, T.
tonsurans, T. mentagrophytes var. ?
diff. Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Shigella,
Vibrio, Helicobacter pylori
Table 6: Effect of heat, light and storage time on the antibacterial activity of honey. 1
The antibacterial activity is expressed in % of the untreated controls 
Storage: 15 months rt light dark light dark
Blossom honey 76 86 19 48
Honeydew honey 78 80 63 70
Heat: 15 min 70oC
Blossom honey 86 8
Honeydew honey 94 78
rt = room temperature 15-20oC
Table 7. Antioxidative activity (ORAC) and total phenol content of different unifloral
Honey type ORAC
Buckwheat Illinois 16.95 ± 0.76 796 ±3 2
Buckwheat 9.81 ± 0.34 nd
Buckwheat New York 9.75 ± 0.48 456 ± 55
Buckwheat 9.34 ± 0.57 nd
Buckwheat 9.17 ± 0.63 nd
Buckwheat 7.47 ± 0.27 nd
Soy (2000) 9.49 ± 0.29 nd
Soy (1996) 8.34 ± 0.51 269 ± 22
Hawaiian Christmas berry 8.87 ± 0.33 250 ± 56
Clover (January 2000) 6.53 ± 0.70 nd
Clover (July 2000) 6.05 ± 1.00 128 ± 11
Tupelo 6.48 ± 0.37 183 ± 9
Fireweed 3.09 ± 0.27 62 ± 6
Acacia 3.00 ± 0.16 46 ± 2
ORAC = Oxygen radical absorbance capacity,
TE = Trolox equivalent, GAE = gallic acid equivalent, nd = not determined
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