When can my baby eat honey?

Although honey seems like a wholesome and natural food to give your infant, don’t do it until after she’s at least 12 months old. Honey can contain spores of a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum, which can germinate in a baby’s immature digestive system and cause infant botulism, a rare but potentially fatal illness.

These spores are usually harmless to adults and children over 1 year old, because the microorganisms normally found in the intestine keep the bacteria from growing.

To be on the safe side, don’t cook with honey (in baked bread or pudding, for example) if your baby is going to be eating the finished dish. While the toxin is heat sensitive, the spores are difficult to kill. Commercial foods that contain honey, like ready-to-eat breakfast cereals and baby food, are safe for your baby because they’ve been heated enough to kill the spores.

The FDA has tested other sweeteners (such as light and dark corn
syrup) and not found the harmful bacteria. But it’s a good idea to consult with your baby’s doctor about which foods are the healthiest.

If your baby shows symptoms of botulism – constipation along with muscle weakness, trouble sucking, slack jaw, or crying and lethargy – see a doctor immediately.

The Science Behind Honey’s Eternal Shelf Life

Modern archeologists, excavating ancient Egyptian tombs, have often found something unexpected amongst the tombs’ artifacts: pots of honey, thousands of years old, and yet still preserved. Through millennia, the archeologists discover, the food remains unspoiled, an unmistakable testament to the eternal shelf-life of honey.

There are a few other examples of foods that keep–indefinitely–in their raw state: salt, sugar, dried rice are a few. But there’s something about honey; it can remain preserved in a completely edible form, and while you wouldn’t want to chow down on raw rice or straight salt, one could ostensibly dip into a thousand year old jar of honey and enjoy it, without preparation, as if it were a day old. Moreover, honey’s longevity lends it other properties–mainly medicinal–that other resilient foods don’t have. Which raises the question–what exactly makes honey such a special food?

The answer is as complex as honey’s flavor–you don’t get a food source with no expiration date without a whole slew of factors working in perfect harmony.

The first comes from the chemical make-up of honey itself. Honey is, first and foremost, a sugar. Sugars are hygroscopic, a term that means they contain very little water in their natural state but can readily suck in moisture if left unsealed. As Amina Harris, executive director of the Honey and Pollination Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute at Univeristy of California, Davis explains, “Honey in its natural form is very low moisture. Very few bacteria or microorganisms can survive in an environment like that, they just die. They’re smothered by it, essentially.” What Harris points out represents an important feature of honey’s longevity: for honey to spoil, there needs to be something inside of it that can spoil. With such an inhospitable environment, organisms can’t survive long enough within the jar of honey to have the chance to spoil.

Honey is also naturally extremely acidic. “It has a pH that falls between 3 and 4.5, approximately, and that acid will kill off almost anything that wants to grow there,” Harris explains. So bacteria and spoil-ready organisms must look elsewhere for a home–the life expectancy inside of honey is just too low.

But honey isn’t the only hygroscopic food source out there. Molasses, for example, which comes from the byproduct of cane sugar, is extremely hygroscopic, and is acidic, though less so than honey (molasses has a pH of around 5.5). And yet–although it may take a long time, as the sugar cane product has a longer shelf-life than fresh produce, eventually molasses will spoil.

So why does one sugar solution spoil, while another lasts indefinitely? Enter bees.

“Bees are magical,” Harris jokes. But there is certainly a special alchemy that goes into honey. Nectar, the first material collected by bees to make honey, is naturally very high in water–anywhere from 60-80 percent, by Harris’ estimate. But through the process of making honey, the bees play a large part in removing much of this moisture by flapping their wings to literally dry out the nectar. On top of behavior, the chemical makeup of a bees stomach also plays a large part in honey’s resilience. Bees have an enzyme in their stomachs called glucose oxidase (PDF). When the bees regurgitate the nectar from their mouths into the combs to make honey, this enzyme mixes with the nectar, breaking it down into two by-products: gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. “Then,” Harris explains, “hydrogen peroxide is the next thing that goes into work against all these other bad things that could possibly grow.”

For this reason, honey has been used for centuries as a medicinal remedy. Because it’s so thick, rejects any kind of growth and contains hydrogen peroxide, it creates the perfect barrier against infection for wounds. The earliest recorded use of honey for medicinal purposes comes from Sumerian clay tablets, which state that honey was used in 30 percent of prescriptions. The ancient Egyptians used medicinal honey regularly, making ointments to treat skin and eye diseases. “Honey was used to cover a wound or a burn or a slash, or something like that, because nothing could grow on it – so it was a natural bandage,” Harris explains.

What’s more, when honey isn’t sealed in a jar, it sucks in moisture. “While it’s drawing water out of the wound, which is how it might get infected, it’s letting off this very minute amount of hydrogen peroxide. The amount of hydrogen peroxide comes off of honey is exactly what we need–it’s so small and so minute that it actually promotes healing.” And honey for healing open gashes is no longer just folk medicine–in the past decade, Derma Sciences, a medical device company, has been marketing and selling MEDIHONEY, bandages covered in honey used in hospitals around the world.

If you buy your honey from the supermarket, that little plastic bottle of golden nectar has been heated, strained and processed so that it contains zero particulates, meaning that there’s nothing in the liquid for molecules to crystallize on, and your supermarket honey will look the same for almost forever. If you buy your honey from a small-scale vendor, however, certain particulates might remain, from pollen to enzymes. With these particulates, the honey might crystallize, but don’t worry–if it’s sealed, it’s not spoiled and won’t be for quite some time.

A jar of honey’s seal, it turns out, is the final factor that’s key to honey’s long shelf life, as exemplified by the storied millennia-old Egyptian specimens. While honey is certainly a super-food, it isn’t supernatural–if you leave it out, unsealed in a humid environment, it will spoil. As Harris explains, ” As long as the lid stays on it and no water is added to it, honey will not go bad. As soon as you add water to it, it may go bad. Or if you open the lid, it may get more water in it and it may go bad.”

So if you’re interested in keeping honey for hundreds of years, do what the bees do and keep it sealed–a hard thing to do with this delicious treat!

10 Surprising Health Benefits of Honey

Since ancient times, honey has been used as both a food and a medicine.

It’s very high in beneficial plant compounds, and offers several health benefits.

Honey is particularly healthy when used instead of refined sugar, which is 100% empty calories.

Here are the top 10 health benefits of honey that are supported by science.

1. Honey Contains Some Nutrients

Honey is a sweet, thick liquid made by honeybees.

The bees swarm their environment and collect the sugar-rich nectar of flowers.

Then inside the beehive, they repeatedly consume, digest and regurgitate (“vomit”) the nectar.

The end product is honey, a liquid that is supposed to serve as stored food for the bees. The smell, color and taste depend on the types of flowers the bees visit.

Nutritionally, 1 tablespoon of honey (21 grams) contains 64 calories and 17 grams of sugar, including fructose, glucose, maltose and sucrose.

It contains virtually no fiber, fat or protein.

It also contains trace amounts (under 1% of RDA) of several vitamins and minerals, but you would have to eat many pounds to fulfill your daily requirements.

Where honey shines is in its content of bioactive plant compounds and antioxidants. Darker types tend to be even higher in these compounds than lighter types.

2. High-Quality Honey Is Rich in Antioxidants

High-quality honey contains many important antioxidants. These includes phenols, enzymes and compounds like flavonoids and organic acids.

Scientists believe that it is the combination of these compounds that gives honey its antioxidant power.

Interestingly, two studies have shown that buckwheat honey increases the antioxidant value of the blood.

Antioxidants have been linked to reduced risk of heart attacks, strokes and some types of cancer. They may also promote eye health.

3. Honey Is “Less Bad” Than Sugar for Diabetics

The evidence on honey and diabetes is mixed.

On one hand, it can help with some risk factors that are common in diabetics.

For example, it lowers LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and inflammation, and raises HDL (the “good”) cholesterol.

However, some studies have found that it can also increase blood sugar levels, just not as much as refined sugar.

So, while honey may be “less bad” than refined sugar for diabetics, it is still something that diabetics should only consume with caution.

In fact, diabetics may do best minimizing all high-carb foods.

4. The Antioxidants in It Can Help Lower Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is an important risk factor for heart disease, and honey may help lower it.

This is because it contains antioxidant compounds that have been linked to blood pressure lowering effects.

Studies in both rats and humans have shown modest reductions in blood pressure from consuming honey.

5. Honey Also Helps Improve Cholesterol

Having high LDL cholesterol levels is an important risk factor for heart disease.

It plays a major role in atherosclerosis, the fatty buildup in the arteries that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Interestingly, several studies have shown that honey can improve your cholesterol levels.

It reduces total and LDL cholesterol, while significantly raising HDL (the “good”) cholesterol.

For example, one study in 55 patients compared honey to table sugar. It found that it caused a 5.8% reduction in LDL and a 3.3% increase in HDL. It also caused weight loss of 1.3%, compared to sugar.

6. Honey Can Lower Triglycerides

Elevated blood triglycerides are another major risk factor for heart disease.

They are also a key sign of insulin resistance, a major driver of type 2 diabetes.

Triglyceride levels tend to increase on a diet that is high in sugar and refined carbs.

Interestingly, multiple studies have linked regular honey consumption with lower triglyceride levels, especially when it is used to replace sugar.

For example, one study that compared honey and sugar found 11-19% lower triglyceride levels in the honey group.

7. The Antioxidants in It Are Linked to Other Beneficial Effects on Heart Health

Again, honey is a rich source of phenols and other antioxidant compounds. Many of these have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease.

They may help the arteries in the heart dilate, increasing blood flow to the heart. They may also help prevent the formation of blood clots, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Furthermore, one study in rats showed that honey protected the heart from oxidative stress.

All this being said, there is no long-term human study available on honey and heart health, so take this with a grain of salt.

8. Honey Promotes Burn and Wound Healing

Applying honey to the skin has been used to heal wounds and burns since ancient Egypt, and is still being used today.

In one review from 2015, 26 studies on honey and wound care were evaluated.

This review found that it is most effective at healing partial thickness burns and wounds that have become infected after surgery.

It is also an effective treatment for diabetic foot ulcers, which are very serious complications and can lead to amputation.

One study reported a 43.3% success rate with honey as a wound treatment. In another study, topical honey healed a whopping 97% of patients being treated for their diabetic ulcers.

Researchers believe that its healing powers come from its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects, as well as its ability to nourish the surrounding tissue.

What’s more, it can help treat other skin conditions, including psoriasis, hemorrhoids and herpes lesions.

9. Honey Can Help Suppress Coughs in Children

Coughing is a common problem for children with upper respiratory infections.

It can affect sleep and quality of life, for both the children and their parents.

However, mainstream medications for cough are not always effective and can have side effects.

Interestingly, honey may be a better choice. The evidence shows that it is very effective.

One study found that it worked even better than two common cough medications.

Another study found that it reduced cough symptoms and improved sleep even more than cough medication.

Nevertheless, it should never be given to children under 1 year of age, due to the risk for botulism.

10. It’s Delicious, But Still High in Calories and Sugar

Honey is a delicious, healthier alternative to sugar.

Make sure to choose a high-quality brand, because some of the lower-quality ones may be adulterated with syrup.

Keep in mind that it should only be consumed in moderation, as it is still high in calories and sugar.

The benefits of honey are most pronounced when it is replacing another unhealthier sweetener.

At the end of the day, honey is simply a “less bad” sweetener than sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.