Raw honey is a popular ingredient found in many Paleo recipes. But is it really Paleo, and how can you decide whether or not to include it in your diet?
On a Paleo diet, sugar is definitely out – even the fancy “Sugar in the Raw” packages that try to tempt you with a more “natural” brown color. But is the case with honey that clear-cut?
Before farming and organized agriculture, humans ate few grains and no sugar. They consumed only what they could hunt or gather. Their “Paleo foods” consisted mainly of wild vegetation, game, and fish, with very little fruit or sugar (save for berries, raw honey, or tree sap).
Hunter-gatherers have traditionally sought this sticky substance out, often enduring great risks to procure it. Rock art dating to about 8,000 BC depicts early humans harvesting honey from a hive at the top of a very tall tree; it suggests they even developed sophisticated ladders in order to accomplish the task.
While raw, unprocessed honey is considered a whole food, a superfood and is Paleo-friendly, it’s very sweet and is very high in carbs and calories, and thus is reserved as a Paleo “treat”.
Other sweeteners that are allowed on the paleo diet consist of coconut sugar, date sugar and maple syrup.
Health Benefits of Raw Honey
Raw honey is considered a “functional food,” meaning that it is a food that exists in its natural state and has health benefits. Raw honey contains many nutrients, including antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins and minerals including iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, selenium, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and vitamin C.
High-quality honey contains many important antioxidants. These include organic acids and phenolic compounds like flavonoids. Antioxidants have been linked to reduced risk of heart attacks, strokes and some types of cancer. They may also promote eye health and are effective at countering cell damage in the body due to free radicals (and generally reducing inflammation).
Honey is a phytonutrient powerhouse. The phytonutrients in honey are responsible for its antioxidant properties, as well as its antibacterial and antifungal power. They’re also thought to be the reason raw honey has shown immune-boosting and anticancer benefits.
Research has shown that raw honey can kill unwanted bacteria and fungus. It naturally contains hydrogen peroxide, an antiseptic.
It’s helpful in decreasing allergy symptoms. More often than not, locally produced honey may contain pollen spores picked up by bees from local plants. Consuming locally produced raw honey is highly ideal because it can allow the honey to boost the body’s health and resistance against certain allergens.
Honey is sometimes used to treat digestive issues such as diarrhea. It’s proven to be effective as a treatment for H. pylori bacteria, a common cause of stomach ulcers. It’s also a potent prebiotic, meaning it nourishes the good bacteria that live in the intestines, which are crucial not only for digestion but overall health.
As if the health benefits of honey weren’t enough on their own. Honey can play another important part in your well-being by sweetening your tea, cookies, pancakes and other baked goods. Though honey itself is made of fructose, it raises blood sugar far less than similar-tasting substances, like sucrose and dextrose. The viscous sweetener is low on the glycemic index which means its sugars can be gradually absorbed into the blood stream to result in better digestion. This provides sustained energy throughout the day without spiking your blood sugar levels. Which is why it’s also a great pre-exercise food and one of the reasons why we use it in our Thrive Tribe paleo bites. Raw honey can be beneficial for athletes searching for a “time-released fuel” to deliver energy over a longer period of time– it helps give you the power you need and you won’t crash in the middle of your training session.
Note: Most of the honey you find in grocery stores is pasteurized. Pasteurized honey is not a functional food and does not have these same benefits because it is refined at high heats and processed with chemicals, which destroys the nutrients that the honey contains. The high heat kills unwanted yeast, can improve the color and texture, removes any crystallization, and extends the shelf life. It also increases the sugar content.