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What are superfoods?

It’s a new year, and we know health is a top concern for many people, more than 50% of Americans have set resolutions to be healthier. From the nation’s ongoing struggle with COVID 19 to simply wanting to be healthier, the new year is a great time to try and better your health regime.

With so many people wanting to better themselves companies are working harder than ever to latch on to health-conscious marketing. With “superfoods” becoming the ever-popular buzzword.

A superfood is defined as “a food (such as salmon, broccoli, or blueberries) that is rich in compounds (such as antioxidants, fiber, or fatty acids) considered beneficial to a person’s health,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Scientifically speaking, there is no official definition of a superfood, other than to say it is a food that offers high levels of desirable nutrients, linked to promoting personal health and wellness or preventing disease and sickness. The notion to define food as a superfood seems more in line with underscoring a desire to maintain a healthy diet, one rich in fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains.

Where did the term superfood originate, anyway? Maybe unsurprisingly, the name had little to do with any formal scientific or nutritional study. The origin of the term superfood appeared in the early part of the 20th Century to market bananas. Developed by The United Fruit Company, the company used the term to promote the practicality of bananas as a daily source of cheap, easily digestible nutrition. In an article published in a 1918 volume of The Scientific Monthly, author Samuel C. Prescott noted, “since a thick enveloping skin surrounds the edible portion it is effectively protected against the attacks of bacteria, molds [sic] and other agencies of decomposition.”

As the fruit’s popularity began to circulate, so, too, did its moniker. For a time, physicians endorsed bananas to combat several ailments, including celiac disease and diabetes. Before discovering gluten, the American Medical Association believed bananas in a child’s diet would provide relief for celiac disease or even cure it.

21st Century superfoods​

More than 100 years after being coined, a term like a superfood is virtually synonymous with presumptive health benefits. The Internet and social media can market the benefits of a so-called superfood at viral speeds. The food industry needs only some scientific research on a particular food, some well-worded news articles, and a catchy food marketing campaign, and it too could be a newly discovered “superfood.”

While some “superfoods” do have well-proven health benefits and the endorsement of nutritionists, skeptics argue temporary fads and celebrities popularize other foods to the point of misrepresentation.

Food as medicine

Marketing superfoods has created an extremely lucrative business for the food industry. A recent Nielsen survey concluded consumers are looking for “functional foods that provide benefits that can either reduce their risk of disease and promote good health.” Health attributes strongly influence the foods consumers buy, who are willing to pay a premium for health benefits, according to the survey. Still, not all attributes are equally important across the globe. Moreover, the survey showed roughly 75 percent of global respondents believe they “are what they eat” and nearly 80 percent are actively using foods to forestall health issues and medical conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension. These findings seem to coincide with the popularity of top-performing superfoods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that are perceived as healthful.

While science supports the healthy benefits of certain foods, elevating them to the level of a “superfood,” it is clear the term is more useful for its marketing value than providing ultimate nutrition. This becomes problematic, however, when people focus on the marketing versus the specific food’s actual nutritional value.

Superfoods or super hype?

While certain superfoods may provide an additional benefit to healthy eating, variety and moderation are just as important to our dietary needs. Variety not only in the foods we eat, but in the essential vitamins and minerals our bodies require, and moderation in how much (or how little) of a particular food we eat.

One of the foods that has scientific and historic precedent as a top tier food with no need for marketing hype is raw honey.

People have used raw honey in traditional medicine for hundreds of years. This sweet, natural substance may contain healthful elements that processed honey does not have.

Honey provides a range of health benefits. Raw honey, which comes straight from the beehive, contains healthful bee pollen, bee propolis, and plenty of antioxidants.

Research has not confirmed that raw honey has more health benefits than regular honey, but some people believe that the processing and pasteurization that regular honey undergoes diminishes many of the beneficial elements. Some people believe that because of this, raw honey provides more health benefits than regular honey.

What is raw honey?

Raw honey is not filtered or pasteurized.

Honey is a sweet, golden liquid made by honeybees. Honeybees store their honey in small, hexagonal cups called a honeycomb. Raw honey comes straight from the honeycomb.

Honey from the hive contains bee pollen, beeswax, and parts of dead bees. Honey manufacturers will usually pass raw honey through a filter to remove as many impurities as possible, but some generally remain. It is still safe to eat.

Unlike raw honey, regular honey undergoes a pasteurization process. This means manufacturers have heated it to kill yeast cells that can affect its taste, increase its shelf-life, and make it look more transparent and attractive. However, pasteurization may adversely affect the number of nutrients in the honey.

Some historical evidence estimates that humans have used honey for over 8,000 years. During ancient times, people would have used raw honey, but today, most people use pasteurized honey.

Honey naturally offers the following healthful properties:

  • antibacterial action

  • wound-healing effects

  • dietary antioxidants

  • anti-inflammatory effects

Raw honey also contains bee pollen and bee propolis, which is a sticky, glue-like substance bees use to hold their hive together. Regular honey may not contain the same levels of bee propolis and bee pollen as raw honey.

A 2017 review on honey and a 2015 review on bee pollen report that bee propolis and bee pollen can offer anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, and anticancer properties.

The following sections explore seven evidence-based health benefits of raw honey.

1. Antioxidant effects

Researchers believe that some of the main health benefits from honey come from its antioxidant content.

Natural honey contains a range of compounds that act as antioxidants, including phytochemicals, flavonoids, and ascorbic acid.

Antioxidants reduce oxidative stress in the body by mopping up free radicals. Scientists have linked oxidative stress to a range of chronic health conditions, including many cancers. By eating an antioxidant-rich diet, people can reduce their risk of chronic disease.

Some people believe that pasteurization reduces the number of antioxidants in the honey, meaning that pasteurized honey may not offer the same benefits as raw honey.

There is no specific research into how pasteurization affects the antioxidants in honey, but studies show that heating other foods can reduce their antioxidant content.

2. Nutrition

Honey contains specific nutrients that can make it a healthful addition to the diet.

The exact nutrition and chemical composition of raw honey varies between different countries and environments and depends partly upon which types of flowers the bees gather their nectar from. Regardless of these factors, honey still contains healthful compounds, such as antioxidants, amino acids, and vitamins.

One tablespoon or 21 grams (g) of raw honey contains 64 calories and 16 g of sugar. These values may vary between brands and batches.

Natural honey naturally contains small amounts of the following vitamins and minerals:

  • niacin

  • riboflavin

  • pantothenic acid

  • calcium

  • magnesium

  • manganese

  • potassium

  • phosphorous

  • zinc

Honey naturally contains sugar. A little more than half of the sugar in honey is fructose. Research has linked fructose to various health problems.

However, even with its fructose content, honey may be a healthier option than table sugar. Some research suggests that honey may offer a protective effect against diabetes and some types of honey may help improve cholesterol levels.

People who have diabetes or who are on sugar-restricted diets may choose to eat honey in moderation to avoid significant changes in their blood sugar levels. Pure honey has a glycemic index (GI) of 58, meaning it has a medium effect on blood sugar levels. Always consult with your doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet.

3. Antibacterial action

Honey can help clean wounds and prevent infection.

Honey is a natural antibacterial and antimicrobial agent. It contains hydrogen peroxide and glucose oxidase and has a low pH level, which means it can kill harmful bacteria and fungi. Also, because of its unique chemical composition, it does not help yeast or bacteria to grow.

Because of its antibacterial action, people can use it to cleanse wounds,

Research has shown that manuka honey, which is a type of raw honey, can kill common pathogens including:

  • Escherichia coli or E. coli, a bacteria that causes food poisoning and wound infections

  • Staphylococcus aureus or S. aureus, a microbe that causes skin infections

  • Helicobacter pylori or H. pylori, a bacteria that causes stomach ulcers and chronic gastritis

4. Wound healing

Numerous studies have suggested that honey works well as a wound healing dressing.

A review confirms that honey is useful in wound healing because of its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. Some evidence also suggests that honey has antiviral and antifungal properties.

Also, honey is acidic, which helps release oxygen from the wound and promote healing.

Apply raw honey directly to minor cuts and burns then place gauze or a bandage over the wound. Alternatively, people can purchase manuka honey products for wound care at some drug stores, or choose between brands online.

5. Relieving coughs

Several studies have suggested that honey may be as or more effective than some over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines. Many cough medicines are not safe for younger children to take, so honey may be a good alternative for children over one year of age.

A meta-analysis suggests that honey may provide an effective way to decrease the severity and frequency of a child’s nighttime cough. One small-scale study found that a milk and one type of honey mixture relieved children’s coughs as effectively as an OTC medicine.

To relieve a cough, take a teaspoon of raw honey and avoid other liquids or foods afterward to allow the honey to coat the throat.

6. Treating diarrhea

Raw honey may have a soothing effect on digestion, helping with symptoms of diarrhea.

A study of 150 children with acute gastroenteritis found that those who received honey with an oral rehydration solution had a better recovery from diarrhea than those who did not receive honey. The children who received honey had fewer bowel movements and recovered faster from the illness.

To help treat mild diarrhea, try taking a teaspoon of raw honey or mixing honey with a drink. Avoid taking too much honey because excess sugar can make diarrhea worse.

7. Protecting the brain

Some evidence suggests that honey may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers that can benefit the brain. An animal study found that rats that consumed honey had protection against brain damage caused by exposure to lead.

In addition, a review states that raw honey may contain ingredients that help fight inflammation in the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory.

As long as a person is not allergic to bee pollen, raw honey is generally safe to use.

The Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) say that people should not give honey to infants under the age of 1 because of the risk of infant botulism. Honey is safe from the age of 1 upwards. This applies to both raw and regular honey.

Choosing the right kind of honey

World Honey Market offers a variety of raw honey.

Raw honey will have a label that reads “raw honey.” If the label does not include the word “raw,” or does not come directly from a farmer or beekeeper who can confirm that it is raw, the manufacturer has probably pasteurized it.

The label may also describe the type of flowers that the bees pollinated to make that honey. The kind of flower determines the taste, color, and antioxidant and vitamin content of the honey.

Many types of pasteurized honey have labels that read “pure honey.” Others may say “clover honey” or may state that they come from a local area. Even products labeled as “organic honey” may not be raw, as some manufacturers do pasteurize organic honey.

Some processed honey products contain high fructose corn syrup or other additives. Check the label to make sure the honey is pure.

Our stores offer a wide range of brands of both raw honey and honey/bee related products.

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