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New review shows this delicious natural food improves heart health

New review shows this delicious natural food improves heart health

Whether served over toast, yogurt, oatmeal, or fruit, there's something irresistible about a golden drizzle of honey.  Fortunately for honey lovers, this natural sweetener - when enjoyed judiciously - can be a valuable ally in supporting health and warding off disease.  While honey has long been a trusted home remedy for easing coughs and soothing irritated throats, new research shows its beneficial effects go far beyond this use.  To learn all that honey can do for you, read on.  

Promote heart health with honey

In a new review conducted at the University of Toronto and published in the International Journal of Environmental Research in Public Health, the researchers credited honey with reducing risk factors for heart disease – the Number One cause of death among American adults.  It does this in a variety of ways. 

Honey's impressive roster of antioxidant flavonoids protects the heart by inhibiting oxidative damage.  In addition, it increases the activity of antioxidant "good guys" - such as glutathione and superoxide dismutase - already being produced in the body.  As if this weren't heroic enough, honey has been shown to suppress apoptosis, or programmed cell death, while helping to inhibit excessive oxidative "bursts" in the heart that can trigger heart attacks.  Animal studies have even suggested that honey can help correct heart arrhythmias - quite a list of accomplishments for the product of the humble honeybee!

Judicious amounts of honey may support healthy metabolism and weight

Honey may also help protect against metabolic syndrome, a constellation of unhealthy conditions that includes obesity, excess abdominal fat, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high levels of fats in the blood.  Research suggests that honey can improve the metabolism of fats, lower blood sugar, decrease diastolic blood pressure and reduce levels of harmful LDL cholesterol.

Studies have also shown that honey can reduce C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation, in overweight and obese adults.  As a prebiotic food that provides fuel to beneficial gut bacteria, honey can support the gut microbiome's health, promoting healthy metabolism and weight.  At 64 calories per tablespoon, honey is not a low-calorie food and is high in natural sugars such as glucose, sucrose, and fructose.  However, enjoying it in modest amounts, and substituting it for white sugar, may help boost metabolic health.  In the words of the review authors, "If you're using table sugar, syrup, or another sweetener, switching (to) honey might lower cardiometabolic risks."

Help prevent non-alcoholic fatty liver disease with honey

A 2021 review published in the British Journal of Nutrition suggests that regular consumption of honey (two to six times a week) was associated with a lower risk of NAFLD.  Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD, is characterized by excessive fat in the livers of those who drink little or no alcohol.  Even mild, untreated NAFLD can sometimes progress to potentially life-threatening conditions such as severe liver inflammation, liver failure, and liver cancer.

Honey supports liver health by promoting optimal glycogen storage, thereby helping to control the release of stress hormones that could otherwise impair blood sugar metabolism and cause insulin resistance - a contributor to fatty liver disease.  And, because honey improves fat metabolism, it would seem to be a "natural" for helping to avoid fat deposits in the liver.  Another "plus" for honey is that it increases adiponectin levels, a useful hormone that lowers inflammation and improves blood sugar regulation. 

Choose darker honey over paler varieties

For maximum benefit, choose honey from a single source - rather than a mix of flowers - and opt for raw, unpasteurized honey free of additives and GMOs.  Remember: the darker and cloudier the honey, the higher the antioxidant content. Australian Manuka honey, rich in the antioxidant flavonoids chrysin, pinobanksin, and pinocembrin, is considered the "cream of the crop" of all honeys.

How much honey is too much?  As excessive consumption can cause weight gain, digestive problems, and tooth decay, most nutritionists advise limiting intake to no more than a tablespoon and a half a day.  And honey may not be suitable for those who are obese, have type 2 diabetes, are allergic, or are vegans.  Important: Never give honey to infants under twelve months of age due to the risk of botulism.

By the way, if you've discovered a crystallized bottle of honey in the back of a cupboard, have no fear - it's still safe to eat.  Set the bottle in a bowl of warm water to re-liquify it or spread it "as is" in all its sweet, gritty glory.

Whether you stir it into tea, blend it in a smoothie, add it to a marinade, or enjoy it over oatmeal or yogurt, honey is ready and willing to impart its golden goodness - and sweet health benefits!

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