- May Zhu, RDN, registered dietitian and nutritionist
What is the difference between honey and Manuka honey?
First things first, manuka honey is not like standard honey that comes in a teddy bear-shaped container. This specific variety of honey is produced by bees in New Zealand who pollinate local manuka plants. These flowers bloom for only six to 12 weeks out of the entire year, so sourcing the honey is truly a frenzy. According to the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association, which tests and verifies manuka honey brands as authentic, the nectar and bees give manuka honey its unique health properties. What's more, it's also quite pricy, often double the price (or even higher) of your standard types of honey, like clover or wildflower. So, is it worth the extra bucks? According to Zhu, the answer's yes due to its impressive benefits.
What are the health benefits of manuka honey?
1. It's antibacterial
According to Zhu, manuka honey's antibacterial properties rank at the top of the list when it comes to its benefits. "Something that really sets manuka honey apart from standard honey is that it's high in antibacterial properties," Zhu says. Specifically, manuka honey is rich in compounds like methylglyoxal (which is associated with antibacterial benefits). Because of this, it can potentially help protect someone from getting sick, fighting off any nasty bugs that make their way into your body. According to an article published in the journal Microbiology, manuka honey has proved the front-runner of different types of honey due to its non-peroxide antimicrobial activity. That said, Zhu notes more research is needed to fully understand manuka honey's antibacterial benefits. "I do think that even though there are some promising studies, more research needs to be done to really make a strong connection between manuka honey and helping prevent sickness," Zhu says.
2. It's packed with antioxidants
According to Zhu, manuka honey also has more antioxidants than traditional types of honey. Specifically, it's full of flavonoids, a type of antioxidant connected to helping the body function more efficiently while protecting it against everyday stressors and toxins. So, is it good to eat manuka honey every day? Signs point to yes. Zhu also adds that if consumed on a regular basis, manuka honey may help protect against diseases and cognitive decline.
3. It can be used to help wounds heal
Remember how Zhu pointed out manuka honey's antibacterial properties? That can come in handy when it's used topically, too. A 2018 review of studies found that manuka honey can kill bacteria, reduce inflammation, and help with tissue regeneration—which explains why it can be found in so many skin-care products. While the evidence doesn't necessarily support using manuka honey for serious injuries, it could be something that's helpful for smaller cuts and skin issues.
4. It has trace minerals like vitamin B, iron, and magnesium
Although it's not exactly a powerhouse source, Zhu says manuka honey does have trace amounts of nutrients, including vitamin B, iron, magnesium, copper, and zinc. Just like the other benefits listed, standard honey has these properties as well, but manuka honey contains higher amounts of said minerals. Especially if you follow a plant-based diet, vitamin B, iron, and zinc are nutrients you want to be extra conscious of getting enough of, so manuka honey can help in this way. (So long as you're not vegan, of course.) While it's not going to be the one and only source to get your fill of these nutrients, every little bit helps!
5. It can also be good for your gut
Manuka honey might also be good for the gut. "There are some studies showing that manuka honey could potentially be good for your gut because it helps kill harmful bacteria and pathogens," Zhu says, though she adds that this is another area of research where more studies need to be done to establish more solid data. That said, if you are experiencing prolonged digestive distress, you'll it's best to consult with a medical professional.
6. It can benefit your skin health
Manuka honey is also a go-to skin soother since it's both calming and moisturizing. This is because its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties benefit the outside of your body just as much as the inside. It bears repeating: All honey has these properties, but they are more pronounced in manuka honey.
Who should not take manuka honey?
While manuka honey is clearly beneficial, Zhu points out that it does contain sugar (like all honey), so it's still a good idea to be mindful of your intake. One tablespoon of manuka honey has 16 grams of sugar. "If you're diabetic, you especially want to be conscious of your manuka honey intake because it could affect your blood sugar levels," Zhu says. Also, when you take a look at the differences between agave vs. honey, you'll find that the latter has far more benefits.
Also, since manuka honey tends to be more expensive, you want to make sure what you're buying is the real thing. To ensure you're getting a high-quality product, look for certified manuka honey that's verified by independent auditors. Manuka honey that's been tested and verified will have its certification on the product label. The primary manuka honey certifier is Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association, and any products that have met their standards will say "UMF certified" on the label.
Okay, you know the benefits, risk factors, and how to buy manuka honey that's legit. The last thing you need to know is what to do with it.
How to use manuka honey
1. Put it in your coffee or tea
Putting a drizzle of manuka honey into your cup of coffee is one of the most common ways to use it, especially if you are feeling sick and want to benefit from its antibacterial properties. Zhu says just a teaspoon is enough, and it may help to soothe a sore throat or help calm an upset stomach.
2. Cook with it or eat it raw
You can also incorporate manuka honey right into your meals, as it's safe to eat both uncooked and cooked. Some ideas for how to use it straight out of the jar include spreading it on toast with cinnamon and butter, putting it into your oatmeal, or on waffles. Because it's sweet, manuka honey also works as a sugar substitute in some baked goods, although because it's a bit expensive, you may want to save it for special occasions and use standard honey more regularly.
3. Apply it topically
Since manuka honey can assist in wound healing, you can also apply it right onto any small cuts. To do this, first, clean your wound with water. Then, spread a fourth of a teaspoon of manuka honey right onto the bandage before applying it. You can also find special wound gels with manuka honey at the drugstore.
4. Work it into your DIY beauty routine
If you want to experience manuka honey's beauty benefits, take a cue from Queer Eye's Jonathan Van Ness and make an exfoliator. Simply mix it with ground-up oats, apply it to your face, and then rinse it off. That's literally it!
There's a good reason why the manuka honey benefits are so hyped up. But whether or not you choose to pay extra for it is a personal decision based on your health goals and budget. If you're looking for something to use medicinally and are willing to pay extra for it, manuka honey may be perfect for you. But if you're more looking for an alternative to white sugar to have on hand for all the baking you do—or you use honey very sparingly—standard honey may be more your speed. Either way, your body will benefit. And that's the sweet truth.
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