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Quinn on Nutrition: Sweet facts about honey

August 15, 2016

Funny how some foods bring back memories. Every time I put honey on my oatmeal, I remember as a child watching my grandfather do the same.

I recently sampled honey from L.R. Rice a family-owned honey farm in Greeley, Colo., and thought about the "Colorado honey" my mom stocked in our home. My aunt, uncle and cousins lived in La Jara (and later in Alamosa) and when we visited, wed make a special trip to buy honey from the Haefeli family in Del Norte, Colorado. Later, after I was married, we even bought Colorado honey on our "honeymoon."

Honey bees make honey from the nectar they collect from flowers. While they buzz from plant to plant, they also help transfer pollen that collects on their wings. Thats pretty important since plants and trees rely on pollination to grow fruit and reproduce.

Nutritionally, honey is primarily a mixture of two simple sugars, fructose and glucose, with a higher fraction of fructose compared to glucose. According to the USDA Agricultural Research Service, one tablespoon of honey contains 64 calories, 17 grams of carbohydrates, plus trace amounts of vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, iron, zinc, and selenium. 

On a food label, "honey" is defined by the US Food and Drug Administration as the "thick, sweet, syrupy substance that bees make as food from the nectar of flowers and store in honeycombs." Some labels use the term "pure honey" to reinforce this definition.

"Raw honey" has no official definition but according to the National Honey Board (NHB), it generally denotes honey that has not been heated or filtered. 

The main ingredient removed when honey is filtered, says the NHB, is pollen. Since "unfiltered honey" may contain incidental amounts of pollen, it might not be the best choice for people with pollen allergies. 

Is raw honey better for you? In 2012, a team of researchers at the University of Utah analyzed both raw and processed honey samples for their vitamin, mineral and antioxidant content. They found that processing almost entirely removed the pollen from honey but did not affect nutrient or antioxidant levels. In fact, these scientists reported that processing actually increased the overall mineral content and antioxidant capacity of the honey.

Like wine, honey can have different flavors depending on the type of nectar a bee collects and the location of the hive. My personal bias is Colorado clover honey but you can find local varieties from Texas to Washington and everywhere in between. Store your honey at room temperature in a sealed container, say experts. 

Incidentally, since honey is an animal-produced food, it is not officially on the accepted list for vegan diets. 

One very important warning: DO NOT feed honey to infants less than one year of age. Their immature digestive systems are more susceptible to spores of the Clostridium botulinum bacteria that can reside in honey and cause a rare but serious disease called infant botulism.

One last fun fact: Both L.R. Rice and Heafelis are 5th generation honey farmers in Colorado. Thats pretty sweet.

 

 





 



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