Raw honey is best described as honey “as it exists in the beehive.” It is extracted from the beehive, strained and poured straight into the bottle, bypassing commercial processing methods. Raw and regular honey differ mainly in how they are processed. Raw honey contains pollen, may be more nutritious and does not have any added sugars or sweeteners, both of which may be present in commercial honeys.
Most of the health benefits of honey can be attributed to its antioxidants and enzymes. Because commercial honeys are processed, they may have lower levels of antioxidants. Raw and organic honey are subject to different regulations in different countries. In the US, there is no rule that organic honey can’t be heated or processed, which means it may not be raw. While raw honey is safe for healthy adults, it can be dangerous for infants and pregnant women. It may contain spores of the bacteria Clostridium botulinum, which can grow in the gut of developing infants.
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Raw Honey Is More Nutritious
Raw honey contains a wide variety of nutrients. It has approximately 22 amino acids, 31 different minerals and a wide range of vitamins and enzymes. However, the nutrients are only present in trace amounts. What’s most impressive about raw honey is that it contains nearly 30 types of bioactive plant compounds. These are called polyphenols, and they act as antioxidants. Many studies have linked these antioxidants with impressive health benefits, including reduced inflammation and a lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
Conversely, commercial honeys may contain fewer antioxidants due to processing methods. For example, one study compared the antioxidants in raw and processed honey from a local market. They found that the raw honey contained up to 4.3 times more antioxidants than the processed variety.
Most Regular Honey Doesn’t Contain Any Pollen
Bees travel from flower to flower collecting nectar and pollen. The nectar and pollen are taken back to the beehive, where they are packed into the honeycomb and eventually become a food source for the bees. Bee pollen is surprisingly nutritious and contains over 250 substances, including vitamins, amino acids, essential fatty acids, micronutrients and antioxidants. In fact, the German Federal Ministry of Health recognizes bee pollen as a medicine.
Bee pollen has been linked to many impressive health benefits. Studies have found that it may help fight inflammation and improve liver function. It also has properties that may help fight against heart disease and stroke. Unfortunately, processing methods like heat treatment and ultrafiltration can remove bee pollen. For example, one unofficial study analyzed 60 samples of commercial honey brands in the US and discovered that over 75% of all samples contained no pollen.
Regular Honey May Have Hidden Sugars or Sweeteners
Approximately 400 million pounds of honey are consumed in the US each year. Because honey is so popular, it’s hard to meet this high demand from local suppliers alone. This is why approximately 70% of the honey consumed in the US is imported. However, there is serious concern worldwide about regular honey being contaminated with sugar or other sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup.
Risks of Eating Raw Honey
Raw honey can contain spores of the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. This bacteria is especially harmful to babies, children under the age of one and pregnant women. It may cause botulism poisoning, which results in life-threatening paralysis. However, botulism is very rare among healthy adults and older children. As the body ages, the gut develops enough to stop the botulinum spores from growing. That said, if you experience side effects such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea soon after eating raw honey, you should see your doctor immediately.