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Friday, December 16, 2011

HONEY AND ITS HEALTH BENEFITS


                                                        HONEY
Honey is very useful in the winter months as it can help protect us from coughs, colds and flu. In Pakistan children are given a spoonful of honey in hot milk for breakfast to keep them warm as honey has “hot” properties according to Eastern medicine systems. It also boosts the immune system and helps protect us from diseases. It is a natural antibiotic too which means that we can use it if our bodies and the invading viruses and bacteria have become immune to the effects of pharmaceutical antibiotics.                                               
  Raw honey is of course the best for our health. This is honey which has not been subjected to heating at 70 º C or more so still contains all the enzymes which the bees have in their honeycombs. This is difficult to obtain unless you happen to know a beekeeper or apiarist as they are known. The darker the honey, the stronger the flavour, the lighter, the less oomph it packs, although this is not to say that it doesn’t have health benefits.
  Commercially produced honey which you get from your supermarket shelves has been processed so that it has a longer shelf-life, which means that it doesn’t crystallize as quickly as raw honey. Crystallized honey can still be used to sweeten hot drinks and in cooking and baking, so don’t throw it away.
  When honey is heated for commercial use, it loses some of the nutrients such as yeast, bioflavonoids and minerals and vitamins. However, all of them are not lost. If you want to buy “pure” honey, then you should read the label on the jar or tin very carefully and choose honey that has not been adulterated with such ingredients as molasses, corn starch and so on. The best honey is that which has been produced from one source, lavender, or thyme flowers, orange flowers etc. If the honey is raw you should be able to get the aroma of the flowers when you open the jar or tin. Some people say that you can tell if honey is pure by rubbing a little of it on the palm of your hand, and if you have a slight burning sensation it is pure. The real test, it would seem, is to drop some honey into water and if it is difficult to get it to dissolve because it forms a solid mass at the bottom of the cup, then it is pure. Commercial honey will dissolve more quickly.
  Bees make a substance called propolis which means “defence of the city” in ancient Greek, and this is made by the bees chewing the resin which exudes from buds on trees, so mixing it with their saliva to make a natural antibiotic substance which they use to seal cracks in their hives so that the hive is protected against the elements and diseases and infections. It keeps the hive healthy and warm. Propolis is rich in nutrients and may contain bees’ wings and other flecks and is also used by its creators to seal and repair the honeycombs. It consists of 50 -70 % resins, 30% wax (beeswax), 10 % etheric oils and about 5% of pollen. The bees sting invaders of the insect world to death and then embalm them in this substance. Ancient Egyptians used the process for embalming in their mummification process. Propolis is rich in nutrients which include carotene (vitamin A), B-complex vitamins B1, B2, B3 and biotin and bioflavonoids (vitamin P). It has 500 times more bioflavonoids than an orange and also contains the minerals, calcium, potassium, phosphorous and magnesium. It promotes wound healing and the regeneration of tissue, and is a natural alternative to antibiotics such as penicillin.                                                                                                
  Raw honey also shares these properties as it contains propolis, and is a rich source of antioxidants, so having just a teaspoonful of honey a day will make you less susceptible to illnesses and honey does not increase the blood sugar levels as quickly as does sugar, making it comparatively good for diabetics. It also has anti-inflammatory properties as well as anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-viral ones and if that isn't enough to convince you that it is good for you, it also contains selenium, the trace element that produces the feel-good factor.                                                                                                    
  A teaspoonful of honey mixed with lemon juice and ginger root juice is an excellent remedy for coughs, colds and sore throats, etc. In the UK people also add blackcurrant juice to this for extra vitamin C and vitamins A and E.
  Our ancestors, the hunter-gatherers used honey and so did the people of ancient civilizations. They gave honey as offerings to their gods, as well as eating it themselves if they foraged for it. Otherwise, honey was only available to the wealthy as it was expensive. This was true until commercially produced honey became available with the mechanized honey extractor.
  If you can get raw honey from a beekeeper this is the best way of ensuring your honey is pure; if you can’t check the label carefully for adulterants. Some of the best honey I have eaten was from Crete, and that from Athens was very good too, believe it or not. In Greece, it is used in thick natural yoghurt topped with seasonal soft fruit such as strawberries, bananas and kiwi fruit, which makes a wonderful breakfast dish.
 

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