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Honey is a source of simple carbohydrates. Its composition on average, is 17.1 percent water, 82.4 percent total carbohydrate and 0.5 percent proteins, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. The average carbohydrate content is mainly fructose (38.5 percent) and glucose (31percent). The remaining 12.9 percent of carbohydrates is made up of maltose, sucrose and other sugars.
As a carbohydrate, honey supplies energy at 64 calories per tablespoon, providing fuel to working muscles. A limited study at the University of Memphis Exercise and Sports Nutrition Laboratory found honey to be one of the most effective forms of carbohydrate gels to ingest just prior to exercise. According to Dr. Richard Kreider, the study’s lead investigator, “honey appears to be a carbohydrate source that is relatively mild on its effects upon blood sugar compared to other carbohydrate sources.” Continuing research is examining the effects of honey in comparison to different types of carbohydrate gels prior to weightlifting on the effect on glucose, insulin and markers of protein breakdown.
Other limited studies performed in Dr. Kreider’s lab have shown that honey may comprise half of the secret to post-workout recuperation. Many post-workout products on the market combine a large amount of carbohydrates with protein. The most common carbohydrate source used is maltodextrin, a mildly sweet carbohydrate usually derived from corn. Upon comparison of a honey-protein vs. a maltodextrin-protein shake taken after a vigorous weightlifting workout, the honey-protein combination fared as well in promoting markers of muscle recuperation. The honey group’s blood sugar was sustained for at least two hours post-workout.
“Our data suggest that honey functions well in all of the aspects associated with post-workout recuperation and energy repletion. In addition, honey appears to stand out as perhaps a better source of carbohydrate to ingest with post-workout protein supplements. These findings support our previous study presented at the annual Experimental Biology meeting in April 2000,” added Dr. Kreider.
“In addition to promoting muscle recuperation and glycogen [carbohydrates stored in muscle] restoration, honey-protein combinations also seem well suited to sustain favorable blood sugar concentrations after training.”
Honey contains small amounts of a wide array of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants. The vitamins found in honey may include (depending on floral variety) niacin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid; minerals present include calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. Just as the color and flavor of honey varies by floral source, so does the vitamin, mineral, antioxidant and amino acid content.
In addition to the nutrients that are involved in normal metabolic activity, foods contain components that may provide additional health benefits. These nutrients are referred to as nutraceuticals. Phytochemicals are one broad category of nutraceuticals found in plants that are actively being investigated by scientists for their health-promoting potential. Honey has a phytochemical profile which includes polyphenols that can act as antioxidants.
Antioxidants perform the role of eliminating free radicals, which are reactive compounds in the body. Free radicals are created through the normal process of metabolism and contribute to many serious diseases. Researchers at the University of Illinois, led by Nicki J. Engeseth, Ph.D. and May R. Berenbaum, Ph.D., are studying the antioxidant capacity of common honey varieties.
Honey’s Antimicrobial Properties and Benefits to Wound Healing
The use of honey as a wound dressing goes back to ancient times and has now been ‘rediscovered’ by modern medicine, according to Dr. Peter Molan of the University of Waikato, New Zealand. “It is a common observation in the many reports in medical journals that numerous benefits result from using honey to dress wounds,” says Dr. Molan. The antibacterial properties of honey may help clear infection in wounds, and the anti-inflammatory action of honey may reduce pain and may improve circulation which hastens the healing process.
According to Dr. Molan, “Honey stimulates the re-growth of tissue involved in healing, making healing faster and reducing scarring.”
National Honey Board - www.honey.com/
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