The Real Reason Honey Is So Easy To Digest

Digestion and gut health are some of the most popular health topics these days. According to GI Alliance, 62 million Americans are diagnosed with a digestive disorder every year. Digestive issues can lead to chronic problems with nausea, diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, vomiting, and heartburn (via Medical News Today). With so many people suffering from digestive issues, it's no wonder most of us want to know which foods support optimal digestion. The general rule of thumb seems to be: less processed, less refined foods in their natural form support digestive health. Also, if humans have thrived off of eating a particular food over time, it's likely we digest and assimilate it well. For example, honey's origins in the human diet can be traced back over 8,000 years ago and has even been depicted in Stone Age paintings, according to the Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences. It's been used medicinally in many ancient cultures: The Egyptians, Assyrians, Chinese, Greeks, and Romans used honey for treating various intestinal diseases. Even as early as a few decades ago, scientists found honey to be effective in treating salmonella, E. coli, and H. pylori — all harmful afflictions of the digestive tract. But what makes honey so easy to digest and actually health-promoting for our digestive tract? First, it helps to know where the liquid gold comes from.

What exactly is honey, anyway?

Honey is a byproduct of flower nectar and the honey bee's digestive tract. Because different flowers yield different nectars, the chemical compositions of different honeys will vary based on botanical and regional factors. The complexity of honey can't be understated. In fact, honey's been found to contain over 200 substances. However, it's the enzymes in honey that may best contribute to its ease of digestion, particularly amylase, protease, diastase, and invertase. Medical News Daily suggests that because bees add these enzymes to honey as they process it in the hive, the sugar component of honey is already partially broken down, making it easier for us to digest than regular sugar. Regular sugar, on the other hand, doesn't start breaking down until after we ingest it. Not only is honey easier to digest, but it actually promotes optimal digestion in our bodies. One animal study published by the BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies journal indicated that processed foods that substituted honey over regular sugar promoted and improved gut microflora, a critical component of healthy gut functioning.

Which honey is best?

When shopping for honey, experts suggest Manuka honey may provide the most digestive benefits. Livestrong reports that Manuka honey actually contains medicinal properties and contains powerful antioxidants that contribute to gut health by reducing inflammation and destroying free radicals in the body. But Manuka honey isn't the only strong contender offering sweet benefits. Evidence in peer-reviewed studies published by Foods scientific journal showed that phenolic content and antioxidants were higher in raw honey versus processed honeys, suggesting a greater efficacy for digestive ease and overall gut health. Because antioxidants aid in gastrointestinal health, look for darker versions, as these kinds of honey typically contain higher amounts of those coveted antioxidants. It's important to note that when considering raw honey, it's not suggested for babies younger than one year old due to the risk of botulism poisoning. The risk in adults is much lower however, suggesting its positive benefits likely outweigh the risks, via Healthline.