Raw Honey vs Processed Honey - Ask a Nutritionist

February 15, 2024

Today's episode is perfect for anyone looking to "sweeten" their diet with knowledge! Join Monica as she explores the essential differences between raw and processed ("normal") honey, how each impacts health, and even looks into the truth about honey's suitability for infants and diabetics on this week's installment of Ask a Nutritionist!

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MONICA: Welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition's "Ask a Nutritionist" podcast, brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness. We're thrilled to be celebrating 20 years on air, discussing the connection between what you eat and how you feel, while sharing practical, real life solutions for healthier living through balanced nutrition.

Thank you for your support and listenership over the years. If you're enjoying the show, let us know by leaving a rating or a review on Apple podcast or Spotify. Now, let's get started. My name is Monica Hoss. I am one of the Licensed and Registered Dietitians here at Nutritional Weight and Wellness. And on today's show, I'm going to be answering a few nutrition questions about honey that we've received from our Dishing Up Nutrition listeners.

So the questions are “Is raw honey better than regular honey? Is raw honey good for diabetics? And does using a metal spoon in honey destroy its benefits?” So this is a great topic today, and I'm excited to talk about honey. We're going to be talking about the difference between raw honey and regular honey, potential health benefits, and the important question of is honey okay for diabetics?

Difference between regular vs. raw honey

So first let's talk about the difference between regular honey and raw honey. The main difference here is really how it's processed after gathering it from the beehive. So when you think of honey, you're likely thinking of that golden, sticky, you know, transparent syrup that comes out of those cute plastic bear containers.

Well, this honey, like most of the honey consumed today, is a processed honey that has been heated and filtered. Processed honey is pasteurized by heating it to 160 degrees Fahrenheit and then cooling it quickly. So when you're heating it that high, it's going to be destroying a lot of the nutrients in the honey.

Then it's further processed by pushing it through a fine mesh filter at a high pressure. And they're really doing this to kill any potential bacteria, to create a clear looking product, and also to prevent the honey from crystallizing and having those little hard crystals in there.

So raw honey, on the other hand, is unfiltered and unpasteurized. It's usually a lighter, creamier color and more opaque than processed honey. Raw honey cannot be heated above 95 degrees Fahrenheit, which is actually the normal temperature of the beehive. As I mentioned earlier, excessive heat can destroy the natural enzymes, vitamins, and minerals in honey. So, raw honey is still going to contain these nutrients since it's not heated to a high heat.

And while it's okay to strain raw honey to remove unwanted debris, it's never going to be filtered or pasteurized. It also cannot have any additives. Since raw honey is not processed, it retains more of its nutritional value and health benefits. And this is really the key difference. In terms of nutrition, both processed and raw honey have about the same amount of calories and sugar in one tablespoon.

So generally, this is about 64 calories and 17.4 grams of carbohydrates. The types of sugar in honey are fructose and glucose. So if we're just looking at calories and sugar, that's the same. When we look at nutrients beyond calories and carbs, there is quite a difference since, again, raw honey is not heated to high temperatures.

Raw honey contains amino acids, minerals, and about 5,000 different enzymes. These minerals include iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and selenium. Vitamins found include vitamin B6, thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and niacin. Since raw honey is unfiltered, you also get additional nutrients like bee pollen and propolis.

And we're going to be talking about these two specific nutrients a little bit later. So yes, I can answer that raw honey does have more nutritional benefits than processed honey because of how it's processed.

Does a metal spoon destroy nutrients in honey?

And in case you're wondering, I'll answer The third question right now, if using a metal spoon destroys the nutrients in honey, and this is not true. This is an old wives tale. Using a metal spoon does not destroy the nutrients in honey. However, it is best practice to use a wooden utensil.

More raw honey benefits

So let's talk about some of the raw honey benefits. Aside from nutritional benefits, there are many, many health claims about raw honey. As I mentioned, raw honey is going to contain amino acids, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals. And these nutrients have antimicrobial, antifungal, and antioxidant properties, which all contribute to a stronger immune system and better health. So there's a lot of different health benefits of honey out there, but I want to talk about five of these potential health benefits.

Raw honey may help with allergies

Number one: raw honey may help with allergies. Raw honey contains bee pollen, which may provide natural allergy relief, and this is based on the concept of immunotherapy. So how does this work? Well, think about the bees in your local neighborhood going from flower to flower collecting pollen, and then they're making the honey.

So when you eat the local raw honey that these bees have made, you're also getting some of that local pollen. And the idea is, if you eat local raw honey on a regular basis, with time, you may become less sensitive to the pollen and experience fewer seasonal allergy symptoms. So this might be worth a try to add a teaspoon or two of local raw honey into your diet from time to time. And, you know, see if you notice a difference, a decrease in your seasonal allergies.

Raw honey can give an antioxidant boost

Number two: raw honey can give you an antioxidant boost. Honey contains polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants that have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Raw honey has antibacterial properties

Number three, raw honey may help heal wounds due to its antibacterial properties. Raw honey mixes with body fluids to create hydrogen peroxide, which then creates an inhospitable environment for bacteria. It helps to fight the infection and promote healing. And there's a lot of different types of honeys out there. I'm not going to get into them all. So manuka honey, which is a type of honey from New Zealand, this is especially a type of honey that can really help promote healing in wounds.

Raw honey may help in gut healing

Number four: raw honey may help heal your gut. Some studies suggest that honey may benefit GI disorders by reducing inflammation and improving gut microbial balance.

Raw and processed honey: natural cough suppressant

And number five, both raw and processed honey have been used for many generations as a cough suppressant. Raw honey has been shown to be as effective in treating coughs as over the counter commercial cough syrups. Increasing scientific evidence shows that a single dose of honey can reduce mucus secretion and coughs. In one study, it was just as effective as two of the most common ingredients in over the counter cough medications. So for a cough, a half teaspoon to two teaspoons at bedtime is a studied and recommended dosage for anyone over the age of one.

So here is a gentle reminder that please don't give honey to infants under the age of one. Honey could contain a bacteria called Clostridium botulinum, which can be very dangerous for infants. So if you want to use raw honey for a cough, make sure you're giving it to children over the age of one.

So these are the five benefits of raw honey. And like I said, there's really many more out there. So it's time for a quick break, but when we come back, I'm going to be talking more about propolis found in honey.


Health benefits of propolis in raw honey

Welcome back. I want to talk a little bit more about one of the nutrients found in raw honey, and this ingredient is called propolis. And it seems like propolis is responsible for many of the health benefits that I just shared. Propolis is produced by certain types of bees. It is used in the beehive to seal cracks and crevices that keep invaders out of the hive.

It also helps regulate the temperature and moisture content of the hive, and it inhibits bacteria and fungus from building up inside the hive. So it's pretty cool, has a lot of important purposes in the beehive. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all recognized propolis as having many medicinal and therapeutic benefits.

Propolis has hundreds of phytochemicals, polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals. What's interesting is that propolis is made from the bees collecting various elements from the diverse plants and flowers around them. So the actual composition of propolis is going to vary depending on the bee, the geographical location, the season, and what plants are around the area.

Local raw honey from here, where I live, is going to be very different than the local raw honey from, say, where my family in Texas lives. And again, this is one of the reasons why eating local raw honey may help those with seasonal allergies. In doing the research for today, I came across a review article from 2022 titled, “Propolis: its role and efficacy in human health and diseases.”

Now, I'm not going to get into a lot of the research because this would be a very long episode, but the article summarized several studies that confirmed that propolis has therapeutic potential to treat various chronic diseases. It showed anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-cancer, anti-allergy, anti-viral, and anti-diabetic effects.

Propolis also shows neuroprotective and cardioprotective effects. You can find supplements with propolis, so if you want to get the benefits without directly eating raw honey, that is an option. I recently had a bad cold and cough and I found that taking propolis lozenges worked really well. They also make a lollipop version that both of my kids have enjoyed.

So for my kids, I might offer those, or a lot of times I do give them a spoonful of local raw honey to help with their sore throats and coughs. Another idea that you could do if you want to incorporate some raw honey into your diet and into your kids’ diet is make the peanut butter protein balls on our website.

They call for honey and I will use again our local raw honey and my kids really love them for an afterschool snack or a sweet treat. And you can find that recipe on our website at www.weightandwellness.com.

Is it okay for type 2 diabetics to use honey?

Finally, let's discuss whether type 2 diabetics should use honey. This is an area of ongoing research and debate. And while honey is a natural sweetener, it's important to consider its effects on blood sugar levels, especially for individuals with diabetes. Some studies suggest that honey may have a slightly better blood sugar response than regular sugar for diabetics, and this is likely due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and also that honey has more of a moderate glycemic index than compared to what we think of as table sugar.

However, I would highly recommend diabetics to monitor their blood sugar levels when eating honey, as it can still lead to spikes in blood sugar. And really, this can be true for non-diabetics as well. Some people will spike when they're eating honey. So I would really be cautious and test your blood sugar to know for sure how your body is going to respond to the honey.

Some other things to consider: the type of honey used matters. Raw honey, manuka honey, we know those are likely going to have a better response than processed honey. But really the response to honey can vary widely among individuals with diabetes. So depending on factors like insulin sensitivity, your overall diet, and diabetes management, I really think the answer to this question is unique to each individual and a great discussion to have with your nutritionist.


So we've talked a lot about honey today. To summarize, raw honey has more nutritional and health benefits than processed honey. A lot of the research supports the therapeutic benefits of propolis and bee pollen found in raw honey are what works. However, honey is still a sugar and will likely impact your blood sugar levels.

It is best to limit your intake of any sugar, including raw honey to have occasionally. If you enjoy the taste of honey, practice moderation, and, you know, maybe use it when you have a sore throat or cough. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of “Ask a Nutritionist”. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did researching it.

Did you know you can call us to ask questions? Call 952-641-5233 to leave your questions in our Dishing Up Nutrition voicemail box. Don't be shy. We look forward to hearing from you. Have a beautiful day.

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