Honey - nectar of the gods 1


MERELY - from "nectar of the gods" to honey toxicity?
 myth and reality (1)

Dr. Mirela Stranț, Cluj Napoca,

doctor with apiphytotherapy competence,

Ayurveda lecturer AMN-Romania

Bee honey was the first sweet substance used by man.

Since ancient times, man has discovered honey and hive products not only as food but also as a remedy. For all the exceptional qualities that honey has, there is a widespread belief (often greatly exaggerated) that under certain conditions honey can be toxic! Even scientists have studied this and conducted various laboratory experiments to clarify this.

In short, there are some types of honey from plants with toxic potential, which if consumed constantly or in larger quantities can cause unpleasant effects in the body or sometimes lead to poisoning.

There is also the danger of contamination with pesticides or heavy metals. On the other hand, there is some concern about heat treatments applied to honey.

Indeed, exposure to temperatures above 37 degrees Celsius will induce changes in the composition of the honey, losing thecertain therapeutic qualities are formed and at the same time some new substances are formed, such as hydroxy methyl furfural (HMF), but HMF is formed in much larger quantities in bakery products, dried fruit and many other processed foods.

Therefore, sweetening tea (even if it's still tea) with a teaspoon of honey won't cause nearly as much damage as using the same amount of sugar, or even worse, artificial sweeteners, and it certainly won't make us sick with who knows what mysterious disease...

In order to shed light on this important issue, several aspects will be analysed and compared, both in relation to honey consumption and to other foods commonly used in the diet.

Cthe extraordinary qualities of honey - remedy and precious food at the same time - have been known since antiquity. Originally, honey was rare, being reserved for religious service, to-worship the gods or to feed sacred animals. The Babylonians and various ancient civilisations in India and China used honey both as medicine and in rituals and ceremonies.

In the Old Testament we find the word "honey" written over 60 times. The Thracians called honey living food.

The writings of Greek antiquitymentions of honey and its medicinal use, creating a mythology around it and emphasizing the importance of the honey.its numerous beneficial properties.

Muslims used honey as a good cure for any illness. Aristotle wrote six volumes on bees and their products. Hippocrates, the greatest physician of Antiquity, and later Pliny, Galen and Dioscorides also talk about honey.

Honey is very often used in food, in the kitchen or as a remedy, and is highly valued in folk medicine.

It also has important applications in artificial feeding, in pre- and and post-operating, paediatrics and gynaecology.

Because of its nutritional qualities, honey is considered a food of great value in the diet of people of all ages, with wide uses in dietetics and therapeutics. The nutritional value of honey lies primarily in its richness in sugars (70-80%), from this point of view, being an energy food par excellence.

Most of the sugars in honey are simple sugars (glucose and fructose), which do not require special processing through digestion, being directly assimilated and completely burned (unlike sugar), this energy being fully available to the body, so honey is an easily assimilated and digestible food.

It doesn't use vitamin B, calcium and magnesium stores for its absorption, as sugar, especially refined sugar, does, and it's not addictive (like sugar).

On the other hand it strongly supports the immune system, while every time sugar is consumed, 70% of white blood cells responsible for immune defense go into aa state of "lethargy". It also has anti-inflammatory effects (whereas sugar is a strong pro-inflammatory), and some studies also show anti-tumour effects of honey.

It supports the optimal functioning of the digestive system and the formation of 'good' bacteria in the intestines (cutting-edge studies show the huge influence that a healthy gut flora has on physical, mental and emotional health), has exceptional healing and regenerative effects, and is a well-known Ayurvedic rasayana (rejuvenating) and vajikarana (aphrodisiac) remedy in addition to its many other therapeutic effects.

The essential difference between bee honey and commercial sugar lies in its high content of some non-sugar substances (microelements, enzymes, organic acids and vitamins), which exert their positive effect by regulating important functions in the body.

Honey contains contains hundreds of organic substances, a complex mixture of nitrogen compounds, lactones, proteins, is rich in substances with antibiotic effect -inhibins, enzymes, phenolic antioxidants, aromatic compounds, amino and organic acids, gluconic acid, phenolic acids, flavonoids, minerals, vitamins and other phytochemicals (sodium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, aluminium, manganese, iron, chlorine, sulphur, silicon) as well as some trace elements: beryllium, gallium, vanadium, zirconium, titanium, nickel, tin, lead, silver). Both vitamins and minerals vary according to the nectar used by the bees and ultimately vary according to the soil resources on which the plants grow. Used at breakfast, it is a source of energy that helps the body get a good start to the day's work.

Could honey be toxic?

For all the exceptional qualities that honey has, there is a widespread belief (often greatly exaggerated) that under certain conditions honey can be toxic! Even scientists have studied this and conducted various laboratory experiments to clarify this.

Of course there are some kinds of honey that come from plants with toxic potential, such as Dhatura or rhododendron (these honeys are not present in Romania anyway) in which alkaloids are found that can give unpleasant reactions when consumed in larger quantities or there is a situation in which honey can be contaminated with heavy metals. In addition, external characteristics such as seasonal and environmental factors, honey processing and storage time and conditions have crucial effects on its composition.

First, let's make sure of people's most common concern - heating honey. In English translations of ancient Ayurvedic texts, it is mentioned that honey can become poisonous at high temperatures, so modern scientists are now looking to heat it.have set to work to test this hypothesis and in this article we explore their research. Beyond that, common sense can save us from many misunderstandings and unfavourable decisions.

For example, if we think of the teaspoon of honey put in hot tea or in various preparations using high temperatures, common sense should tell us that it is a much better option than using sugar, rightly nicknamed "white death" or artificial sweeteners such as aspartame - one of the most harmful food additives, which is abundantly found ina lot of food products, "light" drinks, medicines and syrups for children and adults, etc.

Coming back to honey and what happens when it is heated, especially at high temperatures, the first thing to consider is that enzymes will be inactivated, proteins and vitamins denatured, lactobacilli destroyed which will significantly reduce the therapeutic properties of honey (important to know when using honey for its healing effects) but it doesn't cause any horrible illnesses and you won't poison yourself if you consume a teaspoon of honey with a cup of hot tea, and certainly no one will die from it.

Regarding the nutritional benefits of honey - Yes, heating honey can damage them, honey digestion can be slowed down due to the destruction of their own enzymes (but this happens with any thermally prepared food).

Heating honey can lead to the loss of thermolabile compounds such as vitamins, enzymes and essential amino acids (lysine, tryptophan) but also to the formation of undesirable compounds and a reduction in flavour.

Special attention has been paid to the formation of compounds that are not naturally found in honey and which in large quantities could have negative health effects such as: heterocyclic amines, nitrosamines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Hydroxy-methyl-furfural (HMF)

A cyclic aldehyde formed from carbohydrates. Although HMF occurs at very low concentrations and may even be absent in both fresh honey, heat treatment and/or prolonged storage conditions may increase HMF production. But, HMF is not only present in honey, but there are no heat-processed food products that do not have HMF.

It is almost ubiquitous in varying concentrations in our daily heat-processed carbohydrate-containing foods, from breakfast cereals, breads, dairy products and dried fruit, fruit juices to coffee and liqueurs.

One of the compounds that has attracted the most interest is hydroxy-methyl-furfural (HMF), a cyclic aldehyde formed from carbohydrates. It occurs spontaneously in carbohydrate-rich foods as a result of the Maillard reaction (noncaramelization enzyme) or due to acid dehydration-catalyzed hexoses (such as glucose, fructose). Since HMF is absent in fresh and non-heat-processed foods, but has an increased concentration during heat treatment or long-term storage, it is used as an indicator of freshness and honey quality.

Formation of HMF in honey

There are a few factors influencing the formation of HMF in honey during storage: use of metal containers (stainless steel, aluminium drums, etc.), physical and chemical characteristics of the honeythe chemical properties of honey (pH, total acidity, lactone and mineral content) related to the floral source, humidity, heat and photochemical stress.

Under acidic conditions, HMF can be formed at low temperatures, but it does however occur with increasing temperature and duration of storage. In addition, the occurrence of HMF is also related to the water content of honey. A low percentage of water in honey is correlated with inhibition of HMF formation.

Here it is important on the one hand to harvest the honey only after it has beenripened and kept under appropriate conditions in hermetically sealed containers (notmetal, non-plastic), protected from excessive heat and direct sunlight.

A higher HMF concentration indicates poor storage conditions and/or excessive heating of the honey. The rate of HMF formation also depends on the fructose:glucose ratio and the type of sugars formed, as s-reported that at pH 4.6, fructose is five times more reactive than glucose, which means that high fructose honeys such as acacia and chestnut form HMF faster than high glucose honeys (which crystallise quickly) such as lime, blackstrap, rapeseed, polyfloral or buckwheat honey.

However, although HMF occurs at very low concentrations and may even be absent in both fresh honey, heat treatment and/or prolonged storage conditions can increase HMF production.

For example, some studies have reported that the average concentration of HMF in Malaysian (tropical country) blackbirds kept for 2 months at 4-5°C was 35.98 mg/kg, but stored at 25-30°C for more than one year could reach levels of 118.47-1139.95 mg/kg).

The Codex Alimentarius Commission has therefore set the maximum limit for HMF in honey at 40 mg/kg (with a higher limit of 80 mg/kg for honeys from tropical regions) to ensure that the product has not undergone extreme heating during processing and is safe for consumption.

HMF in other foods

But, HMF is not only present in honey! It is almost ubiquitous in varying concentrations in our daily heat-processed, carbohydrate-containing foods, from breakfast cereals, breads, dairy products and dried fruit, fruit juices to coffee and liqueurs. HMF is also present in dried fruit (> 1000 mg/kg), baked foods, tomato products, products containing caramel, instant coffee (up to 6200 mg/kg), apple juice, citrus juices, vinegar, beer, brandy, etc. and HMF is released from sugar and carbohydrates even after home cooking, indicating that HMF is ubiquitous in our diet. Most of these foods undergo heat treatments before consumption, such as boiling, baking, extrusion cooking, roasting, pasteurisation and other processing.

According to Norwegian and German researchers, cereals and cereal products, including bread, are some of the most prominent sources of human exposure to HMF, also due to the amount consumed daily. The formation of HMF in cereal products is also highly dependent on many factors, including temperature, the dough fermentation process, water activity and the presence of fruit, berries and other flavourings or additives.

Mańkowska and collaborators investigated HMF concentrations in 41 food products. Wheat bread with cranberries was reported to contain the highest amount of HMF (210 mg/kg), followed by wheat and honey breakfast cereals (85.09 mg/kg).

The lowest amount of HMF was reported in gluten-free cakes and whole grain oatmeal. Sweetened breakfast cereals contained HMF at 25.55 mg/kg, which was higher than the average HMF concentration (18.40 mg/kg) in bakery products.

In other studies, s-found that among cereals, the highest HMF producers are wheat (up to 132 mg/kg), corn flakes (up to 114 mg/kg). In the case of bread, HMF values vary widely, from 3.4 to 176.1 mg/kg, depending on fermentation conditions, added leavening agents, crust and breadcrumb thickness and type of bread (oat bread, white bread or wheat bread).

The cereal products are supplemented by various types of dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, dates, strawberries, redcurrants and apple).

The lowest (6.06 mg/kg) concentration of HMF was reported for crunchy products containing raisins and prunes. On the other hand, red fruits such as red apples, strawberries and redcurrants as well as dried dates have high concentrations of HMF.

The high carbohydrate content and high drying temperatures certainly contribute to this.

Researchers Murkovic and Pichler analysed HMF concentrations in dried apricots, peaches, pears, figs, dates, apples and pineapples. HMF concentrations were highest in dates (1000 mg/kg) and plums (1100-2200 mg/kg). The average range of HMF concentrations in other dried fruits was 1-780 mg / kg. On the other hand, inIn a study conducted on commercially dehydrated vegetables, HMF was not detected except for cabbage, tomatoes and artichokes (58.60; 18.20 and 6.97 mg/kg respectively).

As far as dairy products are concerned, HMF is formed by side reactions during heat sterilisation and browning processes as well as shelf life. In traditional Indian dairy products, there was a strong positive correlation between HMF concentration and the flavours, colours and textures of their products. As far as it is concerned, infant formula contains up to 15 times more HMF than liquid milk.

The concentration of oil in products can also affect the formation of HMF. To investigate this hypothesis, s-studied roasted and ground or caramelised peanuts. Shelled peanuts roasted in large amounts of oil and for a long time (30- to60 minutes) showed increased HMF formation (from 66.5 to 144.0 mg/kg). The situation is even more dramatic for caramelised peanuts - 372 mg HMF/kg.

In the light of this information, we can conclude that there are no heat-processed foodstuffs that are free of HMF.