Raw Honey

If you drive down the road a bit and take a sharp hair's pin left, go past the house with clear umbrella's over the tomato plants, you will run upon a sign kindly suggesting to slow down for bees. A little further down the road and a few feet into the driveway are bee boxes and a gob load of swirling, dancing, busy bees, and their care taker waking amongst the cloud of them. The land they sit backs onto acres of conserved temperate Pacific Northwest forest. The closest tree to the house is a giant maple tree, possibly taller than any that I saw in my time in upstate New York as a graduate student.

This year's weather according to our local apicarist (beekeeper) nearly wiped out his and other's bees in the area. He informed us that they worked very hard to nurture them back, and surprisingly this year's harvest was grand. Like the other farm stands, the island's bee keeper offers honey selections, from what we can tell, periodically on Saturdays, but maybe on Sundays too -- but really there hasn't been a pattern that we can tell. We just know that we are grateful when we have the opportunity to catch the 'honey table farm stand' open. When we stopped by there were two types being offered. A very light version from the tall Maple tree, and a darker version from the wild flowers in the area. The bee keeper, who is in love with his bees and his profession, when asked which kind he thought was good said (getting back round to the question after about 30 minutes once he finished telling us about a potluck he was going to that evening for a birthday party and somehow did tie that into answering the question) that all of them were wonderful, but that the Maple tree honey was special. He explained that his bees took to the tree this year, and which hadn't happened the past several years. The nectar found in the Maple blooms is the same that eventually goes on to make Maple syrup, he said. We did sample both. The wild flower honey tasted rich and earthy, and to me did have a hint of floral flavor. The Maple honey was light, dainty almost; not as heavy as Maple syrup but with the same flavor that evaporated quickly. We bought the Maple honey this time around. And I have to say, I enjoy talking to the island bee keeper. He lovingly speaks of his bees, the honey and the process; and never directly answers a single question I ask.

Honey is composed of about 70 to 80% sugars. The rest is minerals, some vitamins (like the B vitamins) and water. It's glycemic index and load is about the same as white sugar (Boo, I know, right?! As my kids say). But as just mentioned, honey contains minerals and vitamins unlike processed sugar. According to the American Medical Society and others people that are not carrying illness burdens should be limiting the amount of sugar you eat to 25-35 grams daily. For folks with cancer that number should be limited even more (remember that is total added processed sugar, not carbohydrates). So if you decide to have a little sweet treat you might want to make it count regarding nutrition. Products made with honey might be a good substitutes especially as you reduce sugar containing foods.

The honey we bought is raw meaning that it is not exposed to heating processes called pasteurization. This process essentially kills any possible tag alongs in the honey. Eating raw honey is generally safe for populations with intact immune systems, but folks during cancer treatment should stick to consuming pasteurized products.

So the take home message is that honey is like sugar, in that it can cause insulin surges which can in turn send signals for cell growth (I'll get into this sugar thing in a subsequent post very soon). But a little bit is okay, particularly if you team it with a protein, fiber or fat. These all decrease the ability of the body to absorb the sugar from the honey in your gut.