Honey for kids can be a healthy choice since it contains considerable amounts of phytochemicals and flavonoids that can impart several health benefits over time (1). The natural sweetener has moderate nutritional value and offers the same calories as refined sugar. However, honey may still be a better alternative to refined sugar since it also provides health-promoting compounds. You can use honey in food and home remedies to alleviate certain health issues and promote general health.
Read on as we tell you about the nutritional composition of honey, the right age to give honey to children, and different ways you can give honey to children.
When Can You Give Honey To Children?
Honey is nutritious but should only be introduced to children after they are one year old. This is to avoid infant botulism, an illness that may occur due to the consumption of honey by children below the age of one year.
Honey contains spore-forming bacteria called Clostridium botulinum, which can multiply in the intestine (2). The bacteria releases toxins that irritate the little one’s gut and affect the nervous system. It happens because infants have an underdeveloped digestive system that’s not acidic enough to destroy Clostridium spores.
Honey is, however, safe for children above one year as their digestive system is mature enough to expel the bacteria through the body (3). However, use it as a replacement for refined sugar but not in addition to it.
Nutritional Value Of Honey
The nutritional value of 100g of honey is as given in the table (4).
8 Benefits Of Honey For Kids
Besides being a sweetener, honey offers some health benefits too.
- Energy-dense: A teaspoon of honey gives approximately 20-30 calories. It can be added to the child’s meals to meet their total calorie requirement. If you give honey to your child, choose low GI honey like acacia, which will support their overall health (5).
- Supports healing: Honey is known for its healing properties. Its antimicrobial and wound-repair properties are known to help in treating lesions, insect bites, burns, boils, and sores. A mixture of honey with beeswax and olive oil might help in treating damaged skin and conditions such as psoriasisiXA condition marked by dry, itchy, scaly patches on the skin or atopic dermatitisiXA chronic condition causing extremely dry, itchy rashes and inflamed skin in children (6).
- Antiviral properties: Pure honey has bactericidal and antiviral properties against pathogenic bacteria and enteropathogensiXMicrobes that cause intestinal diseases . These qualities are the likely reason for honey’s use in Ayurvedic medicine, especially for treating cough and cold. Controlled consumption of honey is known to have the potential to prevent tooth problems like tooth decay (5).
- Anti-inflammatory properties: Owing to its proven antioxidant activity, honey is considered a natural medicine for treating inflammatory conditions like sore throat, asthma, mucositisiXInflammation of the mucous lining covering the mouth and the gastrointestinal tract , gastroenteritis, etc (7) (8).
- Antioxidant and antibiotic properties: Natural honey has antioxidant and antibiotic effects. Its radical scavenging property has been imparted to it by phenols whereas its antibiotic properties are imparted by inhibine. These health promoting properties of honey has made it the most widely food item amongst infants and children (9).
- Prebiotic properties: Honey works as a prebioticiXFood sources that aid in the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut . It means it stimulates the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. Honey added to buttermilk or yogurt makes a good pre-probiotic combination that helps maintain a healthy gut microbiome in kids (10).
- Relieves gastric reflux: If a child is suffering from GERD, then honey can be used for relief. The intake of honey rectifies this condition by coating the esophagus and stomach lining. This prevents the upward flow of food and gastric juice and thus provides relief. It further stimulates the tissues on the sphincteriXA muscle capable of opening and closing the body passages to facilitate the normal flow of substances and thus assists in the regrowth thereby reducing the chances of acid reflux.
- Relieves constipation and diarrhea: Constipation and diarrhea are not uncommon in kids. So if they suffer from either, raw manuka honey can be taken on an empty stomach to get some relief. Honey helps improve bowel movements by increasing the water content of the stool.
Despite its several benefits, probably the most widespread medicinal use of honey is for the treatment of cough and cold.
Honey For Cough And Cold In Children
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend against the use of OTC drugs for cough and cold for children under four years of age, unless directed by a physician or pediatrician (11). Natural honey is known for its antimicrobial, antiviral, and antifungal properties, due to which people use honey as a natural remedy for cold and cough.
It is believed that pasteurized honey given before bedtime provides some relief from the symptoms of cough and cold in children aged over one year (12) (13).
Honey is also said to improve the quality of sleep in children.
Ways To Give Honey To A Child
Introduce honey in a child’s diet gradually. Doing so will give you time to check for any probable allergic reactions. It will also give your child adequate time to adapt to the taste and texture of honey.
Here are a few ways you can replace refined sugar with honey:
- Add honey to oatmeal for enhancing the flavor of the dish.
- Instead of adding sugar, add honey to sweeten the milk.
- Spread it on bread toast.
- Mix yogurt and honey to make a delectable side dish.
- If your children like to have the smoothie sweet, you may add honey in it instead of sugar.
- Spread honey on pancakes and waffles.
- Use it as a flavoring agent or/and as a substitute for sugar in baked foods.
Discontinue serving honey to the child, if you notice side effects such as breathing problems, muscle weakness, and constipation.
Precautions To Follow
Before consuming honey, it is necessary to ensure that its purity remains intact. Here is what you can do for that.
- Do not serve too much honey to children. Honey is high in calories and contains free sugars like fructose, which on over-consumption, might lead to undesired weight gain, dental caries, and gastric issues (14). So, practice moderation in use.
- Check the manufacturing date and contents mentioned on the label.
- Choose real honey, and read the labels to ensure that it isn’t adulterated with high-fructose corn syrup.
- Do not keep it in the open without a lid, as it may get contaminated by insects and dust.
- Store the honey bottle in a cool place.
Try and use the honey within a month or two of getting it, even though it stays fine and useful long after that.
Which Is Better: Raw Honey Or Processed Honey?
Raw honey contains nutrients in its original form but also has natural toxins such as grayanotoxinsiXToxins naturally found in the honey derived from the plants of the genus Rhododendron , which can cause honey poisoning. The symptoms of honey poisoning include low blood pressure, nausea, and vomiting.
However, when the honey is processed, the toxins get diluted and may not have any severe effect on the body. Processed honey is also free of pollen grains and dust particles.
This suggests that processed honey has fewer risks compared to raw honey, but the nutritional value of raw honey makes it superior to the processed one (15).
Honey is a sweetener that is used as a sugar alternative. Unlike plain sugar, honey contains trace amounts of minerals and has some health benefits. However, unprocessed honey may contain harmful bacteria and allergens. Feed only safe and sterilized honey for kids as it may not contain any toxins. Always check the ingredients list before purchase and avoid products that contain artificial colors and flavors. Also, introduce honey to them gradually. Consult a pediatrician if they develop any symptoms of intolerance after their first consumption. Once your child gets comfortable with the taste and the flavor, you may use this sweetener in desserts or other recipes.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How much honey can my child have in a day?
According to AAP, children aged two years and above should consume no more than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day (16). Since children eat several things, such as pre-packaged foods containing added sugar, keep a strict check on how much sugar your child consumes and adjust the quantity you add to their food accordingly.
2. Can honey cure flu in children?
Honey can’t cure or treat flu. However, it could relieve bothersome flu symptoms such as cough and sore throat. Experts recommend using honey to relieve cough. However, they remind parents not to use honey for babies under 12 months of age (17).
3. Which type of honey is best for children ?
Some clinical studies have found that manuka honey and buckwheat honey are helpful for children. These types of honey are likely to treat constipation, chronic bronchitis, sleep problems, respiratory problems, and nocturnal coughs (20) (21).
4. How much honey can we give to children?
Children above one year can consume up to one teaspoon of honey as a cough medication (22). However, it is best to consult a doctor on the optimum daily quantity for regular consumption.
5. How can honey help improve a child’s immune system?
Honey is a rich source of essential nutrients, antioxidants, and amino acids that aid as a medicinal remedy for several health issues. Thus, honey is known for its immune-boosting qualities (23).
Does your child like honey? How do you give it to them? Do share your experience with us in the comment section below.
Infographic: Honey Types And Quality Determination
When consumed in moderation, children can reap several potential health benefits of honey. Our infographic shares different types of honey that children above 12 months can relish. Additionally, we provide a few simple tests to distinguish real honey from artificial honey.
- Children above one year of age can consume moderate amounts of honey as it is high in natural sugar.
- Honey is an energy-dense food with antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic properties that can promote overall health in the long run.
- Parents can use honey in common home remedies to treat ailments, such as cough and cold.
2. Botulism; Health Issues; Healthy Children; American Academy of Pediatrics (2018)
3. Can I Feed My Baby Honey?; Kids Health From Nemours (2018)
4. Honey; Food Data Central; USDA
5. Sultan Ayoub Meo et al., Role of honey in modern medicine; National Centre for Biotechnology Information (2016)
6. Noori S.Al-Waili, Topical application of natural honey, beeswax and olive oil mixture for atopic dermatitis or psoriasis: partially controlled, single-blinded study; Researchgate (2004)
7. MG Miguel et al., Honey as a Complementary Medicine; National Biotechnology Information (2017)
8. Soad K. Al Jaouni et al., Effects of Honey on Oral Mucositis among Pediatric Cancer Patients Undergoing Chemo/Radiotherapy Treatment at King Abdulaziz University Hospital in Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; National Centre for Biotechnology Information (2017)
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11. Cough and Cold Medicine – Not for Children; American Academy of Pediatrics
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14. Sugar Intake in Infants, Children and Adolescents; ESPGHAN Committee on Nutrition
15. The Risks of Eating Raw Honey; Food Safety Topics; Centre for Food Safety; The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
16. Added sugar in kids’ diets: How much is too much?; AAP
17. Symptom Relief for Viral Illnesses; CDC
18. Treating Canker Sores with Honey; nutritionfacts.org
19. Rafieh Fakhlaei et al.; The Toxic Impact of Honey Adulteration: A Review; NCBI (2020)
20. Marra et al.; The Toxic Impact of Honey Adulteration: A Review; NCBI
21. Paul et al; Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents; NCBI (2020)
22. Help for a Child with a Cold; University of Rochester Medical Center
23. Does Honey Work Better than Cough Medicine?; Penn State University