Ajar of honey with a spoon

In the quest to avoid the empty calories of refined sugar, swapping honey into baking recipes is a commonly suggested “healthier” option. Similarly, packaged products that are sweetened with honey can give consumers the impression that they’re getting a sugar upgrade.

More About Sugars

So, is honey actually good for you?

The not-so-sweet answer: Not really, when it's used as a food. Honey does supply some nutrients, such as iron and vitamin C. But the amounts are so small—less than 1 percent of what you need in a day—that it's basically meaningless, says Amy Keating, R.D., a Consumer Reports nutritionist.

Honey actually has slightly more calories per serving than sugar: 21 calories per teaspoon compared with 16 calories per teaspoon of sugar. In addition, just like sugar and agave syrup, the honey that you stir into your tea or use as a sweetener in baked goods is a type of added sugar.

“Honey should be treated like all added sugars, something to include in your diet carefully and kept to a minimum,” Keating says. The American Heart Association recommends that men consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams) per day, and women and children, no more than 6 teaspoons (24 grams) daily. A teaspoon of honey contains almost 6 grams of sugars.

Still, research has shown other potential benefits to honey.

Does Honey Work as a Cure?

Honey has served as a time-honored home remedy for cough, allergies, and even wound healing. The evidence regarding its effectiveness as a remedy, though, is mixed.

It’s worth trying a spoonful of honey to ease a cough: Some research shows that it can help. But don’t try this with infants under 1 year old. Honey can contain the bacteria that cause infant botulism. (Honey is safe for children once they've reached their first birthday.)

And don’t rely on honey to help with a runny nose, itchy eyes, or stuffy sinuses during allergy season. While some people swear by “local” farm honey to alleviate their seasonal allergies, it actually doesn’t have notable benefits, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

The ancient Egyptians used honey to speed wound healing and prevent infection, and there may be some truth that it works. A 2015 review published by the medical organization Cochrane showed honey to be even more effective than traditional antiseptics in treating certain burns, but the report authors stress that more research is needed.

The effect may be due to the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory ingredients quercetin and garlic acid, according to Diane Madfes, M.D., a professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. That said, consult your doctor before you start spreading honey on wounds and burns.