Dr Tauseef Ahmad Khan, Canada
Editor, Science Section
For centuries, honey has captivated societies for its sweetness, rich taste, texture, and aroma, and has been extensively used for its potential healing effects. Among some cultures, honey is viewed as an elixir that could improve health and cure disease. Current research studies have also shown that honey, if applied to the skin, can improve some illnesses. Nonetheless, an unending debate is whether consuming honey is any different than sugar. Are there special features of honey that truly distinguish it from the common sugar?
Our research team set out to measure the health benefits of consuming honey when compared to common sugar. Previous studies on honey were small and unclear on the benefit of consuming honey. We used a research method called meta-analysis, in which we combined information from all previous human studies on honey and looked at it as one large study. This way we were able to find answers to questions which the previous studies could not answer individually.
In our study published in the journal Nutrition Reviews in November 2022, we showed that consuming raw honey from specific floral sources can improve health related to chronic disease risk. Specifically, we found that honey can lower blood glucose levels, LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol, triglycerides, and fatty liver. It also increased HDL (‘good’) cholesterol levels and some markers of inflammation, though the latter was likely a sign of improved immunity.
We followed the guidance of the Holy Qur’an in our research by including data on the floral source and processing of honey.
Benefits of Monofloral Honey
The Holy Qur’an states about honey:
شَرَابٌ مُّخۡتَلِفٌ اَلۡوَانُہٗ فِیۡہِ شِفَآءٌ لِّلنَّاسِ
‘…drink of varying hues. Therein is cure for men.’ 
The word alwaanuhu come from Arabic root lām-wāw-nūn which generally means hues or colours but has a much wider meaning including characteristics, types, and properties. This means that the cure is in the different types of honey, and we know that the honey type is determined primarily by its floral source (honey produced primarily from one type of flower is called monofloral honey). In our study, monofloral honey from clover and robinia (sold as acacia) showed health benefits. Honey which is a mixture of many types of flower sources (multifloral honey) might have a general benefit but makes it very difficult to study for specific benefit as one batch is totally different from another. Therefore, to study the health benefits of honey reliably, one must research each monofloral honey for reliable and consistent results — a guidance that is given front and centre in the Holy Qur’an.
The Benefits of Raw Honey
The Holy Qur’an also describes honey as:
clarified honey 
The word musaffa comes from the Arabic root ṣād-fā-wāw, which means it is the best portion, pure, clear, or clarified. Honey has always been gently processed using a sieve (like a cloth or a mesh) filtration to remove debris like wax, propolis or bee body parts. Gentle heat is allowed which makes it easier to process honey in cold climates. However, the Holy Qur’an puts a limit on this processing by using the word musaffa. There is a recent trend by honey packers to use high heat, which destroys many beneficial molecules in honey, and to use ultrafiltration membranes, which remove pollen and some other beneficial proteins from honey. The reason is to make a consistent product for the market, but the removal of pollen also removes the crucial ability to locate the geographical source of honey. This makes it easier for unscrupulous individuals to engage in economically motivated fraud e.g., cheaper honey from one country is sold as expensive honey from another country. Furthermore, surveys in developed countries have shown that almost 40 percent of the processed honey on supermarket shelves is adulterated.
As we discussed above, high heat and ultrafiltration destroys honey and moves it away from its pure clarified state. Using this principle, our team focused on unprocessed raw honey, which is completely unheated and only sieve filtered. It retains its active ingredients, and as these honeys are almost exclusively sold by beekeepers directly, they are not adulterated. In our study, we found that raw honey was superior to processed honey in its health benefits, consistent with the description of the honey given in the Holy Qur’an.
Is Honey the Same as Sugar?
In our study, honey was primarily compared to common sugar. As honey is predominantly sugar (it is 80 percent sugar and 17 percent water), our results were surprising as they demonstrated that honey did not act as common sugar at all. This foresight was presented by the Promised Messiah (as) who said:
‘Honey is made by the revelation of God and therefore, it should not be like other sugars at all. If it were like these then all sugars would have been called ‘cure for mankind’ but this has only been reserved for honey. Thus, this property of honey is the proof of its benefit and because it is prepared according to revelation, the bee must only take beneficial substances when it sucks the nectar from flowers.’ 
The health benefits of honey come from its complex composition, which includes sugars, organic acids, minerals, vitamins, enzymes, proteins, and flavonoids. Most importantly, the sugar in honey is not just common sugar, but it includes many rare sugars that have different metabolic functions — many of them beneficial. Which of these compounds may be responsible for our beneficial results is a question that requires further research.
Our study indicates that one can replace common sugar with honey — taken in moderation of course — for a small health benefit. Clover and robinia (acacia) honey have demonstrated benefits but there is a vast number of monofloral honeys that require more research. Our study also suggests using gentle methods for the processing of honey to retain its beneficial effects.
In the end, our study shows that the guiding principles present in the Holy Qur’an unravel some of the secrets related to honey. More in-depth study of the Holy Qur’an which informs high-quality research will be the key to taking this field forward.
About the Author: Dr Tauseef Ahmad Khan is a research associate at the University of Toronto. His research is on the health effects of sweeteners with a specific focus on honey. He also serves as the Science Editor of the Review of Religions.
 Holy Qur’an (16:70)
 Holy Qur’an (47:16)
 (Al-Badr vol 3, page 44-45, 24 Nov 1-2 December 1904 page 3. In Malfuzat [1988 ed] Vol 4 page 191)