Is Honey Safe for Children?

Filed under: Health & Safety: Babies

Dear Karla,
I prefer to use honey in much of my baking and foods that just need a slightly sweeter touch. I know honey is better than white table sugar, but I have an 8-month-old and 2-year-old and want to know if it is safe for them, as I have heard it is not. Thanks, Tamara

I am with you Tamara in that honey is a healthier alternative to regular sugar, but we must not forget that honey is still indeed a sugar and has the calories that come with it. Honey has been shown to contain friendly bacteria, which can help with digestion as a whole. A study conducted with children ages 2-18 years also found it to be more effective as a cough suppressant than honey-flavoured dextromethorphan (DM) purchased over the counter.

Many people ask if one form of honey is better than another. Raw honey is the best choice, as it contains the highest degree of nutrients, such as B-vitamins, magnesium, zinc, iodine and potassium. While it does become more solid over a couple months and cloudy in appearance, this is completely safe. If you opt for pasteurized (or cooked) honey, such as the squeezable liquid or easily spreadable forms, keep in mind that it has been heated for the purpose of being smoother in texture, but will have lost some of its original nutritional properties. For great ideas on how raw honey can be used for wound care and medicinal remedies check out this website.

It's clear that honey has a number of health benefits... but is it safe for your little ones?
Putting the perks of honey aside, it is important to note that honey is not something an infant's gut can handle quite yet. The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends that parents not give honey to babies under one year of age, as there is a risk of infant botulism (or food poisoning). Honey can contain spores of a toxic bacteria called Clostridium butulinum which are not always killed through cooking and pasteurization. This toxic bacteria can grow in the intestines of infants, causing muscle weakness, loss of appetite, irritability and a weak cry. Dr. Greene -- a children's health expert and father of four -- makes mention of constipation being the first symptom, but also notes that constipation is common in infants, especially with the body's adaptation to new foods. For children over one year and adults, their immune systems are strong enough to overcome this toxic bacteria or spores and are not affected.

There have also been a few reports released that these type of spores have been found in 0.5 percent of retail samples of light and dark corn syrup by the U.S Food and Drug Administration. However, a Canadian survey found no C. butulinum spores in 43 corn samples. With this info, some health care professionals recommend that parents also skip the corn syrup in their child's first year of life as a precautionary measure.

As for your baking Tamara, my suggestion is to use naturally sweet fruits like applesauce, especially if it is something you will be giving to your youngest. If however, your little ones are older than 12 months of age then honey is safe and a healthier form of sweetness versus regular table sugar. Being that it tastes sweeter less is needed, which saves on calories.

Happy baking!

Karla Heintz, B.Sc., is a nutrition educator and author of Picky? Not Me, Mom! A Parents' Guide to Children's Nutrition. If you have a question you would like answered please leave it in the comment section below. Thanks!

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.