Is bee pollen healthy? Here’s the truth behind this small-but-mighty food.
Bee pollen is a health food that’s been around for centuries in Eastern cultures, but just recently started to appear in Western health stores and online. There’s been a lot of buzz (pun intended) about the health benefits of these tiny golden granules—from aiding in weight loss to helping with seasonal allergies—but is there any real truth behind them?
First, What Is Bee Pollen?
Bee pollen, sometimes also called bee bread, is plant pollen that’s picked up by honeybees and brought back to the hive to be packed and used as a food source for the colony. As it turns out, the characteristics and nutrition of bee pollen depend on the plant from which it was gathered.
People typically take a bee pollen supplement, or sprinkle a tablespoon over their oatmeal or acai bowl. Bee pollen is made up of carbs, fat, protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. A tablespoon of bee pollen has around 40 calories, 7g of carbs (including 4g of natural sugars), and 1g of fiber. Plus, bee pollen can have over two grams of protein per tablespoon—more protein than the same amount of chicken or beef!
“A single teaspoon [of bee pollen] contains over 2.5 billion nutrient-packed flower pollen granules,” Susan Curtis, natural health director at Neal’s Yard Remedies, told the Huffington Post. "Bee Pollen is the richest source of vitamins in a single food," explains Curtis. "A nutrient powerhouse of eighteen vitamins including a B complex, all essential amino acids, fatty acids, RNA/DNA nucleic acids, enzymes, and is at least 25% protein.”
Bee pollen may have lots of good-for-you compounds, but does that translate to being part of a healthy diet? We dug in to find out.
Bee Pollen Health Benefits
There’s quite a bit of research around the health benefits and uses of bee pollen, but it’s worth noting that a large majority of these studies have only been tested on animals. Plus, some of them are preliminary studies and clinical trials need to still be conducted.
Studies show that malnourished animals who ate a diet rich in bee pollen had an increased body weight and muscle mass. So, if you’re trying to shed fat and gain muscle, should you sprinkle some bee pollen on top of your smoothie bowl? Well, not necessarily.
Here’s the thing—bee pollen may have earned a false reputation for aiding in weight loss because one type of bee pollen supplement did help users quickly lose weight. Classic Zi Xiu Tang Bee Pollen Capsules were recalled by the FDA in 2013 after they found out the capsules were laced with an illegal weight-loss drug, Sibutramine, and had dangerous side effects (like increased risk for heart attack or stroke). Yikes.
While bee pollen may not necessarily help you lose weight, it certainly has some other interesting health benefits.
One study found that bee pollen has anti-inflammatory properties comparable to over-the-counter meds. Additional studies have shown that bee pollen may help soothe burn wounds, relieve menopause symptoms, and even decrease multiple sclerosis symptoms in patients. More research needs to be done, but clinical improvement was seen in 100% of multiple sclerosis patients, and almost 73 percent of disabled patients were able to return to work.
You’ve probably heard that honey helps with seasonal allergies—and it does, but probably not for the reason you think. Honey has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that may assist in fighting infections, but there’s no scientific proof that it’ll help with seasonal allergies.
The verdict is still out on bee pollen, though. One study says that it may help treat seasonal allergies, but it’s also worth noting that it can have some seriously dangerous side effects and even cause anaphylaxis. So if you’re allergic to bee stings or honey, you should talk to your doctor before trying bee pollen.
The Bottom Line
Though there are plenty of health claims around bee pollen, it’s definitely not a miracle food or cure-all. And because there have been some reported negative side effects, you should definitely talk to your doctor before trying it. If you’re curious about bee pollen and have the go-ahead from your doc, we recommend topping your smoothie or yogurt with 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon for subtle sweetness.