To bee or not to bee? Bee pollen is fast becoming a must-have supplement with Meghan Markle admitting she sprinkles it on her breakfast. We spoke to a nutritional therapist to get the lowdown
When it comes to health food fads, the wellness industry’s buzzing with them with a new superfood hitting the headlines every month, but bee pollen is one that's risen in popularity over recent years. Meghan Markle is said to sprinkle it in her breakfasts and many nutritionists swear by it - but why?
So, what exactly is bee pollen?
“Unlike the name suggests, bee pollen isn’t actually manufactured by bees, but is gathered by them to take back to their hives as food for the colony,” says nutritional therapist and Get The Gloss Expert Zoe Stirling . “While gathering pollen, they also pollinate plants leading to the creation of new seeds that grow into new plants; a very important process!”
Why has it been dubbed as the ‘new superfood?’
“Bee pollen is dubbed as a new superfood as it contains a balance of vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, enzymes and essential amino acids,” explains Zoe. “Bee pollen isn’t the same as royal jelly or propolis though, which are thought to have slightly different therapeutic benefits.”
Are all bee pollen supplements created equal?
Not quite. “It’s key to remember that the quality and nutritional properties of bee pollen can vary greatly between brands and even batches as it depends on the environment in which the pollen was collected and the processing methods used by the bee and keeper,” cautions Zoe.
Is it worthy of the hype?
While the amount of conclusive research on bee pollen is somewhat limited, its reported benefits have seen it surge in popularity in recent times when it comes to aiding weight loss, energy levels, skin and health.
“Unfortunately many of the benefits of bee pollen haven’t been sufficiently studied so many of the beneficial claims have not been backed up by scientific research. However, bee pollen has been used for many years in traditional medicine.”
Interested to see what the buzz is all about? Here are 10 reported bee pollen benefits for boosting both body and mind.
1. It’s an energy-booster
From post-workout recovery to the 3pm slump, bee pollen has been reported to help wake up flagging energy levels to act as a more natural alternative to our trusty afternoon lattes. “Bee pollen contains B vitamins , as well as being a source of natural carbohydrates which are important for energy production,” explains Zoe. “In fact, bee pollen is thought to help with sports performance, strength and endurance due to its diverse nutrient profile.”
2. It’s a rich source of protein
“Bee pollen is made up of anything between 10-40% protein and contains all essential amino acids in a form that is easily utilised by the body,” says Zoe. “In fact, bee pollen contains more amino acids per equal measure of weight compared to both beef and eggs! Protein is required for muscle growth, hormone and antibody production as well as maintenance of bones and is therefore incredibly important for a number of body functions.”
3. It’s a quick and easy daily vitamin top-up
A one-stop-shop when it comes to its nutritional components, it provides an easy yet effective way to boost our inner bodyworks. “Due to the presence of a whole range of vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, enzymes and essential amino acids, bee pollen is thought to be one of nature’s ‘most complete’ superfoods,” says Zoe. “That’s how it gets its name as a multi-vitamin that can support many systems of the body from reproductive health to immune function and energy production.”
4. It’s good for your blood
“According to Chinese medicine, bee pollen has been traditionally used as a tonic for endurance by supporting blood formation through nourishing one’s ‘yin,’” comments Zoe. “In addition, bee pollen is a natural source of iron and therefore may be particularly beneficial for those with anaemia.”
5. It’s an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory
Providing a dose of goodness from the inside out, it can help better equip our body to fight the elements, as well as help soothe problematic gastric issues. “Bee pollen contains rutin, a bioflavonoid with antioxidant properties, which is also found in apples, buckwheat and figs. It’s therefore thought to be helpful in supporting the immune system, but has also been used to support certain digestive issues such as inflammatory bowel disease,” explains Zoe.
6. It’s beneficial for cardiovascular health
“It’s thought that bee pollen may help to normalise cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood by increasing HDL levels and decreasing LDL cholesterol, bringing the ratio between the two back into better balance,” says Zoe. “In addition, its rutin content may help with varicose veins by strengthening blood vessels.”
7. It’s a skin booster
In addition to working on a deeper level, its results can also be seen above the surface too. “One of the amino acids found in bee pollen is called proline, a building block for collagen synthesis that can boost skin firmness,” says Zoe. “In addition, the antioxidant properties from bee pollen may also help in keeping skin supple and youthful. Bee pollen can also be used as a scrub to be used externally on the skin that can help with blemishes and acne.”
8. It can curb your cravings
Addicted to the sweet stuff? It could help you kick your sugar cravings. “Bee pollen is a low calorie food, approximately 16 calories per teaspoon. It’s thought to reduce sugar cravings whilst supporting the metabolism to assist with weight loss,” comments Zoe.
9. It increases libido
“Bee pollen has also been promoted as a reproductive aid by acting as a stimulant to both male and female sex organs,” says Zoe. “For men it’s thought to improve libido, while in women it’s thought to boost fertility by stimulating ovarian function.”
10. It could help in overcoming hayfever and asthma
“By a process known as desensitisation, one can build up their tolerance of an allergen by initially starting to take very small doses of the allergen then subsequently building up the dose over time to produce antibodies that help one build immunity to that allergen,” explains Zoe.
How do we add it to our diet?
Given all of its reported benefits, is there any way to make it appeal more to the taste buds? “It’s best added to smoothies or as a topping on smoothie bowls, yoghurts or even stewed apples. I also sometimes have it as a topping on nut butter and toast,” recommends Zoe.
“A usual portion tends to be 1-2 teaspoons per day, but some have up to 1-2 tablespoons. I suggest starting with small amounts, even just a couple of granules and gradually building it up to make sure you can tolerate it. This is provided you are not allergic to it of course!”
Which bee pollen should you try?
“Although a local bee pollen would be best, it can also be very challenging to find. Those which are produced in clean, unpolluted environments tend to have the greatest nutritional benefit,” says Zoe. “I tend to use Raw Living Bee Pollen , £8.99, as its bee pollen is said to be sourced from a pollution-free environment.”
We’d also recommend Nature Bee Potentiated Bee Pollen capsules , £19.95, a new range of supplements that use a technique that ruptures the cell wall of the pollen without compromising its quality at the same time and thereby making it more bioavailable, i.e. more easily absorbed by the body. They’re also tasteless too as an added bonus, making them much easier to swallow.
A final word of warning…
If you have allergies, are pregnant or have just had a baby, this word of caution’s for you: “A number of studies have shown that individuals that suffer from allergies, especially those that react to other bee products, may react adversely to bee pollen so it is important to consult a doctor or qualified nutritionist before consuming bee pollen if you’re unsure,” warns Zoe.
“In addition, pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding should also refrain from taking it too, as there’s not enough evidence to show whether it has harmful effects during this time.”
So is bee pollen the next big superfood?
The term ‘superfood’ gets bandied around a lot these days, but bee pollen’s impressive list of benefits and the ease of which we can incorporate it into our diets seems to imply that it’s definitely worth trying.
As Zoe points out, it lacks conclusive scientific research to back up its list of reported benefits, so it’s best to keep expectations realistic and opt to use it more as a helping hand for aiding a well-rounded, holistic approach towards general wellness and overall health in our opinion.