Have you heard the buzz about bee pollen as a so-called superfood? What is bee pollen, and why would it gain rank as the ultimate nutritive substance? In short, bee pollen is an inexpensive and vitamin-rich bee product that you can use to enhance your diet. Whether you’re skeptical about natural supplements or already a “bee-liever” in their benefits, you’ll find that bee pollen can be a power-packed nutrition addition. While some people drone on about bee pollen as a natural cure-all, most users see it as a nutritive supplement that contributes to well-being like a vitamin would. It’s a boost, courtesy of busy bees.
So what is bee pollen, really?
Well, first, the term “bee pollen” is something of a misnomer, since bees do not produce pollen themselves but rather collect it from the flowers of plants. We all (should have) learned in middle school that bees are critical to plant reproduction because they carry tiny powderish microspores, known as pollen, from plant to plant. During their nectar-hunting excursions for the hive, bees land on flowers and accumulate a plant’s reproductive particles on its legs before flying to other flowers and spreading the tiny spores around. Bees, along with wind, make sure that the seeds of plant love are sown. Remember all that?
Now picture a bee full of nectar flying back to the hive with various plant pollens loosely stuck to its legs. Combine these pollen clumps with some of the plant nectar with a little bee saliva (yum!), and you have this special substance known to the world as bee pollen. Beekeepers are in business not just for honey and beeswax but also for bee pollen, which they collect on the sly. Near the entrance to a beehive, beekeepers install a contraption resembling an airy sieve through which bees must fly to enter the hive. As they buzz through the wire, their little pollen-clad bee legs brush up against the edges and the drier pollen pieces crumble and flake into a collection pan.
Why do some people consider bee pollen a superfood? What are the benefits of bee pollen?
Since there are thousands upon thousands of flowering plants, varying widely by geography, the exact composition of bee pollen varies as well. Each plant’s pollen contains basic building blocks for life, but chemical makeups do differ. Producers of bee pollen as a health supplement sometimes mix bee pollen collected from different regions to capitalize on plant diversity – and thus diversity in nutrients. Despite the variations, though, bee pollen tends to include many vitamins and minerals that we recognize from the side of a cereal box, along with other compounds – enzymes, pigments, amino acids, etc.
Vitamins A, C, D, E, and K are all found in bee pollen, but the supplement is particularly high in B-complex vitamins. Both the familiar B-complex vitamins (thiamine, niacin, folic acid and riboflavin) and their less commonly known counterparts (B-6 and B-7, for example) are present. In addition to vitamins, bee pollen contains minerals like magnesium, iron, copper, phosphorus, and practically every other mineral used by the human body. Just the vitamin and mineral composition of bee pollen alone, which is undisputed because it’s utterly testable, resembles that of a multivitamin. This bodes well for bee pollen as a dietary supplement.
Beyond these basics, the health benefits get more complicated and harder to prove. It’s not the composition that people doubt but rather the causation. For example, bee pollen is full of flavonoid glycosides – like rutin – that have antioxidant properties. In fact, bee pollen contains far more of these antioxidants than pomegranates (the fruit with probably the highest level of antioxidants). Some argue that these antioxidants help strengthen capillaries or lower cholesterol, but these claims remain unproven.
Another controversial aspect to bee pollen is its effect, if any, on hayfever. Some people believe that, by introducing bee pollen into your body, your immune system slowly becomes accustomed to the pollens that once caused your allergies and that you can eventually develop resistance – especially if the bee pollen is produced in areas where your allergen-yielding plants grow. Research into this matter is inconclusive at best. As a word of caution, though, it must be noted that bee pollen itself can cause an allergic reaction in some folks.
I want to take bee pollen. Where do I get it?
Bee pollen is available in grain form, where it can be consumed like crumbs along with a beverage. Some people mix it into tea along with honey – for bee-tea, I suppose. Others mix the bee pollen bits into food. For those who prefer the processed feel of a nifty tablet, bee pollen is also available in capsule form, often combined with royal jelly (the special food used to grow queen bees) and other bee products. There is currently some debate about the quality of bee pollen produced outside the United States, as some cheaper preparation methods used elsewhere do not preserve nutrients as well.
Virtually all drug stores and health food stores sell bee pollen – both in-person and online. Just read the labels to learn more about the product and where it was produced. In addition, beekeepers often sell bee pollen directly, and this more organic form is sometimes touted as superior. Durham’s (www.durhamsbeefarm.com) is one such beekeeping enterprise that ships organic bee pollen to buyers around the country. They’ll even send you a free book on bee pollen if you order a few pounds.
Bee pollen is not the cure-all some people claim it to be. Nonetheless, it contains all of the same substances in common multivitamins – along with additional compounds that are considered unharmful, even if they turn out to be inert from a health perspective. Unless you have an allergic reaction to bee pollen, it’s a safe way to add vitamins and minerals to your diet. And if the supplement has other positive benefits, then so “bee” it!