Is honey bad for diabetics? I hear this question a lot. And for good reasons! Diabetics are advised a low-sugar diet. Its simple science actually — the less sugar you put into your body, the more stable your blood sugar levels. And since honey is nature’s sweetener, by default, many diabetics avoid it.
But is raw, organic, all-natural honey actually bad for diabetics? Can diabetics eat honey, if they take extreme care to purchase only the highest quality raw honey? Let’s find out.
The answer to that question is – it depends. On what, you ask? On what kind of honey you eat, if it’s organic and all-natural or not, and how much of it you add to your diet.
Let’s first understand how honey differs from sugar. 100 grams of honey contains about 82% sugar by weight, while 100gm of sugar contains 99.9% sugar. While pure honey has a glycemic index of 58, sugar’s glycemic index is 60. But where honey trumps over sugar is in its vitamin and mineral content. It contains nearly 200 different substances, especially antioxidants, which may protect against several diseases.
Additionally, honey and sugar have different impacts on blood sugar levels. A study conducted at Dubai Specialized Medical Center and Medical Research Laboratories proved that natural honey lowers plasma glucose, C-reactive protein, homocysteine, and blood lipids in healthy, diabetic, and hyperlipidemic subjects. Researchers found that while 75g of honey did raise blood sugar and insulin levels in the first two hours, 75g of pure glucose raised them both significantly more. The initial blood sugar spike measured at 30 minutes was greater from honey than from glucose. However, blood sugar levels in the honey group then dropped lower than sugar, and remained lower for the next two hours. Pure, raw honey causes a greater rise in insulin compared to sugar. Given that insulin removes sugar out of the blood, this may explain why blood sugar levels dropped lower in the honey group from 60 minutes onwards.
Another study conducted at Endocrinology and Metabolism Research Center, Medical Sciences/University of Tehran studied the effects of natural honey consumption in diabetic patients. This was an 8-week randomized clinical trial, at the end of which, researchers found that honey can provide beneficial effects on body weight and blood lipids of diabetic patients. However, since an increase in the HbA1C levels was observed, they recommended cautious consumption of honey for diabetic patients.
We have established that pure honey is better for diabetics when compared to sugar. But the answer to the question “can diabetics eat honey” is not all that simple.
Cautious consumption of natural unprocessed honey, when factored into your total caloric requirement, will not raise your blood sugar levels. It also has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, which highly benefit diabetics.
However, it’s crucial to understand that the main sweetener in honey is fructose, and it’s important to limit daily fructose intake under 50gm to keep both blood sugar levels and lipid profile stable. It’s also important to know that one tablespoon of honey contains 64 calories, 8.1 grams of fructose and 17gm of carbohydrates. We recommend that you keep a closer eye on your carb intake, instead of sugar intake, and make sure that these carbs you ingest via pure honey are counted towards your diabetic LCHF diet. The good news – because honey is sweeter than sugar, you need very little of it to add the desired sweetness.
If your blood sugar levels and HbA1C levels are not yet under control, we recommend you don’t eat any honey and work closely with your doctor and a trained nutritionist to get your numbers under control.
If your blood sugar levels and HbA1C levels are under control, and you don’t want to take all sweetness out of life, we recommend pure, organic, raw, all-natural honey is a way better choice that artificial sweeteners of any kind. The key is to find PURE, ORGANIC honey with no added sugars and other additives.
Also, in Ayurveda, honey is considered as a medium to carry the medicines into the body. If you are a keen practitioner of alternative medicine and are using cinnamon for stabilizing blood sugar levels, honey can be a great medium. Work with an herbalist to ascertain quantities ingested every day though.
The best honey for diabetics is pure, raw, organic honey that comes from the natural source – the bee hive, and has no added sugars or other additives to increase its shelf life. Organic honey follows USDA standards wherein it may be pasteurized or heated to temperatures hot enough to kill any naturally present bacteria (honey may contain botulism causing spores in its untreated form) but not affect the nutritional benefits of the raw honey.
On the other hand, if a bottle says ‘natural honey’ – it is also manufactured by bees at a bee-farm but can undergo more processing by the company or farmer after it has been collected, which is why it doesn’t have the USDA stamp stating to certify it as ‘organic’.
Your best option is to source locally produced honey that is organic and sold in its raw form.
There’s a lot of hype around Manuka honey these days, and with good reason! Manuka Honey is obtained from the nectar secreted by wild Manuka trees found in New Zealand. Manuka honey has several naturally occurring properties that have a number of health benefits, and it’s these very properties that got Manuka honey a spot under the list of ‘wonder-foods’. Methylglyoxal is a compound found only in Manuka honey that gives it its amazing antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial and antiseptic functions.
A study conducted at Department of Pharmacology, School of Medical Sciences, Malaysia found that organic honey can be beneficial in the management of diabetes mellitus as it boosts the activity of anti-diabetic drugs by means of its antioxidant action. These researchers found that metformin combined with honey improves glycemic control in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats.
Several studies have found Manuka honey to be highly effective at treating diabetic wounds and ulcers. A Malaysian study confirms that Manuka honey also protects against oxidative damage. While this study was conducted on rats, it clearly ascertains that the strong antioxidant activity of Manuka honey cannot be negated. However, like with all things good, it’s very important to ascertain the quality of Manuka honey before you spend your hard-earned dollars on a tub at the local grocery store.
Also keep in mind that Manuka Honey is a medicinal honey, not suitable to add to hot tea or to dessert for sweetening, as high temperatures will destroy nutrients in this honey. It’s best to have Manuka Honey by itself, or add it to cold beverages/desserts only.
It’s important to know how to choose the right honey, especially if you’re going to spend your hard earned money on a bottle of expensive Manuka honey. Make sure you are picking the best quality you can afford with these simple tips.
Natural honey lowers plasma glucose, C-reactive protein, homocysteine, and blood lipids in healthy, diabetic, and hyperlipidemic subjects: comparison with dextrose and sucrose – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15117561
Effects of natural honey consumption in diabetic patients: an 8-week randomized clinical trial – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19817641
Subjects with Impaired Glucose Tolerance Exhibit a High Degree of Tolerance to Honey – http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/jmf.2006.070
Effect of honey in diabetes mellitus: matters arising – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24476150
Glibenclamide or metformin combined with honey improves glycemic control in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21448302/
Manuka honey protects middle-aged rats from oxidative damage – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3812548/
Honey: A Potential Therapeutic Agent for Managing Diabetic Wounds – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4216698/