Can Diabetics Eat Honey? The Research Will Surprise You

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[Last updated 9th November, 2017]

Honey is an all-natural food nicknamed Nature’s Sweetener.

Humans have likely been eating it for tens, if not hundreds of thousands of years. And not only for its sweet flavour, but for its medicinal properties too.

Sounds like something we should be eating more of right?

Yet when you break it right down, honey is essentially sugar. We know that a high sugar diet is bad for you, which is why many consider honey unhealthy.

So is honey good for us or not? Perhaps more importantly… Can diabetics eat honey?

Honey vs Sugar: How does it compare?

bees make honey from nectarHoney is made in the bee-hive from flower nectar.

The process is a collective effort that requires honey bees to consume, digest and regurgitate nectar repeatedly.

For this reason the nutritional properties of honey depend on the nectar available around the hive.

A typical batch of honey compared with sugar looks like this (1):

honey vs sugar nutrient table

You can see honey contains water and many trace vitamins and minerals that sugar doesn’t. That’s why honey is only 82% sugar by weight, while sugar is 99.9%… And that’s also why honey contains fewer calories than sugar.

It’s hard to argue the winner here.

Honey is also reported to contain at nearly 200 different substances, especially antioxidants. Antioxidants are thought to protect against many forms of disease (2).

The Glycemic Index (GI) ranges considerably depending on the type of honey, but the entire GI concept itself is unpredictable anyway.

Summary: Honey is not pure sugar. It also contains water and small amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which vary depending on the type of honey.

Honey vs Sugar: Effects on blood sugar and insulin

studies on diabetes and honeyThe impact of honey consumption on blood sugar levels tends to be slightly better than regular sugar.

One small experimental study on healthy subjects found that although 75g of honey did raise blood sugar and insulin levels in the first two hours, 75g of pure glucose raised them both significantly more (3).

Similarly in type 2 diabetic subjects, honey also had a much smaller impact on blood sugar levels than pure glucose.

The same researchers also looked at how honey compares with sucrose (regular table sugar), which is more applicable to real life diets. Sucrose is made up of glucose + fructose, just like honey.

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 sucrose, and remained lower for the next two hours (3).

Honey was also seen to cause a greater rise in insulin than from sucrose. 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.

For type 1 diabetics, the impact of honey on blood sugar levels was also far less than pure glucose or regular table sugar (4).

Summary: Honey spikes blood sugar levels immediately after consumption. However, after 60 minutes levels drop back down considerably quicker than they do after consuming regular sugar. This appears to hold true for healthy individuals and diabetics.

Other studies looking at when diabetics eat honey

diabetes and honeySeveral studies have looked at the addition of honey to the diet, rather than just as a replacement to sugar.

Focusing on type 1 diabetics, a 12-week study found that additional honey improved short-term blood sugar levels as well as lipid profile (like cholesterol) and total fat mass (5).

Unfortunately long-term blood sugar levels (HbA1c) were not measured, so we don’t know if those improvements had any lasting effect.

The longest similar study on type 2 diabetics was eight weeks. While they also found benefits for lipids and weight loss, long-term blood sugar levels actually increased with added honey use (6).

This makes sense on the surface, because honey is sugar after all. But the findings from that particular study actually contradict much of the evidence in this area.

Surprisingly, honey does not seem bad when you consider all the other human and animal studies that supplement honey alongside anti-diabetic drugs.

In fact, the weight of current evidence indicates additional honey is neutral at worst, and beneficial at best (7).

While it’s romantic to believe that all diabetics should then be okay to eat honey, larger and longer human studies are desperately needed for a clearer picture.

Summary: Human studies have found mixed results when adding honey to the diet of type 1 and type 2 diabetics. Including animal studies, additional honey appears neutral at worst and beneficial at best.

Additional possible health benefits of honey

drinking honeyWhen you consider that diabetes is a complicated metabolic disorder, any foods that can improve metabolic health likely influence diabetes management too.

This would help explain why honey could be beneficial alongside anti-diabetic medications.

  • Dark honey contains antioxidants: Two human studies showed that dark, buckwheat honey is a strong source of antioxidants (8, 9). Antioxidants may help protect against many lifestyle diseases.
  • Improves cholesterol and markers of disease: Several human studies have found that frequent honey consumption reduces high total cholesterol and LDL, improves HDL, and lowers inflammatory markers of disease (36).
  • Topical Healing: Not a metabolic benefit, but honey appears to display medicinal properties when applied to the skin. It has been shown to kill bacteria and increase wound healing speed (10, 11).

Honey is also linked to a host of other health benefits, ranging from gut health to the liver (12).

Summary: Honey is linked to a range of health benefits, including improved cholesterol and inflammatory markers.

So can diabetics eat honey?

Nutrition advice is very rarely black and white… honey is no exception.

If you are overweight with poorly managed diabetes, there are foods you should eat, but honey is not one of them.

Even though there is promising research using honey to improve diabetes management, results are inconsistent. It is actually in your best interest to reduce added sugar in your diet and go low-carb.

If you have well-managed diabetes, are not overweight and are otherwise healthy, then honey as a replacement for sugar is likely beneficial.

I would certainly not go as far as to say additional honey is good for diabetes though; the evidence is not that solid. After all, honey is sugar, which does contribute to high blood sugars.

If you’re healthy, active and don’t need to lose weight, then honey seems safe to enjoy. It is more nutritious than regular sugar (dark honey especially), so consider swapping them where possible.

Just remember that while eating honey is better than sugar, eating neither is best.

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Comments

  1. Bryan Sisson says:

    Very interesting piece of information. However, I don’t do sugar in any way, but certain recipes call for the odd spoonfull of honey…. I suppose this is not relevant to the above?

  2. Bryan Sisson says:

    Sorry if that was a little cryptic Joe. I am T2 and have been so for 8 year. I have completely rermoved sugar from my diet. Infact I make everything I eat from scratch…no tins of this no packes of that…because these processed foods contain hidden sugars..and other nasty things. What I was trying to say is, that some recipes that I have (make) call for the odd spoon of honey.

    It isn’t every recipe so would it be a fair assumption that the odd spoonful won’t do me any arm as my diabetes is well under control?

    I hope this a bit better

    Happy new year

  3. Bryan Sisson says:

    Thank you, that’s very reassuring. 🙂

  4. PARTHO SAHA says:

    I have been detected recently as a borderline case viz. Serum Glucose(Fasting) – 113mg and (PP) – 139mg. I am obese.
    I have been having honey with lemon juice in lukewarm water for the past about 2 months. Can I continue OR Is it advisable to continue ?

  5. Faisal mizan says:

    I am 40 years old prediabetic and with high ldl cholesterol.
    I take a mug of warm water in empty stomach.
    Should you suggest adding lemon or honey or cinnamon and so forth to control my sugar level?

    • I think you should focus on the things that have the greatest impact to your health.
      Ways to reduce overall carb intake and calories intake (maintaining a healthy weight), and increasing physical activity levels.
      This contributes to 80%+ of your health, lemon water will help you 0.001%

  6. Mukesh Gupta says:

    i am 39 year old and recently diagnosed as diabetic by performing the HBa1C test result as 7.5. i started taking 2 teaspoon honey with some Ayurvedic medicine by today. is it harmfull for me or can be continue.please guide.

  7. So overall the article was very helpful, I just have one complaint and that is say that sugar is the cause of diabetes and being overweight. This is simply not true. Since I was a child I have had diabetes and I was not overweight at all and I still am not overweight and when I was a child I wasn’t going around downing sugar everyday my parents were health nuts and always went by what the nutritionist said. So please don’t miss inform people. Those things can certainly contribute to the onset of diabetes in young adults and kids, but if you are genetically predisposed to diabetes then you are more likely to develop diabetes not because of weight. On a side note I watch those tv shows that show 800 pound people who don’t have diabetes and they doctors always say if you keep going like this you could have diabetes; if weight truly was a factor then they would have had diabetes already. Rant over I just hate that people are misinformed and then make judgements on all diabetics.

  8. koji del rosario says:

    just to make things clear>> i am 40 yrs old diabetic, can i take or use honey? pls. answer me….

  9. i am 49 and havig sugar level 123mg/dl (fasting) and 270 after two hours of break fast with two table spoon of honey and 1 paratha (a type of bread made of wheat flour and browned in oil. can i keep continue this sort of break fast or change it. Thanks

  10. Umesh Kumar says:

    MY FASTING SUGAR LAVEL IS 150 AND RANDOM SUGAR LABEL IS 290 CAN I TAKE HONEY IN MORNING DAILY IF I CAN THEN SUGGEST ME QUANTITY

  11. Awesome! Its actually amazing piece of writing, I have
    got much clear idea regarding from this paragraph.

  12. I am 51 year old sugar before food 122 after 2 hover 203 my breakfast two chapati with one spoon honey can I cantinew or not.

  13. Honey is an effective ingredient that diagnoses allergy and many other diseases. With the regulation of blood, it also improves immune system. Thanks for sharing this amazing content. I think learning about benefits of various ingredients is a healthy life habit.

  14. Hi Joe & Kris, We found that my mother is on the edge of diabetes and the report says – Fasting Plasma glucose – 112, 2 hours post breakfast plasma glucose – 202, with these values, can we confirm that she is diabetic ?
    Also, with empty stomach, we used to drink green tea along with lemon juice and honey (2 spoons). She has stopped taking any kind of sugar related things but takes rice meal once per day. Do we need to stop these eating and drinking habits? Please let me know your suggestion. After reading your posts, I was confused whether to consider honey or not. More details about my mother: Age – 52, Weight 81kgs. Your suggestion really matters to me. Thanks a lot for running this blog.

  15. Kapil Bhardwaj says:

    Hi..I am 52 years old. My fasting sugar is 278 and post breakast it is 400. I have been detected with this sugar levels. Plaese recommend ways to suside my sweet cravings.

  16. I am 40 years old, 4 pounds overweight. They said my sugar was too high, like 200/500 hungry/full. So I switched my diet to whole food diet. I only eat vegetables and fruits. No processed food ever, no animal products. I do eat honey every morning like 50 gram thouhg. It is been few years and my blood sugar is just perfect. Also my high cholesterol was gone too. So don’t focus on sugar, instead focus on other things you eat. By the way I don’t exercise. Just change your diet to whole food diet. You will be just fine. I also don’t take any medications.

  17. Hi,
    I have developed gestational diabetes during my 2nd trimester of pregnancy, as I failed one part of the 3 hour glucose test. Though now taking 5 readings daily, I see i am feeling faint& dizzy so fasting is 80s & postprandial 114 or so. I want to make some banana walnut bread with almond flour & millet flour substituting with honey oats & bananas. Can you please advise whether 1 tbsp organic dark honey is better than maple syrup? I definitely don’t want to add any refined sugar.

    • Joe Leech, Dietitian says:

      Hi Reeti. It doesn’t matter if it’s honey or maple syrup or anything else. Sugar is sugar and once it’s been broken down in your body, your body will treat all sugars the same. What you probably need to do is look at reducing your total carbohydrate (sugar) intake.

  18. This really seems an incomplete study. First, I assume honey is compared here to refined sugar, which is devoid of virtually all the minerals and vitamins of raw sugar. I believe honey would still be superior to raw sugar — IF you’re talking about raw honey, that which has not been heated or filtered excessively. That process kills much of the naturally occurring enzymes in honey, and likely reduces its antioxidant properties and mineral content.

    Perhaps more important that adding a spoonful of sugar to one’s coffee, investigating the guaranteed analysis and ingredients of the food one buys off the shelf would help to curb sugar consumption. Many surprises would be in store for those who will. Many foods are exceptionally, alarmingly high in sugar. I buy foods that contain no more than a gram of sugar per helping, and I search hard for foods with zero content. That’s a more difficult way to shop, but it can be done. For my sweetening purposes, by the way, I buy stevia or xylitol, which is sweet without the harmful effects of sugar.

    My question is, how does honey affect a cancer patient? This person should avoid sugar like the proverbial plague because cancer cells PIG OUT on sugar. A cancer condition can be improved just by this alteration in one’s nutritional regimen. I know — I’m a cancer patient with a successful recovery rate — without chemotherapy or radiation. My assumption is that honey should likewise be avoided, but it would be good to know.

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