Honey and Diabetes: Can People With Diabetes Eat Honey?
2023/10/17

When used in moderation, honey is generally safe for people with who have well-controlled blood sugar (glucose) levels. Compared to sugar, which has a of 80, honey has a glycemic index of 50, meaning that it does not cause your glucose to rise as fast as white sugar.

With that being said, honey is still a natural sugar and that can raise glucose levels. So, while it may be slightly safer than white sugar for diabetics, it still should not be eaten frequently or in excess. Not to mention, some honeys on the market contain added sugars and should be avoided.

This article covers whether honey is bad for diabetics as well as how honey affects blood sugar. It discusses the potential benefits of honey for diabetics, the healthiest forms of honey to shop for, and more.

Being a , it is expected that honey is going to impact blood sugar levels when consumed. However, when compared to other sugars, it may have less of an impact.

One study observed the glycemic effect of honey compared to glucose in people with type 2 diabetes, measuring participants’ blood sugar levels one and two hours after ingestion. Researchers found that with honey, blood sugar levels peaked at one hour, followed by a decline.

Two hours after ingestion of honey, blood sugar levels were lower than at the first hour. On the other hand, blood sugar levels with glucose ingestion were higher than with honey in the first hour and continued to rise even in the second hour.

Because honey exhibited a shorter peak in blood sugar levels, it can be suggested that honey has a lower glycemic effect than glucose. However, more research is needed to verify this claim.

There is no such thing as sugar-free honey. There are honeys that contain added sugars, and honeys that are pure, raw, and unfiltered. However, even pure honey contains natural sugars.

Although pure honey has a lower glycemic index than white sugar, it can still cause your glucose levels to spike if you consume too much or your blood sugar is not well-controlled.

If you have diabetes, choosing raw honey that does not contain added sugars is the way to go. But even though raw honey does not contain added sugar, it should still be treated like table sugar and eaten in moderation.

A few small studies show that eating honey in moderation may actually have some benefits for people with diabetes. The evidence is promising, but researchers need to conduct more long-term, large studies on humans before any certain conclusions can be made.

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Depending on the type of diabetes, people with diabetes either no longer make insulin (type 1) or cannot use insulin properly (type 2). Glucose (sugar) remains in the bloodstream when there isn’t enough insulin or it isn’t being used properly by the body, resulting in high blood sugar levels.

Some studies show that honey stimulates a greater insulin response than other sugars. Because of this, some people have speculated that honey is actually good for people with diabetes—and may even prevent diabetes.

Overall research on this topic has been conflicting, and more research with larger, long-term clinical trials are needed.

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Nevertheless, some studies do show promise. 

In a small study of both people with type 1 diabetes and without diabetes, researchers found that honey had less of an effect on blood sugars in all participants compared to sucrose. Honey also raised participants’ levels of C-peptide.

Additionally, after reviewing 66 studies on the effects of honey in people with diabetes, researchers concluded that honey supplementation effectively increases levels of C-peptide, including C-peptide levels two hours after eating.

C-peptide is a substance made in and released by the pancreas, along with insulin.

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Since C-peptide is produced in the body at the same rate as insulin, it is often used as a marker of insulin production. In other words, an increased level of C-peptide indicates the body is producing ample insulin.

Researchers at the University of Toronto found that consuming daily doses of raw, unprocessed honey may lower cholesterol and triglycerides in addition to stabilizing blood sugar.

After reviewing 33 clinical trials, researchers found that daily doses of 40 grams of honey over the course of eight weeks can effectively reduce fasting glucose and triglycerides, LDL, and overall cholesterol levels.

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Forty grams of honey (about 6 teaspoons) contains around 34 grams of sugar. This is about equal to the recommended daily intake of sugar for men and above that for women and children.

Keep in mind that consuming any kind of sugar—including honey—can raise your glucose levels. If you have diabetes, you should not attempt to consume this much honey daily without your healthcare provider's approval.

Hyperglycemia (high glucose) triggers oxidative stress, in which there are too many damaging free radicals in the body and not enough antioxidants to fight them.

Diabetes is linked to several long-term complications, including cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, and vascular (blood vessels) and neural (nervous system) disorders.

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Oxidative stress has been identified as a key player in their development.

Antioxidants are compounds found in food that protect the body against oxidative stress. Honey happens to be a rich source of antioxidants. In fact, researchers have found that the antioxidant properties in honey can prevent oxidative damage to the brain, heart, and various other organs.

Despite these findings, there are no official recommendations regarding the use of honey for preventing oxidative stress and diabetic complications. Larger human studies are needed before any official recommendations can be made.

Over 300 varieties of honey collected from honeybees have been identified.

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Some varieties have received more praise from the medical community than others. One such variety is Manuka honey, derived from the Manuka trees of New Zealand. Manuka honey is known for its impressive antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.

Other varieties of honey may be particularly beneficial for controlling glucose levels and blood pressure. Robinia honey (from black locust trees), clover honey (from clover flowers), and unprocessed raw honey are standouts for these purposes.

You will likely come across honeys that are labeled as pure, raw, or unfiltered, as well as honeys that contain added sugars.

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Truly raw honey is a single-ingredient product, and therefore it is not required to have an ingredients list.

Raw honey may contain tiny amounts of pollen, while pollen and other solids are removed from filtered honey. Some people prefer unfiltered honey because its bee pollen offers numerous vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can protect against disease and promote overall health.

Although honey does contain natural sugars, it's also a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and protective antioxidants, and has a lower glycemic index than sugar. In terms of nutritional value, honey beats table sugar by a landslide.

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But despite its potential benefits for people with diabetes, honey should still be treated like any other sugar and eaten in moderation. While it is a good substitute for sugar, it still becomes unhealthy if eating it puts you over your recommended daily intake of sugar.

Therefore, if you choose to substitute honey for sugar, continue to track how much honey you consume and make sure that it fits into a healthy diet plan.

If you are trying to get your diabetes under control and need to limit your intake of added sugar, consider using a such as stevia, mannitol, agave syrup, or xylitol; these sweeteners rank much lower on the glycemic index compared to honey and sugar.

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Despite being 200 times sweeter than sucrose, Stevia does not contain any natural or added sugars, making it completely sugar-free. And, since it cannot be absorbed by the intestines, it is calorie-free as well. Stevia is often recommended for the management of diabetes, as it does not cause glucose levels to rise.

Although the stevia plant naturally contains vitamins and minerals, most of them are lost during processing. While Stevia is a great alternative to table sugar and honey for people with diabetes, more research is needed to see if its potential benefits for diabetics outshine those of honey.

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Like any other sweetener, honey needs to be consumed in moderation due to its ability to increase blood sugar levels. If your diabetes is not well managed, it might be best to limit your consumption of honey. 

While honey contains some beneficial nutrients, you would need to consume more than is recommended for good health to get any significant amount from it. Do not consume large amounts of honey solely to get additional vitamins and minerals, as other sources of these nutrients will have much less impact on blood sugar levels.

Infants younger than 12 months should not be given honey due to the risk of infant botulism, which may be transmitted by both raw honey and pasteurized honey.

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There are no restrictions on honey for people age 1 and over, including those who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Adult intestinal toxemia botulism is extremely rare.

Raw honey is typically unprocessed, while most honey found in the grocery store has been filtered and/or pasteurized. If you are concerned about foodborne illnesses, purchase pasteurized honey certified by a food inspector.

In its raw, unprocessed form, honey is rich in antioxidants and other plant compounds that may help stabilize blood sugar and protect against heart disease. If your blood sugar is well-controlled, you can safely enjoy honey in moderation as a substitute for sugar.

Although honey has a lower glycemic index compared to sugar, it can still cause your blood sugar to spike if you consume it frequently or in large quantities. If you're looking for a sugar- and calorie-free alternative to sugar that does not increase glucose levels, Stevia may be a great option.

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