Are you wondering if honey is a safe and healthy option for individuals with diabetes? With its natural sweetness and variety of nutrients, honey often seems like a better alternative to refined sugars. However, managing diabetes involves carefully monitoring blood sugar levels and understanding how different foods impact those levels. 

In this article, we’ll explore honey’s nutritional profile, its effects on blood sugar, and how much a diabetic can safely consume. We’ll also look at some beneficial properties of honey and potential substitutes to help you enjoy sweetness without compromising your health. Let’s dive in and find out if honey can fit into a diabetic diet.

Key Takeaways

  • Honey contains sugars, water, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, proteins, and antioxidants, making it a natural sweetener with potential health benefits.
  • While honey has a lower glycemic index than regular sugar, it can still impact blood sugar levels, especially for individuals with diabetes, and should be consumed in moderation.
  • Research suggests that honey consumption can increase glycated hemoglobin levels, emphasizing the need for careful blood sugar monitoring in diabetic individuals.
  • Diabetics should limit their honey intake to small amounts to avoid spikes in blood sugar. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 grams for women and 36 grams for men daily.
  • Despite its potential to raise blood sugar levels, honey’s lower glycemic index and anti-inflammatory properties can benefit diabetes management when consumed in controlled amounts.

Nutrient Content of Honey

The nutritional composition of honey consists mainly of sugars and water, along with a variety of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, proteins, and antioxidants. A tablespoon of honey, which weighs about 21 grams (g), contains approximately 64 calories, whereas 21 g of granulated white sugar contains 80 calories. According to a study, this amount of honey also contains essential nutrients, including:

Sugars:

Honey primarily comprises sugars, which comprise about 80% of its content. The main sugars include:

  • Fructose: 30-45%
  • Glucose: 24-40%
  • Sucrose: 0.1-4.8%
  • Other Disaccharides: 2.0-8.0%
  • Oligosaccharides: 3.1%

Water Content:

Honey contains water, which influences its thickness and shelf life.

  • Blossom Honey: 15-20%
  • Honeydew Honey: 15-20%

Minerals (amounts in mg/100 g of honey):

Honey provides a variety of vitamins and minerals, although in small quantities. These include:

  • Sodium (Na): 1.6 – 17
  • Calcium (Ca): 3 – 31
  • Potassium (K): 40 – 3500
  • Magnesium (Mg): 0.7 – 13
  • Phosphorus (P): 2 – 15
  • Selenium (Se): 0.002 – 0.01
  • Copper (Cu): 0.02 – 0.6
  • Iron (Fe): 0.03 – 4
  • Manganese (Mn): 0.02 – 2
  • Zinc (Zn): 0.05 – 2
  • Vitamins (amounts in mg/100 g of honey):
  • Thiamine (B1): 0.00 – 0.01
  • Riboflavin (B2): 0.01 – 0.02
  • Niacin (B3): 0.10 – 0.20
  • Pantothenic acid (B5): 0.02 – 0.11
  • Pyridoxine (B6): 0.01 – 0.32
  • Folic acid (B9): 0.002 – 0.01
  • Ascorbic acid (C): 2.2 – 2.5

Additional Components:

  • Amino Acids and Proteins: Honey contains small amounts of amino acids and proteins.
  • Antioxidants: Phenol antioxidants in honey are significant for their anti-inflammatory and heart-protective effects.
  • pH Value: Honey’s acidity (pH 3.2-4.5) contributes to its antibacterial properties, which make it beneficial for wound healing and as a preservative.
  • Enzymes and Other Compounds: Honey contains enzymes that help digest food, particularly sugars. It also contains inhibine, which has antibiotic properties.

Did you know?

Infants younger than 1-year-old should not be given honey due to the potential risk of infant botulism. This is because honey may contain a type of bacteria known as Clostridium, which can lead to infant botulism. The condition manifests as muscle weakness and can be identified by symptoms such as poor sucking, weak crying, constipation, and decreased muscle tone (floppiness).

Can a Diabetic Eat Honey?

Woman holding honey dipper with jar of honey

Yes, a person with diabetes can eat honey, but it should be done carefully. Honey is a natural sweetener with some health benefits, such as antioxidants. However, it still contains sugar and carbohydrates, which can affect blood sugar levels. Research shows that while honey might have a lower glycemic index (GI) than regular sugar, meaning it raises blood sugar more slowly, it still impacts blood sugar. For example, one study found that honey has a GI of about 58, compared to 60-65 for table sugar. So, people with diabetes need to consume honey in moderation and monitor their blood sugar levels.

Does Honey Raise Blood Sugar?

Yes, honey can raise blood sugar levels, especially in individuals with type 2 diabetes. A study on 53 patients with type 2 diabetes investigated the effects of consuming 50 grams of natural honey daily for 8 weeks. The results showed that while honey consumption did not significantly change fasting glucose levels, it increased glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) levels, a measure of long-term blood glucose control. 

Specifically, the HbA1c increased by about 0.17%, although this change was not statistically significant. Additionally, while honey has a lower glycemic index due to its high fructose content, glucose in honey can still contribute to higher blood sugar levels. The study concluded that, despite honey’s natural sugar content and some beneficial properties, its consumption should be monitored in diabetic patients because of its potential to raise blood sugar levels.

Risks of Eating Honey for Type 2 Diabetes Patients

For individuals with type 2 diabetes, consuming honey can pose several risks due to its high sugar content. This is particularly concerning for type 2 diabetes patients who need to manage their blood glucose levels meticulously. 

Although honey is often perceived as a healthier alternative to refined sugar due to its antioxidants and potential anti-inflammatory properties, its impact on blood sugar can negate these benefits for diabetics. Regular consumption can complicate blood glucose management, potentially leading to hyperglycemia and increased insulin resistance. 

How Much Honey Can a Diabetic Eat Per Day?

Diabetics should limit their intake of honey to small amounts to avoid spikes in blood sugar. The American Heart Association suggests that women should have no more than 25 grams (about 6 teaspoons) of added sugar daily, and men should have no more than 36 grams (about 9 teaspoons). Since one tablespoon of honey contains about 17 grams of sugar, diabetics should consume even less to stay within safe limits. 

A good starting point might be 1 teaspoon per day, which has about 6 grams of sugar, but it’s crucial to monitor blood sugar levels and adjust accordingly. Always consult a healthcare provider for personalized advice.

Benefits of Honey in Diabetes

  • Lower Glycemic Index (GI): Honey has a lower GI than regular sugar, which causes a slower rise in blood glucose levels. This can benefit diabetes management, although honey is still a form of sugar and should be consumed in moderation.
  • Anti-inflammatory Properties: Honey’s antioxidants can help reduce inflammation, a common issue in diabetes that can lead to various complications.
  • Wound Healing: According to a study, Honey, especially manuka honey, is well-known for its wound-healing properties. For individuals with diabetes, who often have delayed wound healing, topical application of honey can help speed up the recovery of ulcers and wounds.
  • Potential for Improved Lipid Profile: Some studies suggest that regular consumption of honey might improve cholesterol levels by reducing total and LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL cholesterol. A healthy lipid profile is important for diabetes management, as people with diabetes are at higher risk for cardiovascular diseases.

Is Sugar-Free Honey Safe for People with Diabetes?

Woman starting at jar of sugar-free honey

Sugar-free honey is a processed imitation sweetener, not real honey. It often contains sugar alcohols like maltitol and xylitol, which have a lower impact on blood glucose levels than regular sugar.

However, always check the Nutrition Facts label, as “sugar-free” doesn’t always mean carb-free, though it usually indicates fewer carbs than regular honey.

What Are the Healthiest Forms of Honey?

Let’s explore some of the healthiest forms of honey:

  • Raw Honey: Raw honey is honey that is directly extracted from the comb without any refinement. It has a low to moderate glycemic index (GI) of around 30-50. Raw honey retains its natural nutrients and therapeutic value, including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. However, it may contain trace amounts of yeast, wax, and pollen. Some people believe that consuming local raw honey can help with seasonal allergies due to repeated exposure to local pollen.
  • Manuka Honey: Manuka honey comes from New Zealand and is known for its medicinal benefits. Bees collect nectar from the flowers of the Manuka bush, which is found in southern Australia and New Zealand. According to a study, manuka honey has a low to moderate glycemic index (GI) ranging from 54 to 59. Manuka honey has higher levels of MGO (methylglyoxal), making it effective for supporting digestion, boosting the immune system, and relieving coughs and sore throats. It has a darker and creamier texture with a hint of nuttiness.
  • Clover Honey: Clover honey is available in various parts of the world and has a mild taste. It contains anti-inflammatory properties due to its high flavonols and phenolic acid content. The color of clover honey ranges from watery white to light amber, depending on the location. It has a low glycemic index (GI) of 53.
  • Buckwheat Honey: Buckwheat honey, a darker variety, contains more antioxidants than lighter varieties. Illinois buckwheat honey, in particular, has the highest antioxidant activity. Antioxidants help neutralize reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the body, reducing oxidative damage. It has a low glycemic index (GI) of around 54.

Can you Substitute Honey for Sugar?

Yes, you can substitute honey for sugar in recipes, but there are some important considerations to keep in mind. Honey is sweeter than sugar, so you’ll need less of it—typically, you can use about ¾ cup of honey for every cup of sugar. Honey also has a higher moisture content, which can affect the texture of baked goods, so reducing other liquids in the recipe by about ¼ cup for each cup of honey used is recommended. 

Also, honey has a distinct flavor that might alter the final product’s taste. Since honey is acidic, adding a pinch of baking soda (about ¼ teaspoon per cup) can help neutralize its acidity. Finally, honey browns faster than sugar, so you may need to lower the baking temperature by about 25°F to prevent over-browning.

Honey Substitute for Diabetics

For individuals with diabetes looking for honey alternatives that are also sweeteners, choosing options that have minimal impact on blood sugar levels is important. Here are some suitable alternatives for honey:

Glycemic Index of Honey Alternatives Glycemic IndexGlycemic Impact
Stevia0Low
Allulose0Low
Erythritol0Low
Maltitol35Low
Xylitol7Low
Monk Fruit Sweetener0Low

Stevia

Stevia

Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the stevia plant. It is known for its zero-calorie content and intense sweetness, much higher than sugar. This means only a small amount of stevia is needed to sweeten foods and beverages. One of the major advantages of stevia is that it does not significantly impact blood sugar levels, making it a safe option for individuals with diabetes. Additionally, it is calorie-free, making it a popular choice for those looking to reduce their calorie intake.

However, it’s important to note that some powdered stevia may contain sugar alcohols, which can lead to digestive issues such as bloating and nausea in some individuals. When using stevia as a sweetener, it’s recommended to use 1/3 teaspoon of liquid stevia to replace 1/4 cup of honey in recipes. A study has indicated that stevia has no significant effect on blood sugar levels, further supporting its suitability for individuals with diabetes or those looking to manage their blood sugar levels.

Allulose

Allulose

Allulose is a low-calorie sweetener that comes from fruits like figs and raisins. It has a taste similar to regular sugar but is less sweet. One of the benefits of allulose is that it does not affect blood sugar or insulin levels, making it a good option for people with diabetes. However, consuming large amounts of allulose can lead to digestive issues such as bloating, diarrhea, and gas. When using allulose as a sweetener, you can substitute 1 1/3 cups of allulose for 3/4 cup of honey. A study on gastrointestinal tolerance has confirmed that allulose has no impact on blood sugar levels.

Erythritol

Erythritol

Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that occurs naturally in certain fruits and vegetables and is produced by fermenting dextrose. It has a glycemic index of 0, meaning it does not raise blood glucose or insulin levels, which is particularly beneficial for individuals with diabetes. According to a study, erythritol did not affect blood glucose or insulin levels even after acute doses of up to 75 grams. 

Additionally, in a two-week intervention trial, diabetic patients who consumed erythritol experienced a significant decrease in hemoglobin A1c levels, further supporting its safety and potential benefits for diabetics. However, since the body cannot fully digest it, it may cause digestive symptoms such as gas and cramping. 

When using erythritol as a sweetener, it’s recommended to use 1 1/3 cups to replace 3/4 cup of honey, although using more than 1/2 cup might dry baked goods. 

Maltitol

Maltitol

Maltitol is a type of sugar known as sugar alcohol, which is often used by people who want to manage their weight or have diabetes because it has fewer calories than regular sugar. Even though it’s a carbohydrate, it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels as much because it isn’t completely absorbed by the body. Maltitol has a 35 glycemic index. 

This makes it a helpful option for people with diabetes who need to watch their blood sugar. Maltitol is almost as sweet as sugar but with half the calories, and it doesn’t cause tooth decay, which is another plus. You can find maltitol in various products like baked goods, candies, and even some medications which help keep things moist and sweet without using actual sugar.

Xylitol

Xylitol

Xylitol is a sugar substitute that looks and tastes like sugar but has fewer calories and doesn’t raise blood sugar levels, which is beneficial for people with diabetes. It has a glycemic index of 7, which is much lower than regular sugar (sucrose), which has a glycemic index of about 65. This low glycemic index means xylitol has a minimal impact on blood glucose and insulin levels, making it a safer choice for diabetics. 

You can use xylitol in the same way you use sugar; it’s great for sweetening coffee, tea, and desserts. It’s also commonly found in sugar-free chewing gums, mints, and some dental care products because it helps reduce tooth decay by fighting the bacteria that cause cavities. When switching to xylitol, it’s important to introduce it gradually to your diet, as it can cause digestive discomfort if consumed in large amounts.

Monk fruit

Monk fruit

Monk fruit sweetener, derived from a small, round fruit native to Southeast Asia, is a great honey substitute for diabetics due to its zero-calorie and non-glycemic properties. It contains mogroside V, an antioxidant over 300 times sweeter than sucrose. Preliminary studies suggest that mogrosides may inhibit cancer cell growth, but more research is needed. 

However, some people may not enjoy the taste, and there is limited research on potential side effects. To use it as a substitute, 1 teaspoon of monk fruit liquid can replace 3/4 cup of honey. While research shows its potential as a zero-calorie sweetener that doesn’t affect blood sugar levels, more human studies are needed to understand its benefits and any potential drawbacks fully.

Final Thoughts

While honey does offer some potential health benefits and is considered safe for individuals with diabetes when consumed in moderation, diabetics need to be mindful of their intake due to its impact on blood sugar levels. Honey’s lower glycemic index than regular sugar, antioxidant properties, and potential wound-healing benefits can make it a favorable alternative sweetener. 

However, individuals with diabetes must consult their dieticians to determine a personalized approach to incorporating honey into their diet. Monitoring blood sugar levels and staying within recommended daily sugar intake limits are essential for effectively managing diabetes while enjoying the potential benefits of honey.

FAQs About Honey and Diabetes

What kind of honey lowers blood sugar?

Clover honey and unprocessed raw honey improve blood sugar control and lipid levels. Due to their natural properties, these types of honey may also help manage diabetes better.

Can diabetics eat honey and cinnamon?

Diabetics can eat honey and cinnamon in moderation. While honey has a lower glycemic index (GI) than refined sugar, it still affects blood sugar levels. Cinnamon may help improve insulin sensitivity, but it’s important to monitor blood sugar levels and consult a healthcare provider before making dietary changes.

Can diabetics eat maple syrup and honey?

Both maple syrup and honey can raise blood sugar levels, so they should be consumed in moderation by diabetics. Honey has a slightly lower GI than maple syrup, but both sugars can impact glucose levels. Always consult a healthcare provider to determine what is safe for your condition.

Is raw honey good for diabetics?

Raw honey is less processed and retains more nutrients than regular honey. However, it still contains sugars that can affect blood sugar levels. Some studies suggest that raw honey might benefit glycemic control, but more research is needed. Diabetics should consume raw honey in moderation and consult with their healthcare provider.

Can a pre-diabetic eat honey?

Pre-diabetics should be cautious with their sugar intake, including honey. While honey has a lower GI than refined sugar, it can still raise blood sugar levels. Moderation is key, and it’s important to monitor blood sugar levels and follow a diet plan recommended by a healthcare provider.

Can I eat honey with type 2 diabetes?

People with type 2 diabetes can consume honey in small amounts. Honey has a lower GI than table sugar, but it is still a form of sugar and can impact blood glucose levels. It’s essential to monitor your blood sugar and consult your healthcare provider to determine the appropriate amount.

Can eating honey cause diabetes?

Eating honey in moderation is unlikely to cause diabetes. However, excessive consumption of any sugar, including honey, can contribute to weight gain and increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A balanced diet and healthy lifestyle are key to preventing diabetes.

Can I eat honey with gestational diabetes?

If you have gestational diabetes, you should be cautious with your sugar intake, including honey. While small amounts may be permissible, monitoring blood sugar levels closely and consulting with your healthcare provider to determine what is safe for you and your baby is essential.

Can type 1 diabetics eat honey?

Type 1 diabetics can eat honey, but it should be done in moderation. Since honey is a sugar, it will affect blood glucose levels. Careful monitoring and consultation with a healthcare provider are essential to ensure it fits into the overall diabetes management plan.

Sources

Ajibola, A., Chamunorwa, J. P., & Erlwanger, K. H. (2012). Nutraceutical values of natural honey and its contribution to human health and wealth. Nutrition & Metabolism. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583289/

(2019). Effect of Natural Honey on Glycemic Control and Anthropometric Measures of Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Controlled Crossover Trial. International Journal of Preventive Medicine, 10, Article ID PMC6360845. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6360845/

American Heart Association. (n.d.). How much sugar is too much? Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/how-much-sugar-is-too-much

Ajami, M., Seyfi, M., Pouri Hosseini, F. A., Naseri, P., Velayati, A., Mahmoudnia, F., Zahedirad, M., & Hajifaraji, M. (2020). Effects of stevia on glycemic and lipid profile of type 2 diabetic patients: A randomized controlled trial. Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine, 10(2). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7103435/

Tani, Y., et al. (2023). Allulose for the attenuation of postprandial blood glucose levels in healthy humans: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One, 18(4), e0281150. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10079081/

Mazi, T. A., Stanhope, K. L. (2023). Erythritol: An In-Depth Discussion of Its Potential to Be a Beneficial Dietary Component. Nutrients. PubMed Central. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9824470/

Yeung, A. W. K. (2023). Bibliometric analysis on the literature of monk fruit extract and mogrosides as sweeteners. Frontiers in Nutrition, 10, 1253255. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10495570/