If you have type 2 diabetes or are at a high risk for it, you might have heard claims that honey may be better for you than other sweeteners. But while honey may have some health benefits, it’s still a source of simple sugar and carbohydrates. And if you have diabetes, you need to count your carbohydrates throughout the day, especially if you’re using medication like insulin. Here’s what you need to know before you decide how you should handle honey in your diet.
Is Honey Different From Other Sweeteners?
Honey is a sweetener. It’s also called an “added sugar” on food labels because it isn’t naturally part of other foods. Instead, you add it to food in order to sweeten them. Honey is a source of carbohydrates. Those carbohydrates mostly come from glucose and fructose, which are simple sugars.
Per tablespoon, honey has:
- 64 calories
- 17 grams of sugar
- 17 grams of carbohydrates
- 0.06 grams of protein
- 0.04 grams of fiber
It also contains vitamins and minerals like potassium, calcium, zinc, and vitamin C, and antioxidants. But not in amounts that are significant, so don’t look to honey as a major source of these nutrients.
Honey is different from white or “table” sugar because sugar doesn’t have any vitamins and minerals. Honey has a lower glycemic index (GI) than sugar, too. The glycemic index measures how quickly a carbohydrate raises blood sugar levels. Honey has a GI score of 58, and sugar has a GI value of 60. That means honey (like all carbohydrates) raises blood sugar quickly, but not quite as fast as sugar. Still, it’s not a big difference.
There’s not likely to be a benefit to swapping sugar for honey if you have diabetes, since they affect your blood sugar in similar ways. If you do choose to eat honey, make sure you know how much you’re getting. Foods that have honey in their name or sauce may contain more honey and carbohydrates than you realize. That can negatively affect your blood sugar and your ability to take the right amount of insulin.
Can You Eat Honey if You Have Diabetes?
Experts used to recommend that people with diabetes avoid all foods with added sugar. Now some say it’s OK to eat them in small amounts as part of a healthy diet. But if you take insulin, it’s very important to count the number of carbohydrates (including honey) that you take each day. That helps you determine the correct dose of insulin you should take.
Staying on top of the number of carbohydrates and fiber you eat can also help you keep your blood sugar from going too high. Even if you take insulin, high blood sugar can lead to health problems over time. That’s why it’s a good idea to limit honey. Talk to your diabetes educator, doctor, or a dietitian who specializes in diabetes to figure out how much is safe for you.
Is Honey Good for Diabetes?
Experts don’t all agree on whether honey is a good choice for people with diabetes. Research shows that honey has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities. That may be important for people with diabetes, who often have higher levels of inflammation in their bodies. But many foods deliver antioxidants without driving up your blood sugar. So you definitely don’t need honey to get those nutrients. You have other options that would be better for you.
Much of the research on diabetes and honey has been done on lab animals. But some studies have been done with people, too.
One study from Turkish researchers found that people with type 2 diabetes who ate 5-25 grams of honey daily for 4 months reduced their hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), which is a measure of blood sugar control over recent months. But those who had more honey each day saw their A1c level rise. And with only 64 people in the study -- half of whom got honey doses daily -- it’s hard to know whether the results apply more broadly.
Another study found that eating honey daily increased A1c levels. That study included 48 people with type 2 diabetes, half of whom got a dose of honey for 8 weeks.
A 2016 study from Egyptian researchers also found that people with type 2 diabetes increased their blood sugar.
Because the tests on honey and diabetes have had mixed results at best and included small groups of people, more research is needed to know what, if any, amount of honey is safest for people with diabetes.