Many people ask about taking raw honey as a sweetener if they're diabetic, especially as an alternative to sugar. Here are some points to consider:
What is diabetes?
It is a disease that limits the body’s ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin. This results in problems metabolising carbohydrates often causing elevated levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood. There are two types of diabetes, Type 1 when the body is unable to produce insulin and Type 2 when the body does not produce enough or metabolise insulin properly. For this reason diabetics need to watch the amount and type of carbohydrates they consume as this will affect their blood sugar levels (the levels of sugar found in blood).
According to Medical News Today, to keep blood sugar at a safe level diabetics should limit their total carbohydrate intake to between 45 grams and 60 g per meal or less. So, it is important to choose a healthy eating plan with non-processed, high-fibre carbohydrates and control the size of portions.
10 things to consider with raw honey and diabetes
- Honey is a sugar and contains carbohydrates. One tablespoon of honey contains at least 17 g of carbohydrates.
- While raw honey is made up of sugar, it is not pure sugar, it contains water, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- Honey is higher in calories than sugar, with one tablespoon of honey carrying around 64 calories, and one tablespoon of sugar is 49 calories.
- Raw honey has many nutritional qualities compared to refined sugars like white and cane sugar.
- Honey has more density and because honey is sweeter than sugar it means the body tends to want less, or suffer from sugar cravings.
- Honey is broken down in the body by enzymes within the honey, while sugar requires enzymes from the body.
- Raw honey is a low GI food (the glycaemic index (GI) measures how much a particular carbohydrate may raise blood sugar levels). The GI for honey is around 55 and table sugar’s GI is 65. Foods with low GI’s only cause small increases in blood sugar.
- Most commercial honey is processed, meaning it has been heated and filtered and in some cases sugar has been added. Raw honey, in its natural state from the hive holds its nutritional value and health benefits that's why one should always look to buy raw honey.
- Diabetes is a metabolic disorder so any foods that improve metabolic health are likely to influence diabetes management too. Raw honey therefore could be beneficial alongside anti-diabetic medications.
- Directly after consuming raw honey blood sugar levels can spike. However, after 60 minutes levels drop back down considerably faster than they do after consuming regular sugar. This is the case for both those with and without diabetes.
If you are diabetic or insulin resistant seek the advice of a medical doctor or dietician before consuming raw honey or sugar.
Studies about diabetes and raw honey
According to The Journal for Medicinal Food, a study carried out in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which researched how honey and sugar affect blood sugar. The study found that 75g of honey raised blood sugar and insulin levels in people without diabetes within 30 minutes. A similar test, using the same amount of pure glucose, saw blood sugar levels rise to slightly higher levels. The effect was similar in people with type 2 diabetes. The participants experienced an initial rise in blood sugar levels with the levels dropping within 2 hours. The blood sugar levels, overall, were much lower and remained lower in the honey group, compared to the white sugar group. Because blood sugar levels were better in the groups taking the honey, researchers suggested that honey increased insulin levels. Because insulin helps to move glucose out of the blood, it is possible that the increased insulin from the raw honey helped to bring down sugar levels.
In the book, The Honey Revolution, by Dr Ron Fessenden, looks at how honey can regulate the body’s blood sugar, “the more glucose intolerant one is, the lower the blood sugar response after honey ingestion versus the higher the blood sugar response after consuming sucrose or glucose”. The equal measure of fructose and glucose found in honey facilitates glucose intake to the liver, preventing an overload of glucose entering the blood circulation. Interestingly only raw honey can do this.
Another interesting point is that monosaccharide fructose is recommended to sweeten the diet of diabetics due to its considerably lower GI. However fructose is absorbed differently than other sugars. It is not utilized for energy like glucose, but stored in the liver as triglycerides. This can cause a burden on the liver and Fessenden highlights in the book how diabetics in their quest to avoid sugar in foods often opt for sugar alternatives which sometimes contain corn syrup or artificial sweeteners that can in fact be more harmful than regular sugar when consumed over a long period of time.
Raw honey is a natural sweetener that contains more carbohydrates and calories than white sugar but is less processed, carries more nutritional value and has less impact on blood sugar levels. Therefore it is possible, after consultation with a medical professional and dietician, to include raw honey as part of a healthy, carbohydrate-balanced meal plan if you're diabetic.