Honey is often considered a healthier alternative to sugar; however, its impact on blood glucose is very similar to that of sugar.
Honey and sugar are both simple carbohydrates. The glycemic index (GI) score of honey is slightly less than the GI score of sugar. The GI tells you how quickly different foods raise your blood sugar levels. The downside of the GI is that it only tells you how foods affect blood sugar when eaten alone. It doesn’t tell you how foods react in the body when consumed with other foods.
Keep reading to learn about the potential health benefits of using honey instead of sugar and how their effects on blood sugar compare.
Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load of Raw Honey
Raw honey has a moderate to high glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) compared to other sweeteners. The GI of raw honey ranges from 32 to 85, depending on the variety and processing. The GI measures how quickly a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose levels, with a high GI showing that the food causes a quick spike in blood sugar levels.
The glycemic load (GL) considers the GI and the amount of carbohydrates in a food. Raw honey has a high GL because it contains a significant amount of carbohydrates per serving, even though its GI is moderate. The GL of raw honey ranges from 10 to 24, depending on the amount consumed.
While raw honey does contain some beneficial nutrients, such as antioxidants and antimicrobial compounds, you may want to consume it in moderation, especially if you have diabetes or prediabetes, as it can significantly raise blood sugar levels.1
How Honey Affects Diabetes and Blood Sugar
Honey can have significant effects on blood sugar levels in individuals living with diabetes mellitus, particularly those living with type 2 diabetes. Although honey is a natural sweetener with some beneficial nutrients, it is still a simple sugar that can cause significant spikes in blood glucose.
Eating honey can increase blood glucose levels by 30 to 60 percent within an hour of consumption. Individuals living with diabetes may want to consume honey in moderation and small amounts to avoid spikes in blood sugar levels. Combining honey with high-fiber foods, dietary fat, and protein can also help to keep blood sugar levels more stable.
For people living with diabetes, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends limiting honey consumption to one tablespoon per day for women and two tablespoons per day for men as part of a healthy diet.2
4 Potential Health Benefits of Honey
Honey has been used in natural medicine for centuries for its potential health benefits. Here are some of its potential health benefits:
- Contains a variety of nutrients
Honey provides a variety of nutrients. Some of the vitamins found in honey include ascorbic acid (vitamin C), pantothenic acid, niacin, and riboflavin (B vitamins), along with minerals such as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc.3
- Energy boost
Honey is a simple carbohydrate and a quick-digesting energy source. As a natural source of quick energy, honey is an ideal food for athletes or anyone needing a quick energy boost.
- Antibacterial properties
Studies show that honey has antibacterial properties. It is a popular natural remedy for wound healing and infections.4,5,6
- Powerful antioxidant
Honey contains antioxidants that can help protect the body against oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is linked to chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer's.1,7,8
Overall, honey is a natural food that provides several nutrients and may provide some potential health benefits. However, it’s best to consume it in small amounts as part of a balanced and varied diet.
Composition of Honey: Does it Contain Fructose?
Honey is a natural sweetener produced by bees from the nectar of flowers. It is a complex mixture of sugars, water, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals. The exact composition of honey can vary depending on what type of flowers the bees collect nectar from and the processing methods used.
Most honey has a mixture of glucose and fructose, with fructose typically making up about 40 percent of the total sugar content. While fructose has been shown to have negative health effects when consumed in excess, the fructose found in honey is unlikely to significantly impact health when consumed in moderation.
Honey vs. Sugar Glycemic Index: Which One is Better?
When choosing a natural sweetener, many wonder whether honey is a healthier option than table sugar. While both honey and sugar contain carbohydrates and can raise blood sugar levels, honey has a slightly lower glycemic index than white sugar.
Honey has a glycemic index of around 50 to 60, depending on the type, while white sugar has a glycemic index of 60 to 65. The lower glycemic index of honey is due to fructose, which is absorbed more slowly by the body than glucose, the primary sugar in white sugar.
While honey may have a slightly lower glycemic index than sugar, both should be consumed in moderation as part of a healthy diet. Choosing natural sweeteners like honey over processed white sugar may offer additional nutritional benefits. However, it’s important to avoid consuming too much of any sweetener.
Recommended Types of Honey
While many different types of honey are available, some may provide more benefits than others. Raw honey is unprocessed and provides more beneficial nutrients than processed honey. It also has a slightly lower glycemic index than processed honey.
Manuka honey is a type of honey that is often promoted for its health benefits. Manuka honey comes from the nectar of the manuka tree in New Zealand and contains high levels of antibacterial compounds. Manuka honey has a unique grading system based on its antibacterial potency, known as the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF). The higher the UMF rating, the more potent the antibacterial properties of the honey.9,10
While raw and manuka honey may offer some health benefits, they are still high in calories and can cause blood sugar spikes.
Bottomline: Is Honey Good for You?
The answer to whether honey is good for you depends on several factors, like any health conditions you may have, how often and how much you’re consuming, and the type of honey.
While honey is a natural sweetener with beneficial compounds like antioxidants and antibacterial properties, it is also high in sugar and calories. People living with certain medical conditions like diabetes should be mindful that honey causes sudden spikes in blood sugar.
Honey can be good for you when consumed as part of a balanced diet. If you have concerns about high blood sugar, add sources of protein and dietary fat when you consume honey. This will help to slow digestion and prevent blood sugar spikes.
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Topics discussed in this article:
- Erejuwa, O. O., Sulaiman, S. A., & Wahab, M. S. (2012). Honey: A novel antioxidant. Molecules, 17(4), 4400-4423. doi: 10.3390/molecules17044400
- American Diabetes Association. (2019). Carbohydrate counting. Retrieved from https://www.diabetes.org/nutrition/healthy-food-choices-made-easy/carbohydrate-counting
- Ajibola, A., Chamunorwa, J. P., & Erlwanger, K. H. (2012). Nutraceutical values of natural honey and its contribution to human health and wealth. Nutrition & metabolism, 9, 61. https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-9-61
- Khan, F. R., Ul Abadin, Z., Rauf, N., & Ali, M. (2019). Nutritional and medicinal perspectives of honey: A comprehensive review. Turkish Journal of Agriculture-Food Science and Technology, 7(12), 1615-1624. doi: 10.24925/turjaf.v7i12.1615-1624.3007
- Saeed, S., Tariq, P. (2007). Antibacterial activities of medicinal plants used for the treatment of dysentery in the North West Frontier Province, Pakistan. African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines, 4(4), 511-517. doi: 10.4314/ajtcam.v4i4.31242
- Albaridi N. A. (2019). Antibacterial Potency of Honey. International journal of microbiology, 2019, 2464507. https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/2464507
- Ahmed, S., Sulaiman, S. A., Baig, A. A., Ibrahim, M., Liaqat, S., Fatima, S., Jabeen, S., Shamim, N., & Othman, N. H. (2018). Honey as a Potential Natural Antioxidant Medicine: An Insight into Its Molecular Mechanisms of Action. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2018, 8367846. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/8367846
- Khalil, M. I., Alam, N., Moniruzzaman, M., & Sulaiman, S. A. (2012). Phenolic acid composition and antioxidant properties of Malaysian honeys. Journal of Food Science, 77(2), C115-C121. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2011.02564.
- Girma, A., Seo, W., & She, R. C. (2019). Antibacterial activity of varying UMF-graded Manuka honeys. PloS one, 14(10), e0224495. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0224495
- Johnston, M., McBride, M., Dahiya, D., Owusu-Apenten, R., & Nigam, P. S. (2018). Antibacterial activity of Manuka honey and its components: An overview. AIMS microbiology, 4(4), 655–664. https://doi.org/10.3934/microbiol.2018.4.655
- Bahrami, M., Ataie-Jafari, A., Hosseini, S., Foruzanfar, M. H., & Rahmani, M. (2009). Effects of natural honey consumption in diabetic patients: An 8-week randomized clinical trial. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 60(7), 618-626. doi: 10.1080/09637480903193049
- Chepulis, L., & Starkey, N. (2008). The long-term effects of feeding honey compared with sucrose and a sugar-free diet on weight gain and glucose tolerance in rats. Journal of Food Science, 73(1), H1-H7. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2007.00610.x