Expert-reviewed by Ashwini S.Kanade, Registered Dietician and Certified Diabetes Educator with 17 years of experience
As a person living with diabetes, you must surely be getting a lot of advice about what you should and should not eat. A common advice that you would have received is “have honey instead of sugar”. But before you go on an “only-honey-no-sugar” diet, let’s take a look at what the experts and research have to say about this.
How is honey different from granulated sugar?
The typical sweetness of honey is because of its ingredients – mainly sugars such as fructose and glucose, along with small quantities of minerals, vitamins, and other components. (1)
Honey is sweeter than table sugar. So you can get the same level of sweetness by using a much lesser amount.
Besides, the glycemic index, a value that indicates how slowly or quickly a particular food will increase your blood glucose levels, is 55 for honey while it is 65 for table sugar (foods with a lower GI are better for people with diabetes). (2) This means that honey tends to cause a shorter spike in blood sugar levels as compared to sugar. Read more about glycemic index here.
How to use honey
It is best to use raw honey, free from any added substitutes, rather than the processed one.
Raw honey can be purchased directly from farms or organic food stores. You may use it instead of sugar in your coffee or tea or spread it on toast, bread, or pancakes. Some people prefer combining the benefits of honey with cinnamon by adding a little honey to cinnamon tea. Read about the benefits of cinnamon (dalchini) in managing blood sugar levels.
What the research says
A study on people with type 2 diabetes found that when compared to sucrose, honey does not increase glucose levels as much but does lead to a higher rise in insulin levels. This indicates that honey may stimulate the secretion of insulin that helps in keeping the blood glucose levels in check. (3)
A review of studies in which honey was given in combination with anti-diabetic medicines shows that honey helps in better control of blood sugar and reduces damaging effects on the body’s cells. (4) This type of damage, called oxidative stress, is considered to be the most likely cause of type 2 diabetes and its complications, as per current research. (5)
This means that any food like honey, that has an antioxidant effect, may be beneficial for people with diabetes. This is a major area in which honey scores over table sugar in the diet for people with diabetes.
Yet, there isn’t enough data yet to support extensive use of honey
Most experiments using honey with people with type 2 diabetes have been flawed, making their results unreliable.
In one such experiment of 48 diabetics, honey was given for 8 weeks to one group but not to the other. The results showed that while the body weight and total cholesterol dropped in the honey group, there was a significant increase in their HbA1c levels (the glycated haemoglobin test which is a measure of the average blood glucose levels over the previous 3 months). The authors of this study, therefore, recommended that honey should be used with caution. (6)
If you are a type 2 diabetic with blood sugar levels in the normal range, honey could be a healthier substitute for sugar in your diet. Although honey is much sweeter than table sugar, it does have a low glycemic index; thus a carefully monitored intake of honey will be more beneficial than sugar consumption. However, if your blood sugar is over the normal range, tends to fluctuate, or if you have diabetic complications, honey may do more harm than good. In that case, it would be best to avoid taking honey altogether.
- S. Bogdanov, T. Jurendic, R. Sieber, P. Gallmann. Honey for nutrition and health: a review. J Am Coll Nutr. 2008 Dec; 27(6):677-89. Available online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19155427
- Glycemic Index: Self-Nutrition Data. Available online at http://nutritiondata.self.com/topics/glycemic-index
- Noori S. Al-Waili. Natural Honey Lowers Plasma Glucose, C-Reactive Protein, Homocysteine, and Blood Lipids in Healthy, Diabetic, and Hyperlipidemic Subjects: Comparison with Dextrose and Sucrose. Journal of Medicinal Food. July 2004, 7(1): 100-107. Available online at https://doi.org/10.1089/109662004322984789
- O.O. Erejuwa. Effect of honey in diabetes mellitus: matters arising. Journal of Diabetes & Metabolic Disorders. 2014; 13:23 https://doi.org/10.1186/2251-6581-13-23 Available online at https://jdmdonline.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/2251-6581-13-23
- E. Wright, J.L. Scism-Bacon, L.C. Glass. Oxidative stress in type 2 diabetes: the role of fasting and postprandial glycaemia. Int J Clin Pract. 2006 Mar; 60(3): 308–314. doi: 10.1111/j.1368-5031.2006.00825.x Available online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1448694/
- M. Bahrami, A. Ataie-Jafari, S. Hosseini, M.H. Foruzanfar, M. Rahmani, M. Pajouhi. Effects of natural honey consumption in diabetic patients: An 8-week randomized clinical trial. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2009 Nov; 60(7):618-26. doi: 10.3109/09637480801990389.