A person’s glucose, or blood sugar, level refers to how much sugar is in their bloodstream. Sugar is the body’s primary source of energy.
The pancreas secretes insulin, a hormone, to keep blood sugar at safe levels. In a person with diabetes, the body either cannot use insulin correctly or it cannot produce enough.
How honey affects people with diabetes remains unclear. Some studies suggest that, in moderation, it may be useful for those with type 2 diabetes.
Honey may be a healthful substitute for refined sugars, such as white sugar, turbinado, cane sugar, and powdered sugar.
However, people should use it in moderation. It, too, can cause blood sugar levels to spike, especially when a person uses honey in addition to, rather than instead of, another form of sugar.
Some manufacturers produce honey that is not pure and may contain added sugars or syrups.
It is also important to note that raw honey can contain a toxin that can cause botulism or otherwise be dangerous for infants younger than 1 year.
While honey provides nutrients, other foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, are better sources of these, and they also provide more fiber and water, minimizing any hike in blood sugar levels.
People with diabetes should consume sweeteners of any kind as infrequently as possible because frequent blood sugar spikes can cause diabetes to progress more rapidly.
Raw honey starts out as flower nectar. After bees collect the nectar, it naturally breaks down into simple sugars, which bees store in honeycombs.
The honeycombs cause the nectar to evaporate, creating a thick, sweet liquid. This is honey.
Honey, like other types of sugar, is a dense source of carbohydrates. Most of these carbs are in the forms of glucose and fructose, which are simple sugars.
Unlike refined white sugar, honey also contains vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Processed vs. raw honey
Most of the honey available today is processed, which means that the manufacturer has heated and filtered it. This strips away some of the honey’s nutritional value and potential health benefits.
However, raw honey retains these properties. Raw, local honey may, for example, help with seasonal allergies.
According to a 2018 review published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, switching from refined sugar to honey may help keep blood glucose levels down.
The researchers attribute this to honey’s lower glycemic index (GI) score and its ability to reduce inflammatory markers and improve levels of cholesterol.
Doctors are not likely to recommend switching to honey as a person’s only diabetes management tactic. It will not replace medications or healthful lifestyle practices.
Babies younger than 1 year should not eat raw honey. Doing so can put them at risk of botulism, a kind of food poisoning that can be life-threatening.
Raw honey, much like white sugar, is a sweetener that contains carbohydrates and calories.
A tablespoon of honey, weighing about 21 g, has about 64 calories, while 21 g of granulated white sugar contains 80 calories.
This amount of honey also contains:
- 3.59 g of water
- 17.25 g of sugar
- 11 milligram (mg) of potassium
- 1 mg of calcium
- 1 mg of phosphorus
- 1 mg of sodium
- 0.05 mg of zinc
- 0.1 mg of vitamin C
It also contains some B vitamins.
Sugar contains almost no other nutrients.
Another big difference between white sugar and honey concerns digestion. The body breaks down honey using enzymes that exist in the honey, while digesting sugar requires enzymes from the body.
An additional difference relates to the GI. This index measures the extent to which a particular carbohydrate raises blood sugar levels. Foods with high GI scores tend to elevate levels quickly and significantly but contain little nutritional value.
According to a study published in 2018, honey has a GI score of 58, while sugar’s GI score is 60.
Several studies have found that eating honey may increase insulin levels and decrease levels of blood sugar.
Possible hypoglycemic impact
A small study from 2004 investigated honey and sugar’s effects on blood glucose levels.
The researcher found that a solution containing 75 g of honey raised blood sugar and insulin levels in people with and without type 2 diabetes within 30 minutes. An equivalent solution containing dextrose raised blood sugar levels slightly higher.
Within 2 hours, the levels fell, and they fell lower and remained lower in the honey group, compared with the dextrose group.
The researcher suggested that honey may increase insulin levels. This would explain why, although blood sugar levels rose in both groups, they fell further in the honey group.
Improved measurements of diabetes
A review published in 2017 also explored the connection between honey and blood glucose in people with diabetes.
The authors found that honey had the following effects:
- Honey decreased fasting serum glucose, which a doctor measures after a person has fasted for at least 8 hours.
- It increased levels of fasting C-peptide, which helps the pancreas know how much insulin to secrete and plays a crucial role in keeping blood sugar levels stable in a healthy range.
- It increased 2-hour postprandial C-peptide levels, which indicate the amount of peptide after a person eats.
Future therapeutic effect
In 2012, a study involving 50 people with type 1 diabetes found that, compared with sucrose, honey was less likely to raise blood sugar levels. The research team concluded that honey might, one day, have a role in treating the beta cells of the pancreas, which are responsible for producing insulin.
In 2018, a review of studies concluded that honey may be useful for treating type 2 diabetes, as it may have a hypoglycemic effect. In other words, it may help lower blood sugar.
However, the researchers caution that confirming these effects and establishing the beneficial dosages will require more studies in humans and long-term investigations.
Effect on long-term blood glucose levels
An 8-week study involving 48 people in Iran found that consuming honey did not appear to raise fasting blood sugar levels. Participants who ate honey also lost weight and had lower blood cholesterol levels.
The researchers also tested the participants’ hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein that carries oxygen to the body’s cells. When glucose enters the cells, it joins with hemoglobin.
By measuring how much hemoglobin is combined with glucose, in a hemoglobin A1C test, a doctor can estimate a person’s average blood glucose levels over the last few months.
A person with more hemoglobin A1C has a higher risk of diabetes and is likely to be receiving poor blood glucose management.
The researchers noted that participants in the honey group had an increase in hemoglobin A1c, suggesting a long-term rise in blood glucose levels. For this reason, the team recommended “cautious consumption” of honey among people with diabetes.
Antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties
Other studies have suggested that honey may have additional benefits because it contains antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties.
A review published in 2017 looked at the potential roles of honey in healing. The authors noted that, in people with type 2 diabetes, doctors may one day use honey to lower blood sugar levels, reduce the risk of complications related to diabetes and metabolic disease, and help heal wounds.
In 2014, researchers in Greece published similar findings, noting that honey might help to fight the inflammatory processes that occur with diabetes, atherosclerosis, and cardiovascular disease, all of which are features of metabolic syndrome.