Can Diabetics Eat Honey?

In celebration of National Honey Month, we can definitively say that diabetics can safely include honey in a diabetes meal plan – up to a point.

There is a tremendous amount of literature out there either touting the benefits of including honey in a diabetic's diet or waving the diabetic off from even considering honey. There are also several studies published, many from eastern Asia, touting the nutritional benefits of honey, particularly in Ayurvedic diets.

Nutritional Benefits

Honey is a product of the activity of bees drawing nectar from flowering plants and returning it to their hive. An initial point of difference among various honeys is which plants the bees were frequenting and where these plants were growing. This is something that is different the world over, as bees have a relatively small preferred range for their pollinating activity (about 300 feet from their hive).

Honey is a blend of primarily glucose and fructose (roughly 82 percent by weight) with roughly equal amounts of each by sample. It also contains a variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in varying quantities.

Honey is sweeter than sugar and, therefore, has a higher carb count.

Glycemic Index

A comparison study of six different floral honeys native to Australia and two Australian commercial blends was undertaken by the Australian Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation in 2005. The goal of the study was to determine the glycemic index (GI) of the products and to examine the component makeup of each variety.

Their findings determined that five of the eight honeys tested were considered to have a low GI. One of the commercial blends and one of the local blends were given a moderate GI, and the second commercial blend had a high GI rating. The findings also concluded that the GI ratings seem to be tied only to the quantity of fructose in each sample; the glucose and any other sugars available in trace amounts did not appear to have any impact on GI.

Another article published in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition reported on an eight-week study of 48 people with diabetes, where half received oral honey for eight weeks and the other half did not. The findings showed that the group that had received honey had more weight loss as well as improved lipid numbers. However, A1c numbers increased significantly for this group.

Unfortunately, it is not likely that the average consumer can locate a honey product where the GI testing has been done. Honey tends to be either a very local commodity found in farmer's markets and health food stores or commercially blended and essentially the same wherever it is sold.

Because of this, those with diabetes should use caution. There is nothing in honey that is intrinsically harmful for the diabetic, but it is a carb and should be included in the meal plan in the same manner all other carbs are included – with caution.

Sources: National Center for Biometric Information of the National Institutes of Health, AuthorityNutrition.com and Benefits-of-Honey.com

Photo credit: Waugsberg

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