Honey and diabetes

Diabetes and the associated complications call for careful dietary choices. Among the many food items under scrutiny, honey is a topic of considerable debate. Although honey has health benefits, it is a source of simple sugars and carbohydrates. As such, it is essential for individuals with diabetes, especially those using insulin, to regulate their carbohydrate intake carefully. The carbohydrates in honey primarily derive from glucose and fructose, which are simple sugars.

Every tablespoon of honey delivers:

  • 64 calories
  • 17 grams of sugar
  • 17 grams of carbohydrates
  • 0.06 grams of protein
  • 0.04 grams of fibre

In addition, honey includes nutrients like potassium, calcium, zinc, vitamin C, and antioxidants. However, these nutrients are not present in significant amounts. Thus, honey should not be relied upon as a primary source of these nutrients.

Benefits of Honey 

Research indicates that honey exhibits anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. These properties could be especially beneficial for individuals with diabetes, who often experience increased inflammation levels. 

Other benefits of honey when used as a sweetener:

  • Its carbohydrates (fructose and glucose) are easier to digest than table sugar.
  • Fructose and glucose balance in honey has a lesser impact on blood sugar levels.
  • It is a quick carbohydrate source and helps treat low blood sugar when necessary.
  • Due to its richer, sweeter flavor, you might use less honey than sugar in cooking or baking.
  • Honey provides small amounts of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, potentially offering health benefits.

However, honey doesn't offer significant nutritional benefits, so there's no need to start using it if you haven't already. Other foods can provide similar health benefits without added sugar.

Is Raw Honey Healthier Than Other Types of Honey?

Different kinds of honey, like raw honey, aren't necessarily healthier than others. All honey mainly consists of fructose, glucose, a tiny bit of sucrose, water, and some vitamins and minerals. The key differences between honey types are the source of the nectar and how the honey is processed.

In general, honey has:

  • 30% to 45% fructose
  • 24% to 40% glucose
  • A small amount (0.1% to 5%) of sucrose
  • Water
  • Some vitamins and minerals

Honey with more fructose has a lower Glycemic Index (GI), meaning it doesn't raise blood sugar as much. However, there's no solid evidence that one type of honey is significantly healthier.

Here's a quick guide to different honey types:

  • Pure, Raw, or Unfiltered Honey: Natural honey without processing or pasteurization.
  • Clear Honey: Similar to raw honey, it is pasteurized to kill potential bacteria.
  • Set Honey: Honey that's crystallized and doesn't drip. It was originally liquid but solid over time.
  • Organic Honey: This honey comes from flowers that are not treated with pesticides or chemicals. Any honey can be organic.
  • Manuka Honey: Produced by bees pollinating tea trees in Australia and New Zealand, it is known for its antibacterial properties.

Your choice of honey mostly depends on personal taste, except for honey mixed with sugar syrups like high-fructose corn syrup, which are less healthy due to a higher GI. Check labels for any added syrups, as per FDA guidelines.

Regarding blood sugar, raw honey doesn't differ from other types in its effect. All honey raises blood glucose levels unless it's sugar-free. The average GI of honey is around 58, but it varies. For instance, acacia honey has a lower GI, around 32.

Comparing Honey to Sugar

Honey stands apart from conventional white or "table" sugar, which lacks vitamins and minerals. Also, honey has a lower glycemic index (GI) than sugar. The glycemic index measures how a carbohydrate raises blood sugar levels. Honey's GI score is 58, compared to sugar's 63. This indicates that honey raises blood sugar slightly slower than sugar. However, this difference is minimal. Swapping sugar for honey may not provide any substantial benefits for individuals with diabetes since both affect blood sugar similarly. However, if you choose to consume honey, you must be aware of the quantity you're consuming. Foods with honey in their name or sauce may contain more honey and carbohydrates than you realize, which can negatively impact your blood sugar and ability to take the correct amount of insulin.

Honey and Other Natural Sweeteners

When comparing honey to other natural sweeteners, especially from the perspective of managing diabetes, it's essential to consider factors like the glycemic index (GI), nutritional value, and how each sweetener affects blood sugar levels.

Glycemic Index (GI)

The glycemic index is a value used to measure how much specific foods increase blood sugar levels. Foods with a high GI are absorbed and digested quickly, leading to a faster rise in blood sugar levels. Those with a low GI are absorbed more slowly, causing a gradual rise in blood sugar.

  • Honey: Has a moderate GI, generally around 50-58. This means it raises blood sugar levels but at a slower pace than high-GI sweeteners.
  • Agave Nectar: Often marketed as a low-GI sweetener due to its high fructose content, which has a lower GI than glucose. However, its high fructose content can lead to other health issues if consumed excessively.
  • Maple Syrup: Similar to honey, it has a moderately low GI (around 54), making it a better option than high-GI sweeteners but still something to use in moderation for individuals with diabetes.
  • Stevia: A no-calorie sweetener derived from the stevia plant leaves. It has a GI of 0, making it a popular choice for people with diabetes. However, it can have a bitter aftertaste and is much sweeter than sugar, so it may require getting used to.
  • Dates/Dates Syrup: High in natural sugars, dates and date syrup have a GI ranging from 42 to 55, making them similar to honey regarding blood sugar impact.

So, Can people with diabetes eat honey? 

Dietary guidelines suggest that honey can be incorporated into a diabetic diet, but portion control is critical. Too much honey can increase blood sugar levels and negatively impact insulin management. It is crucial to note that while honey isn't inherently "bad," it must be consumed cautiously due to its high sugar content. It's essential to remember that, like other sweeteners, honey will increase blood sugar levels.

As for honey for diabetics, it's necessary to understand that while honey can be part of a diabetic diet, it is not a magic bullet for blood sugar control or overall diabetes management. It should be used sparingly and as part of a balanced diet rich in fibre, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

So, what is the connection between honey and diabetes? Ultimately, honey is a type of sugar, and its consumption affects blood sugar levels. People with diabetes should approach honey like any other source of simple sugars, consuming it in moderation and including it in their daily carbohydrate count.

A Note on Honey and Diabetes Management

If you have diabetes, treat honey like any other sugar—use it in moderation and always monitor your intake, especially if you're using insulin. It's crucial to consult with your healthcare provider before changing your diet. To support your diabetes management, consider using Viasox diabetic socks to help circulation, minimize injury risk, and keep your feet dry and hygienic, improving overall health.

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