Is Honey Safe for People With Diabetes?

Honey dipper and honeycomb on table

Rapeepong Puttakumwong | Getty Images

Diabetes is a disease characterized by too high blood glucose, or blood sugar levels. Because of this, people with diabetes have to watch and manage their carbohydrate intake to help control their blood sugar levels.

Sugar is a carbohydrate many people with diabetes are told is “off limits” to them. However, there are many different types of sugar, and people with diabetes might wonder if some forms of sugar, such as honey, are better for them than white sugar.

Honey is a natural sweetener made by honey bees from nectar. It is composed primarily of water and the two sugars fructose and glucose, being between 30% to 35% glucose and about 40% fructose.

The remaining components are other sugars and a scant amount (about 0.5%) of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Each tablespoon of honey contains about 17 grams of carbohydrates and 60 calories.

Comparatively, traditional white (table) sugar, or sucrose, is made up of 50% glucose and 50% fructose. White sugar contains 13 grams of carbohydrates per tablespoon, with no vitamins and minerals.

How Honey Affects Blood Sugar

Being a carbohydrate, it is expected that honey is going to impact blood sugar levels when consumed. However, when compared to other sugars, it may have less of an impact.

One study observed the glycemic effect of honey compared to glucose in people with type 2 diabetes, measuring participants’ blood sugar levels at one and two hours after ingestion. Researchers found that with honey, blood sugar levels peaked at one hour, followed by a decline.

At two hours after ingestion of honey, blood sugar levels were lower than at the first hour. On the other hand, blood sugar levels with glucose ingestion were higher than with honey in the first hour and continued to rise even in the second hour.

Because honey exhibited a shorter peak in blood sugar levels, it can be suggested that honey has a lower glycemic effect than glucose. However, more research is needed to verify this claim.

Honey and Insulin

Some studies have shown that honey stimulates a greater insulin response than other sugars. Because of this, some people have speculated that honey is actually good for people with diabetes—and may even prevent diabetes.

Overall research on this topic has been conflicting, and more research with larger, long-term clinical trials are needed. Nevertheless, some studies do show promise. 

What Is Insulin?

Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that helps regulate blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels start to rise, a signal is sent to the pancreas to release insulin.

Insulin then acts like a key and opens up cells to let glucose move from the bloodstream and into cells to be used for energy. In the process, blood sugar levels are lowered.

Depending on the type of diabetes, people with diabetes either no longer make insulin (type 1) or cannot use insulin properly (type 2). Glucose (sugar) remains in the bloodstream when there isn’t enough insulin or it isn’t being used properly by the body, resulting in high blood sugar levels.

In a small study of both people with type 1 diabetes and without diabetes, researchers found that honey had less of an effect on blood sugars in all participants compared to sucrose. Honey also raised participants’ levels of C-peptide.

C-peptide is a substance made in and released by the pancreas, along with insulin. A normal level of C-peptide indicates the body is producing ample insulin.

A study of 20 children and adolescents with type 1 diabetes (patient group) and 10 children and adolescents without diabetes (control group) compared the glycemic effect of honey to sucrose. Compared to sucrose, honey had a lower glycemic effect in both groups.

C-peptide levels were not significantly higher in the patient group after using honey. However, C-peptide levels were significantly increased in the control group after using honey compared to sucrose. 

Honey Risks for People With Diabetes

Like any other sweetener, honey needs to be consumed in moderation due to its ability to increase blood sugar levels. If your diabetes is not well managed, it might be best to limit your consumption of honey. 

Since honey is sweeter than white sugar, you don’t need to use as much to get the same sweetness. When purchasing honey, be sure that honey is the only ingredient listed in the product, with no added sugars.

While honey contains some beneficial nutrients, you would need to consume more than is recommended for good health to get any significant amount from it. Do not consume large amounts of honey solely to get additional vitamins and minerals, as other sources of these nutrients will have much less impact on blood sugar levels.

Infants younger than 12 months should not be given honey due to the risk of infant botulism, which may be transmitted by both raw honey and pasteurized honey. There are no restrictions on honey for people age 1 and over, including those who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Adult intestinal toxemia botulism is extremely rare.

Raw honey is typically unprocessed, while most honey found in the grocery store has been filtered and/or pasteurized. If you are concerned about foodborne illnesses, purchase pasteurized honey certified by a food inspector.

How to Safely Enjoy Honey With Diabetes

While natural, honey is still considered an added sugar in the diet. Nevertheless, it can be safely enjoyed by people with diabetes when consumed in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet. A diet rich in fiber from vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes will help properly manage blood sugar levels.

Keep in mind the overall carbohydrate content of a meal when eating honey, as to not overdo it and cause hyperglycemia. Be sure to balance any meal or snack containing honey with other nutritious foods lower in carbohydrates.

Some people prefer raw honey, which will not have any added sugars. Raw honey may have tiny amounts of pollen, while pollen and other solids are removed from filtered honey.

Replacing Sugar

If you are trying to get your diabetes under control and need to limit your intake of added sugar, consider using a sugar substitute such as stevia, xylitol, erythritol, monk fruit extract, or yacon syrup.

A Word From Verywell

Honey in moderation may be beneficial for people with diabetes, having a lower glycemic effect than white sugar. Nevertheless, if you have diabetes, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider before adding honey to your diet. If your diabetes is not well managed, it might be best to limit honey and other added sugars in your diet.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What’s the best natural sugar substitute for diabetics?

    Monk fruit extract and stevia, both made from plant sources, are low-glycemic sweeteners and good options for people with diabetes. Erythritol, a sugar alcohol made by fermentation, is also a good alternative to sugar.

  • Can people with diabetes use honey?

    Honey should be used in moderation by people with diabetes. Honey contains numerous benefits, including antioxidants, but it is still a high glycemic index food and carbohydrate. You need to carefully monitor how much you take in as part of an overall healthy diet. 

  • Can a mix of apple cider vinegar and honey help diabetes?

    There is some promising research showing that apple cider vinegar may help regulate blood sugar. Honey may also have a positive effect on blood sugar. Research showing how a mixture of these two can help with diabetes is extremely limited, though. Since honey is a high glycemic index food, you should use it in moderation if you have diabetes.

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Brittany Poulson, MDA, RDN, CD, CDCES
Brittany Poulson, MDA, RDN, CDCES, is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist.