Can Diabetics Eat Honey? Pros & Cons of the Natural Sweetener

by Ella

Living with diabetes requires a certain amount of mindfulness about how and what you eat. That’s because diabetes is an energy-processing problem. In other words, your body isn’t able to efficiently use and store the energy (also called glucose, or sugar) it gets from food. As a result, your blood sugar levels can rise very high and drop very low — neither of which is good for your health.

These highs and lows can make you feel unwell, and they can cause long-term damage to your body. This is why it’s necessary to limit the amount of carbohydrates you consume — especially sugar and fast-release carbohydrates.


But what if you enjoy a little sweetness in your life? Can honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, or even sugar-free honey provide a healthy alternative to table sugar, or refined sugar?


The Composition and Glycemic Index of Honey

Honey is a complex mixture of sugars, water, and various organic compounds. It primarily contains fructose and glucose, with smaller amounts of maltose, sucrose, and other sugars. The unique combination of sugars, along with enzymes and antioxidants, gives honey its distinct flavor and health-promoting properties.


The glycemic index (GI) is a scale that measures how quickly carbohydrates in foods raise blood sugar levels. Foods with a high GI are rapidly absorbed, causing a sharp increase in blood glucose, while those with a low GI lead to a slower, more gradual increase. Honey has a moderately high GI, typically ranging from 45 to 75, depending on the floral source and processing.


Is honey OK to eat if you have diabetes?

Generally speaking, yes, it’s OK to eat honey if you have diabetes. But you should consume it in moderation.

Although honey has a lower glycemic index (GI) than table sugar, it still contains sugar. And any type of sugar will raise your blood glucose levels.

Benefits of honey

There are some unique benefits to using honey as a sweetener, though:

The type of carbohydrates (fructose and glucose) in honey are easier for the body to digest than table sugar.

The balance of fructose and glucose in honey means that it has less of an impact on raising blood glucose levels.

Honey is a great fast-acting carbohydrate source that can be used to treat low blood glucose if needed.

Honey has a deeper, sweeter taste than table sugar. Because of this, you’ll probably use less of it when cooking or baking.

Honey contains trace amounts of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals which may have some health benefits.

That said, there is no nutritional advantage to adding honey to your diet. So, if you don’t already use it, there’s no reason to start. You can get similar health benefits from other foods — without the sugar.

Are certain types of honey — like raw honey — healthier than others?

While there are a variety of honey types and flavors, the ingredients are the same, generally-speaking. What mostly sets different honeys apart is the nectar source and the way the honey has been processed.

Typically, honey consists of:

About 30% to 45% fructose

About 24% to 40% glucose

About 0.1% to 5% sucrose


Trace amounts of vitamins and minerals

The higher the fructose content of honey, the lower its GI. That means that honey with a higher fructose content will raise your blood glucose levels less than a low-fructose honey. Beyond that, there isn’t evidence that certain types of honeys have significant health benefits over others.

If you’re confused about the different types of honey, here’s what you need to know:

Pure, raw, or unfiltered honey: This type of honey is unprocessed and unpasteurized.

Clear honey: This is similar to raw honey, but it’s been pasteurized. That means that it’s been heated to a high temperature for a short period of time to kill potential bacteria.

Set honey: This crystallized, dripless honey starts as a liquid but sets over time.

Organic honey: This type of honey comes from flowers that aren’t contaminated with pesticides or chemicals. Any honey can be organic or nonorganic.

Manuka honey: This type of honey is made from bees that pollinate tea trees in Australia and New Zealand. Manuka honey is favored for its reported antibacterial properties.

While the type of honey you use primarily comes down to your personal taste and preference, there is one exception. Some honeys are mixed with added sugar syrups, like high-fructose corn syrup or corn syrup, making them the least healthy options. These honeys have a higher GI than pure honey. So be sure to check the labeling carefully; honey and syrup blends should be clearly labeled as such, according to the FDA.

Does raw honey raise blood sugar?

Whether honey is raw or not makes no difference in how much it raises blood sugar. All real honey raises blood glucose levels, unless it’s labeled “sugar-free.”

The average GI of honey is about 50. But there is some variation between types of honey, depending on the source of the honey. For example, acacia honey typically has the lowest GI, at 32.

How does honey differ from table sugar?

Although honey is a natural product, it is still considered an added sugar when it’s included in packaged foods — just like table sugar. But there are a few important differences in its carbohydrate content and how it affects blood glucose levels compared to table sugar.

For one, honey actually has slightly more carbohydrates than table sugar, or refined sugar. This breaks down as:

1 tablespoon of table sugar contains 12 carbohydrates and about 46 calories.

1 tablespoon of honey contains 17 carbohydrates and about 64 calories.

But, honey has a lower GI than table sugar. That’s because of the balance of carbohydrates in honey. Fructose has a lower GI than glucose or sucrose, and honey has a high percentage of fructose. This means that it does not raise blood glucose levels as fast as table sugar, which is mostly sucrose.

Is sugar-free honey OK to eat if you have diabetes?

Sugar-free honey is not really honey at all; it is an imitation, processed sweetener. The specific ingredients depend on the manufacturer, but the sugar alcohols maltitol and xylitol are common sweeteners. Because of this, sugar-free honey has a smaller impact on your blood glucose levels.

You should always check the Nutrition Facts label on sugar-free honey. “Sugar-free” does not necessarily mean carb-free, although it likely means there are less carbs than regular honey.

How do other sweeteners compare to honey?

If you have diabetes, the main consideration when comparing different sweeteners is how quickly they raise blood glucose levels. You can determine this by checking the GI of different sweeteners.

GI doesn’t only apply to sweeteners. You can calculate the GI of fruits, vegetables, grains, other whole foods, and processed foods. Basically, anything that contains a carbohydrate has a GI.

Low-GI foods — meaning, a GI of 1 to 55 — contain carbs that raise glucose levels the slowest and the least. Medium-GI foods have a GI of 56 to 69 and are in the middle of the pack. And high-GI foods, those with a GI of 70 and above, raise blood glucose the fastest and the highest.

When it comes to sweeteners, those with a low-to-medium GI are considered to be the healthiest for people living with prediabetes or diabetes. In practice, that means avoiding highly refined products like table sugar, corn syrup, and brown sugar, in favor of small amounts of more natural sweeteners, like molasses, honey, maple syrup, and agave.

What is the best sugar substitute for people living with diabetes?

If you have diabetes, the best sugar substitute for you depends on your individual health situation and how you’re using it. For example, the type of sweetener you use for cooking, baking, or making a drink may be different. But, in general, less is always more.

Keep in mind that what matters more than an individual food’s GI is the combined GI of the whole plate (or meal). For example, if you bake a low-GI dessert, but you eat it with ice cream, that’s still a high-GI dish.

Read more: Can Diabetics Eat Ice Cream? [Revealed!]

Does sugar-free make a product “diabetes-friendly”?

A sugar-free product is not necessarily carbohydrate-free. But sugar-free products are usually low in carbohydrates and should have less of an effect on your blood glucose levels.

But a note of caution about “no-sugar-added” products: These items are not sugar-free or carb-free. These foods often contain naturally occurring sugars or carbohydrates, and can still affect blood glucose levels.

Get used to looking at Nutrition Facts labels. These labels display the total carbohydrate value of foods to help you know exactly what you’re consuming.

How much sugar is safe for a person with Type 2 diabetes to eat?

In general, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends consuming no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar every day for men and no more than 6 teaspoons for women.

And added sugar is only part of the picture for people living with diabetes. All carbohydrates, not just sugar, can affect blood glucose levels. This is because carbohydrates break down into sugar (glucose) as they are digested.


Honey is a natural sweetener with a unique composition and potential health benefits. While it offers certain advantages over other sweeteners, its impact on blood glucose levels remains a concern for individuals with diabetes. Moderation, portion control, and personalized dietary planning are essential to safely incorporate honey into a diabetic meal plan. As research in this field continues to evolve, individuals with diabetes should stay informed and work with healthcare professionals to make informed decisions about honey consumption.



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