Is Honey Good for People with Diabetes?

For those with a sweet tooth, honey could be a better option when keeping blood sugar down is a concern.

When it comes to which sugar alternatives are safe to consume for people with diabetes, honey can leave many of us scratching our heads. While this natural sweetener does raise blood sugar, it isn’t necessarily off limits. Here’s what to consider before you add a spoonful to your tea, drizzle it on toast or stir into recipes.

Is Honey Good for People with Diabetes?

It depends! While some recent studies suggest this sweetener may help manage blood sugar on its own, researchers warn that more investigation needs to be done before experts can recommend intentionally adding honey to the diet. In other words, if you’re not currently adding sweeteners to other foods, then there’s no need to start eating honey.

On the other hand, if you have a sweet tooth and wonder whether replacing white sugar with honey is a good idea, then go for it! As far as keeping blood sugar more stable, white sugar and honey contain similar amounts of simple carbohydrates and, thus, have similar impacts when it comes to making blood glucose rise. With that in mind, this switch won’t make a significant difference in keeping blood sugar down, but honey does have health benefits to help ward off other diabetes-related conditions. Also, find out if honey can help with seasonal allergies and if coffee is good for people with diabetes.

Honey Nutrition Facts

Compared to white sugar, honey contains slightly more blood sugar-rising carbohydrates (17 grams versus 13 grams per tablespoon); however, it also has a slightly lower glycemic index (58 versus 60). Honey is denser and, thus, contains more calories when compared tablespoon to tablespoon (60 vs 48 calories respectively).

The real difference can be found in the extra nutrient that all types of honey have to offer. Typical granulated sugar is a processed form of sugar cane that has been stripped of beneficial plant compounds during the refining process. Honey, on the other hand, is made from flower nectar and processed by bees, and whether it’s eaten raw or pasteurized, it has nutrients intact. For example, honey contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals such as potassium, calcium and iron, as well as cancer- and inflammation-fighting antioxidants, and seasonal allergy-fighting pollen. Find out if you can eat honeycomb.

3 Ways to Eat Honey If You Have Diabetes

Balance It with Nut Butter

Even though honey has more beneficial nutrients, that doesn’t mean it won’t raise blood sugar in a similar way. To dull rises, pair it with nut-based spreads such as peanut butter, almond butter or cashew butter. Nuts contain the perfect blood-stabilizing mix of protein, fat and fiber—all three of which take a longer time to digest than the simple carbohydrates in sugar. You can spread the nut butter on toast or apple slices, then drizzle honey on top. Or buy nut butters with no added sugar and stir in a teaspoon or two yourself to get sweetness as well as the added plant compounds.

Mix It into a Salad

Greens are a low-starch vegetable that have little to no impact on blood sugar, which makes them a great option for people with diabetes. However, they can be a bit bland unless rich and flavorful ingredients are added. Try topping salads with a creamy, fat-containing cheese (such as goat cheese) and then drizzle with honey. The fat in the cheese slows down absorption of the sugar in the honey, helping to dampen down any rises in blood sugar, making them a great complement to one another. If you’re putting out a cheese board, a drizzle of honey can liven up that platter without causing a major impact on blood glucose.

Dazzle Up Fish

Salmon is an excellent food for people with diabetes since it packs beneficial fatty acids that quell inflammation caused by high blood sugar. Dressing this low-in-carbohydrate food with a sauce sweetened with honey can make enjoying this high-protein (aka blood sugar flattening) entree even better for you.

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Amelia Sherry, MPH, RD, CDN, CDCES
Amelia Sherry, MPH, RD, CDCES, provides nutrition therapy via a New York-based private practice. She is also the founder of NourishHer, which supports mothers and daughters who want to have happy, healthy relationships with food and body. Amelia has written for publications including Reader's Digest, Family Circle, Fitness, SELF, Redbook, Latina, Today's Dietitian and Woman's World. She is also the author of 'Diet-Proof Your Daughter,' which you can find on Amazon.