Honey and Diabetes: Dipping into 3 Sweet Truths

People with diabetes have often been told that they need to limit the amount of added sugar in your diet. But what about honey and diabetes? Does it affect your blood glucose levels in the same way?

Is Honey a Better Choice than Sugar in Diabetes?

Honey is often considered a healthier sweetener when compared to white sugar. This is because of its touted health properties. It is suggested to have applications in wound management because of its antiseptic and moisture-preserving properties and is even recommended as a soothing natural cough remedy.

Within the nutritional realm, while white sugar is nearly lacking in beneficial nutrients, honey has marginally more nutrients, including antioxidants. It contains small amounts of vitamins – including vitamin C and folate – and minerals such as magnesium.

Does it mean honey and diabetes are a better mix than sugar?

Not exactly.

1. Honey contains just as much carbohydrates as granulated sugar

Although honey is perceived to be more natural and less processed, it still contains about the same amount of carbohydrates as any other type of nutritive sweeteners.

Image by: Paul Lachine

A teaspoon of honey has 5.8g of carbohydrates. White granulated sugar and brown sugar have 4.8g and 4.5g of carbohydrates per teaspoon respectively.

These amounts may appear small but can add up quickly depending on the amount you use. Remember, it is the total amount of carbohydrates that is most important when it comes to managing your blood glucose levels.

2. It contains a little more calories than granulated sugar for the same spoon

Honey is made up of around 75% sugars, the rest of honey is water and trace amounts of protein. Depending on the source of the nectar, its composition is roughly half glucose and half fructose. On the other hand, sugar is 100% sucrose. This means that when compared weight for weight, honey has fewer ‘sugars’ or calories than granulated sugar.

However, few of us eat it by weight and we are more likely to use a teaspoon or tablespoon. By measure, since honey is denser, one teaspoon will contain 21 calories and one teaspoon of sugar 16 calories. Therefore, if you were substituting a teaspoon of honey for sugar, you will be consuming more calories.

3. It is OK to include a bit in your meal plan!

Although honey has more carbohydrates and calories than granulated sugar, it does not mean it is off-limits as an alternative sweetener. You can substitute small amounts of sweets for other carbohydrate-containing foods into your meal plan and still keep your blood glucose levels on track. Alternatively, you can include it into your meal plan by saving them for a special occasion, like as a topping on a wholegrain pancake on the weekend with family. When used sparingly, honey and diabetes can mix. It can enhance the taste of other high-fibre foods like rolled oats or wholegrain bread.

The Bottom Line for Honey and Diabetes

Honey – once described as ‘nectar of the gods’ – is often considered a natural, healthier sweetener than sugar, but nutritionally its true advantages are minor. It must be treated as a form of ‘sugar’ like other syrups such as maple syrup, agave, and molasses. If you have diabetes, honey can fit into your daily carbohydrate budget without impairing blood glucose control. The key, as with so many things, is moderation.