Honey And Diabetes
Most diabetics follow a strict diabetic diet in which the amount of sugar taken in is well controlled and protein levels are high. Many diabetics wonder if honey, which is naturally sweetened, has any benefit on diabetes or if, perhaps, the use of honey should be curtailed in diabetic patients.
Type 1 diabetes involves the production of autoantibodies that act against pancreatic cells that normally produce insulin. This deficiency in the pancreatic function results in low insulin levels. In type 2 diabetics, the pancreas may be functioning normally but the insulin produced isn’t used well and metabolism suffers. Rather than using glucose for fuel, the glucose passes through the kidneys and blood sugar will show up in a urinalysis.
Common symptoms of diabetes include significant hunger or thirst, increased frequency of urination, tiredness, weight loss, an increase in infections, and numbness of the extremities. These symptoms occur whether a person has type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes, although the symptoms tend to come on more suddenly and will be more severe than is seen in type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetics tend to be overweight and, while they have insulin to put glucose into the cells, the insulin isn’t produced properly so the cells are starved of nutrition and the blood sugar stays in the bloodstream. Glucose is then converted into cholesterol and fat, increasing the diabetic’s weight and resulting in possible heart disease and other diabetic complications.
Type 1 diabetes is generally treated with insulin, while type 2 diabetics generally take pills or injections that help their existing insulin work better. Both types of diabetics make use of diet, exercise, and weight loss in order to keep blood sugar levels under control.
About ninety-nine percent of the time, your doctor will say that you can’t eat honey if you are a diabetic. Research, however, is pointing to the fact that small amounts of honey can actually be beneficial to people with diabetes or those who have prediabetes (who have high blood sugar levels but not so high that they have diabetic levels of blood sugar).
Before using honey as part of your diabetic meal planning, you need to know how much honey you can take in each day. Every diabetic patient is unique and you need to know how your body responds to foods that are high in carbohydrates, including honey. The total amount of carbohydrates you eat per day should be taken into account and not just the amount of sugar you eat.
Honey is considered a carbohydrate, similar to the carbohydrates you take in when you eat foods like potatoes, rice, and bread. Honey contains about 17 grams of carbohydrate per tablespoon so you need to add this to your total carbohydrate count when counting carbs you eat each day. It is no different than counting the carbohydrates in other types of sweeteners and other foods.
In order to see the effect honey has on your body, you need to take a tablespoon of honey after checking a blood sugar level and then use your glucometer to check the blood sugar level two hours after consuming the honey.
If you are buying store-bought honey specifically made for diabetic patients, make sure that the honey is completely pure and that it doesn’t contain adulterants such as starch, malt, glucose, or cane sugar, which are not recommended as part of a diabetic diet.
It seems counterintuitive to add honey to your diet because of the amount of sugar in just a tablespoon of honey. Research, however, tells us differently and indicates that honey is actually far preferable to taking a tablespoon of table sugar or even using non-nutritive sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, and Splenda.
According to the available research, honey does not need as much insulin to process it when compared to regular table sugar and doesn’t increase the glucose levels as great as is seen when you take in sugar. It has a lower glycemic index when compared to sugar, which means that it doesn’t raise the blood sugars as fast as is seen in sugar consumption.
While honey has a lot of sugar in it, it contains mostly glucose and fructose, which are sugars that are absorbed differently and at different rates into the bloodstream. Research tells us that the greater a person’s glucose intolerance is, the lower is the blood sugar response after eating honey when compared to the blood sugar values seen after eating sucrose (table sugar) or glucose. Honey seems to regulate blood sugar levels rather than markedly increase blood sugar levels.
Honey contains a one to one ratio of glucose and fructose, which helps glucose to go into the liver to make glycogen and prevents the blood sugar level from being so high. This effect of honey is unique to honey and isn’t found in other sources of natural sugar.
Honey also contains fructose, which is a different type of monosaccharide. It is often recommended to diabetics as a substitute for sucrose because it has a lower glycemic index when compared to sugar. The biggest problem with fructose, however, is that it is absorbed differently when compared to other types of sugar. It isn’t used for cellular metabolism and instead is stored inside liver cells as triglycerides.
The use of fructose in honey puts an undue burden on the liver and can lead to liver problems, obesity, and diabetic complications. Diabetics who use products like NutraSweet and other sweeteners may cause more harm than good and this can be more harmful to the body than regular table sugar, especially when taken in on a long term basis.
One study was done to see whether or not natural honey had an adverse effect on the body weight and blood sugars in diabetic patients. The study involved 48 diabetic patients who had type 2 diabetes. The participants were divided into groups. One group received natural honey for eight weeks, while the control group didn’t eat any honey.
Fasting blood sugars were taken before the study started and after the eight weeks were over with. The end result was that there was no difference in the fasting blood glucose levels between the two groups after the study was completed. The honey group had lower body weights, lower cholesterol levels of LDL cholesterol, and higher HDL (good) cholesterol levels. On the downside, the hemoglobin A1c increased in the honey group but not in the control group.
The researchers concluded that, while honey was beneficial in some ways when consumed by diabetics but, because the hemoglobin A1c level increased so much, honey should be used cautiously in diabetic patients.
- Is honey allowed in a diabetic diet? http://www.benefits-of-honey.com/diabetic-diet.html. Accessed 5/17/16.
- Bahrami M, et. al. Effects of natural honey consumption in diabetic patients: an 8-week randomized clinical trial. Int J Food SciNutr. 2009 Nov;60(7): 618-26.