We have been told that diabetics should not eat anything sweet, so is honey too forbidden? What are the effects of including honey in a diabetic diet? Are there any nutritional benefits of switching to honey from table sugar for diabetics? Unfortunately, there is no straight ‘Yes or No’ to these questions.
Before I try to unravel this diet dilemma and put forth my views on whether ‘to have or not to have’ honey, it’s imperative that we understand the disease diabetes and its management, honey as a natural sweetener and finally the effects of honey consumption on a diabetic patient.
Diabetes and Diet
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder wherein our pancreas either don’t produce insulin (a compound needed for glucose uptake by the cells) or produce in sub optimal levels; resulting in elevated blood glucose levels and related complications. Correct food choices and nutritional interventions are prime players in effective management of diabetes. However an important point to be noted here is that it is not the amount of sugar in diet which one needs to watch out for but the total carbohydrate intake in the diet. Besides table sugar and sweet foods like honey, corn syrup and desserts; carbohydrates are also present in cereals, starchy vegetables and fruits. The strategy for better blood sugar control would be to keep a track of our daily carbohydrate content (not necessarily the total sugar intake) and preferably restrict it to 45-60g per meal. Maintaining a food diary, listing the carbohydrate containing foods eaten and estimating the carbohydrate content and total calories of each of these foods using food tables and nutrition labels are thus recommended for diabetics.
Honey as a Natural Sweetener
Honey is undoubtedly a concentrated source of energy- 1 tbsp of honey contains approx 17g of carbohydrates and approx 65 calories. The sugars present in honey are predominantly glucose and fructose, both of which are simple sugars. Simple sugars are NOT a preferred type of carbohydrate for diabetes as they tend to get absorbed quickly and cause a rapid increase in blood glucose levels. But as honey is sweeter than sugar, we may end up using less of honey in our tea and coffee than table sugar. So the amount of total carb intake may remain almost same while using either as sweeteners.
There are however, a few pointers which show honey as a healthier alternative than table sugar-
• Pure honey is natural and less processed.
• Honey is shown to possess anti bacterial, anti inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
• Honey has a lower glycemic index of 55 indicating that it will require less insulin to be released and will not raise the blood glucose levels as quickly as sugar.
• Reports show positive effect of honey usage on wound healing and as a natural remedy for common cold, cough and digestive troubles.
• Depending on the purity and quality of honey, it may contain a range of minerals such as magnesium, calcium, iron and potassium and also vitamins like B1, B6 and C.
• Certain honey such as Manuka honey may work as a heart stimulant and exhibit medicinal qualities owing to its powerful antiseptic attributes.
Honey for Diabetes
A clinical trial was conducted on two groups of diabetics- the test group who were given oral honey for 8 weeks and control group who did not take honey. The effects of natural honey consumption on body weight and specific blood markers such as fasting blood sugar, total cholesterol, LDL- HDL ratio and triglycerides were investigated. The results demonstrated that “honey can provide beneficial effects on bodyweight and blood lipids of diabetic patients. However since an increase in the hemoglobin A (1C) levels was observed, cautious consumption of this food by diabetic patients is recommended”. Int J Food Sc Nut. 2009. Nov: 60 (7). This study clearly indicates that while honey may fare better in terms of its effect on body weight and lipid profile, it does not enjoy any great nutritional advantage for diabetics. Further research is needed to determine the amount and efficacy of honey as a treatment tool for diabetes management. Till then, whole grains, sprouted beans, fresh fruits and low fat curd will remain as my preferred choice of healthier carbohydrates for diabetics and non diabetics alike.
So, here is the take- home,
When it comes to diabetes, one needs to be picky about the type and amount of carbs eaten. Honey may be marginally better than table sugar on accounts of nutritional profile and health benefits. But it is still a very dense source of carbohydrate and calories. While it is safe to include honey in moderation in a diabetic diet, it is not to be mistaken as a healthy sugar for diabetics. If you prefer the natural sweetness of honey, then go ahead and include it in your beverages, cereals and salads but only in restricted quantities.
Written by Panchali Moitra, originally published in B Positive Magazine.