Right now, an internet meme touting honey as helpful for people with type 2 diabetes is making the rounds. It’s popping up everywhere, from Facebook to spam emails. The pervasiveness of this meme could make you wonder—can you eat honey if you have diabetes?
The answer is pretty simple. Sure, you could eat honey. You could also eat pure sugar, but you’re probably not wondering if you should be doing that. So the question isn’t really can you eat honey but should you eat honey. And the answer to that question is even simpler: no. Here’s why.
Honey is basically pure sugar
For all it’s healthy reputation, honey is, for all practical purposes, pure sugar. Yes, honey contains tiny traces of micronutrients—but barely enough to register and certainly not enough to offset its blood sugar effects. And yes, raw honey has antimicrobial properties—but so do many other natural substances (such as essential oils) which don’t affect your blood sugar.
According to the American Honey board, a tablespoon of honey (21 grams) contains, on average:
- 64 calories, and
- 17.3 grams of carbohydrate
Of this, sixteen grams or more is pure sugar. On average, a tablespoon of honey contains:
• 8.1 grams of fructose
• 6.5 grams of glucose
• 1.5 grams of maltose
• And may contain very small amounts of other sugars
So of the 21 grams of honey in one tablespoon, 16 grams or more are pure sugar. The remainder is primarily water and, in raw honey, pollen.
Sugar by any other name is still sugar
Honey has more calories than sugar— 21 calories per teaspoon to table sugar’s 16 per teaspoon. It has a higher fructose-to-glucose ratio too —table sugar contains 50% of each. It does have a (very) slightly lower glycemic index, but this is primarily due to the higher fructose content. Honey also raises your insulin levels higher than table sugar, and some studies have found that honey causes your blood sugar to spike more rapidly than sugar.
If that doesn’t sound like a healthy thing for type 2 diabetics to eat, that’s because it isn’t. Honey is a concentrated carbohydrate in the form of not just sugar but high-fructose sugar, and you should treat it as such. Use honey like you would any other sugar—very, very sparingly. Better yet, start breaking your sugar addiction today and avoid honey (and table sugar) altogether.