Honey, the Glycemic Index and Diabetes -- What You Should Know
Why should you care about blood sugar? Blood sugar, or glucose, is the primary source of energy for your body. We get glucose from the foods we eat – primarily carbohydrates. Your digestive system breaks down carbs into sugar and starches, and then releases the glucose into your bloodstream. But this glucose cannot enter your cells all by itself. Your body needs insulin to process glucose. In simple terms, insulin is a hormone that tells the cells in your body to absorb glucose from your bloodstream. Your cells then burn this glucose to produce energy. When you are eating regularly and your organs are working properly, then your blood sugar levels remain mostly constant. A healthy person has neither too much blood sugar (hyperglycemia) nor too little blood sugar (hypoglycemia).
What is the Glycemic Index?
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a numeric system used to gauge how specific foods affect your blood sugar levels. This index assigns foods a value between 0 and 100. The higher the GI, the more that food will increase your blood sugar levels. Foods with a GI of 55 or less are classified as having a low glycemic index. A GI of 56 to 69 is considered to be medium on the index, and a number of 70 or higher is high on the glycemic index. Most vegetables have a low GI, ranging from 15 to 55 (although mashed potatoes are high at 73). Dairy products are also low (except for ice cream) and range from 14 to 36. Fruit are all over the place. Grapefruit have a GI of 25, but watermelon comes in at 72 and dates register at 100. Proteins are mostly in the low to middle range. Peanuts are 25 and black beans are 59. The foods that are generally the highest on the glycemic index are sweeteners and processed foods. White bread is at 100. Corn syrup has a GI of 90. A doughnut is around 76. A soda is 72 and refined white sugar is 68. Generally, processed foods that are high in carbohydrates will have a higher GI and therefore cause your blood sugar to rise the most. Chronic high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) is dangerous and can lead to heart disease, kidney disease, damage to nerves and blood vessels, and diabetes.
How does honey affect blood sugar?
Honey contains two primary sugars: fructose and glucose. Fructose has a lower GI (23) whereas glucose is very high (98), so the ratio of these two sugars in the specific honey is key. The glycemic index of different honey varieties is like fruit – it varies a lot. On average, honey has a glycemic index of 58. But acacia honey (also known as black locust honey) registers around 32, while tupelo honey can be as high at 74 on the glycemic index.
If honey has an average GI of 58 and white sugar is at 68, then it seems that both sweeteners will increase blood sugar about the same. But there is some research that indicates honey is metabolized differently than white sugar. In a 2004 study, subjects were given honey or sugar and blood sugar levels were recorded at 30, 60, 90 and 120 minutes. Researchers found that at 30 minutes, honey caused a higher spike in blood sugar, but this spike then subsided to lower that white sugar levels at 60, 90 and 120 minutes. One reason for this difference is that honey caused greater insulin production in the body as compared to white sugar. A 2007 study confirmed this finding that eating honey will result in lower blood sugar levels at 60 and 90 minutes as compared to eating sugar. Based on this and other research, Dr. Ron Fessenden believes that raw honey is an important functional food that delivers significant health benefits. He adds that the balance of the sugars in raw honey, plus other nutrients, make honey a very different sweetener as compared to table sugar and corn syrup.
Honey for diabetics. Diabetes is a disease that affects insulin production. Type 1 diabetics are unable to produce any insulin. Type 2 diabetics produce some insulin but their bodies can’t use it correctly. In both cases, people with diabetes cannot convert glucose into energy so insulin therapy is needed. Obviously, we cannot give out medical advice in an article written by a honey company. The FDA would not look upon us kindly if we did. But we can try to answer a few questions about honey for diabetics based on available research and based on what customers have told us. So here we go:
Is raw honey good for diabetics?
Honey is a sweetener, and as such, it will increase blood sugar levels. But many diabetic customers have told us that they are able to tolerate honey better than white sugar. This is especially true for honey varieties that have a lower glycemic index, such as acacia honey. So depending the on the specific variety, honey for diabetics (in moderation) may be a good option for adding a bit of sweetener to their diet.
Is raw honey better than white sugar?
We think so, because it has less of an impact on your blood sugar levels, it appears to increase insulin production, and there are a number of other health benefits of honey.
Can honey prevent diabetes?
Even though raw honey may offer better control over blood sugar levels, there is no research to support the conclusion that honey helps to prevent diabetes.
What type of honey is best? Always buy raw and unfiltered honey from a supplier you know and trust. It is an unfortunate situation, but sometimes honey is cut (“adulterated”) with sugar syrup or corn syrup. So ask questions before you buy, and stick with companies that sell only pure, raw and unfiltered honey. And if you have diabetes, be sure to follow the medical and diet advice of your physician.