Can a fat person eat honey? Can diabetics eat honey? Isn’t the glycemic index too high?
Honey is sweet. Really sweet. Even sweeter than sugar. So how come there are people saying that they eat honey even if they have Type 2 Diabetes? All doctors say we should not consume sweet food if we have this condition, and of course, if we are overweight.
Yet, clinical studies and practice say it’s good.
The mystery lies in the type of the sugar. There are good sugar, bad sugar, and even toxic sugar. To understand this we will begin from the beginning. Food contains carbohydrates. There are all sorts of diets, with carbs, without carbs… Some people use something that works, others use something else and they work too. And some other people cannot find anything to work at all. Perhaps they miss the holistic approach and forget that food is not the only important thing in someone’s life. But that’s another story, in a different post.
What’s all the fuss with carbohydrates?
Scientists say: food contains carbohydrates. They can be simple or complex. The simple ones contain one or a few sugars, and the complex ones contain many many sugars. In order to digest and assimilate them, our body breaks all of them into simple sugars.
After we eat, our digestive system breaks down the carbohydrates, meaning that it turns them into simple sugars, (monosaccharide) so they can be absorbed into the bloodstream. The speed of them entering the blood, leads to a term called glycemic index (GI). When we eat food that contains lots of simple carbs, they don’t need to be digested anymore and enter the blood immediately. We say they have a high GI. When our digestive system takes more time to digest them and the sugars enter the blood slower, we say these are carbs with slow GI.
Very simplistically speaking, when we eat our pancreas releases a hormone called insulin, which turns the sugars into energy and fat. If we eat large quantities of food with fast GI, the pancreas has too much sugar to turn into energy, so it makes some storage and for this it turns the sugars into fat. When we eat food with slow GI, our body transforms the carbs in time, more in energy and less in fats.
So, what is the food with fast carbs, that spikes glucose and insulin production?
Many carbohydrates present in processed foods and drinks that we consume have a high GI. Even more, they leave our body hungry sooner than natural foods would, thus forcing us to eat more frequently. On the other hand, natural carbohydrates found in fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, etc. tend to enter the bloodstream more slowly. The scale of GI rates from Low GI (< 55), Medium GI (56-69) and High GI (70>). The Internet is full of lists with food’s GI.
What is honey’s glycemic index?
Honey contains, on average:
· fructose 38.2
· glucose 31.3
· sucrose 0.7
· other disaccharides 5 +
· other oligosaccharides 3.6 +
A total sugars amount of 79.7 g per 100 g honey.
But, fructose has a GI of 19, while sucrose (which is in a small quantity in honey) has a GI of 68, and glucose has a GI of 100 (the reference point).
As fructose is the main sugar in honeys, we can say that honeys with a high level of fructose (as this depends on the specific flower the honey is made of) have a lower GI.
Examples of high-fructose honey: acacia, tupelo, chestnut, thyme, calluna.
In Australia, the researchers made a study measuring GI and also glycemic load (GL).This is a term that takes into consideration the quantity of ingested food. It is calculated as the GI multiplied with the carbohydrate content in a certain portion, divided by 100. Values lower than 10 are low, 10 to 20 are intermediate and above 20 are considered high. As it can be seen from the table here, most of honeys have a low glycemic index, and some are intermediate.
What does diabetes mean? Can diabetics eat honey?
If blood glucose levels are rising too rapidly and too often the cells can eventually become faulty and not respond properly to insulin’s “absorb blood energy and store” instruction; over time they require a higher level of insulin to react → we call this INSULIN RESISTANCE.
Insulin resistance leads to hypertension (high blood pressure), high blood fat levels (triglycerides), low levels of good cholesterol (HDL), weight gain and other diseases. All these illnesses, together with insulin resistance, is called METABOLIC SYNDROME.
Metabolic syndrome leads to TYPE 2 DIABETES. (according to medicalnewstoday.com)
An ABSOLUTE LACK OF INSULIN leads to TYPE 1 DIABETES, which requires insulin shots.
Type 2 Diabetes
This type of diabetes is not dependent of insulin and is a metabolic disorder that is characterized by hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) in the context of INSULIN RESISTANCE and relative lack of insulin.The classic symptoms are excess thirst, frequent urination, and constant hunger. Type 2 diabetes represent about 90% of cases of diabetes. Obesity is thought to be the primary cause of type 2 diabetes in people who are genetically predisposed to the disease.
In the studies made, honey was well tolerated by type 2 diabetes and of unspecified type. High-fructose honeys and thus with a low GI, administrated in relatively high amounts: 70-90 g per day (3 -5 tablespoons) DID NOT create any problems to type 2 diabetics, and even had favorable effects on them.
Type 1 Diabetes
This type of diabetes depends on insulin and is an autoimmune disease. The classical symptoms of type 1 diabetes include: frequent urination, increased thirst, dry mouth, increased hunger, fatigue, and weight loss.
Honey seamed to be well tolerated by type 1 diabetics. In some studies, scientists noticed that it caused a higher c-peptide increase than with comparable amounts of sucrose or glucose. C-Peptide represent the mass of insulin increase in blood.
What is the explanation?
A tablespoon of honey consists of nearly the same carbohydrate (glucose – fructose) content as a medium-sized apple. The diabetic patient can be assured that consuming honey will produce a significantly lower blood sugar response than an equivalent amount of sugar or glucose rich starches.
Because after ingestion, honey is rapidly absorbed and converted into glycogen in the liver, thus removing glucose from the circulation and lowering blood sugar levels. (Liver converts fructose and glucose in a 1:1 ratio, into glycogen. Honey has exactly this ratio and this makes it perfect for immediate glycogen release. There is nothing left to raise the blood sugar.) Lowered blood sugar levels mean a lessened demand and release of insulin, thus accounting for a stabilization of blood sugar within the circulation.
The reason that honey consumption results in less insulin being produced and released from the pancreas may be related to compounds contained in honey that regulate the production of hepatic insulin sensitizing substance in the liver. Though this hypothesis remains to be confirmed in research, it is known by practice, that eating honey results in a lesser insulin release than what occurs following ingestion of sucrose or high fructose corn syrup.
Further reading: The New Honey Revolution: Restoring the Health of Future Generations
• On 18th November 2015 a study has been published by The Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Science. The study was conducted by Saiedeh Arabmoazzen et al., from the University of Medical Sciences, Ahvaz, Iran, and can be read on ResearchGate.net.
The article is named: Antidiabetic effect of honey feeding in noise induced hyperglycemic rat: Involvement of oxidative stress, and it proves the good effects honey has on hyperglicemia. It was done on male Wistar rats, which were devided into 4 gropus: control, hyperglycemic, honey treated control, and honey treated hyperglycemic groups.
For induction of hyperglycemia, noise stress was used (a serum glucose level higher than 250 mg/dl.).
They scientists measured serum glucose, triglyceride (TG), total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL), and high density lipoprotein (HDL)‐cholesterol levels. They also measured markers of oxidative stress in brain. The morphology of langerhans islets were evaluated using Gomori staining method.
The measurements were done at 4 and 8 weeks after the study.
“Oral administration of honey in experimental model of diabetes showed a significant hypoglycemic effect and led to appropriate changes in serum lipid profiles.”
“The results of the present study demonstrate that chronic noise stress increases fasting plasma glucose, lipid profile, and MDA levels and decreases SOD and body weight levels, and degenerates pancreas tissue; honey feeding ameliorates these parameters over 60 days.
The most interesting finding of this study is that pancreatic β cells from noise induced diabetic group fed with honey demonstrate an increased intensively compared to controls. However, this finding should be considered in future studies on the destructive effects of noise stress.”
• The beneficial effects of honey in the treatment of diabetes mellitus have been presented on Journal of Diabetes & Metabolic Disorders in a 2014 study by Omotayo O Erejuwa, Effect of honey in diabetes mellitus: matters arising. It concluded that “the beneficial effects of honey in diabetes might not only be limited to controlling glycemia but might also extend to improving the associated metabolic derangements in this complicated metabolic disorder.”
• Another study, Comparison of antioxidant effects of honey, glibenclamide, metformin, and their combinations in the kidneys of streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats, by Omotayo Owomofoyon Erejuwa et al, published on International Jourmal of Molecular Sciences, investigated the effect of consuming honey with one of two common diabetes drugs – metformin or glibenclamide. Diabetic rats (what would we, humans, do without them??) were randomized into six groups and administered distilled water, honey, glibenclamide, glibenclamide and honey, metformin or metformin and honey for four weeks.
Honey significantly increased insulin, decreased hyperglycemia and fructosamine. Alone, the two drugs significantly reduced hyperglycemia, but combined with honey they produced significantly much lower blood glucose. They also reduced the elevated levels of creatinine, bilirubin, triglycerides, and VLDL cholesterol.
• The study Honey and metformin ameliorated diabetes-induced damages in testes of rat; correlation with hormonal changes, by Ozra Nasrolahi et al., published by Iran J Reprod Med, on December 2013, indicated that indicated “that co-administration of Metformin and honey could inhibit the diabetes-induced damages in testicular tissue. Moreover, the simultaneous administration of metformin and honey up-regulated the diabetesreduced insulin, LH, FSH and testosterone levels.”
The number of studies are way too many to be listed here. A google search will reveal lots of them. However, they all say the same thing: honey is beneficial to diabetics.
How much honey should a diabetic eat?
Adults (for an average weight of 170 pounds / 77 kg):
Generally, three to five tablespoons of honey a day is sufficient. They can be taken like this:
– in the morning: 1 tablespoon of honey with fruit or yogurt. This will immediately begin to stock the liver glycogen reserve that has been depleted throughout the night.
– at bedtime: 1 or 2 tablespoons This will help to “top off” the tank that fuels the brain during the night and prevent the release of cortisol and adrenalin from the adrenal glands.
– during the day:
– if you are an active person, take another 1 or 2 tablespoons with fruit snacks, in baked goods, or as used in cooking.
– if you are sedentary, you don’t need more honey.
If you calculate your calories intake, you should know that honey contains about 60 calories per tablespoon. The percentage of your total caloric requirements provided from simple sugars should not exceed 10%. Thus, the 180 to 300 calories a day provided from honey is sufficient.
The dosage depends on child’s weight and activity level.
– for 33 pounds (15 kg) a child should take 1 tablespoon per day, divided in 1 teaspoon in the morning and 1 teaspoon at bedtime.
– for 66 pounds (30 kg) a child should have 2 tablespoons per day (1 in the morning, 1 at bedtime).
Not all honeys are good for diabetics!
Don’t eat Manuka honey! Or its cousin Berringa honey!
There are some honeys which contain excessively high levels of a compound called methylglyoxal (MGO), such as Manuka honey.
Read more about its toxicity here: Is manuka honey safe to eat?
While this honey is incredible good as it has a non-peroxide antibiotic activity due to this MGO, we should not forget that MGO is highly toxic to the cells within the human body. Thus rapid detoxification is necessary and the process of detoxification results in a significant negative side effect.
There are researches findings published in 2006 indicating that MGO is also associated with the early phases of insulin resistance. Even short exposures to MGO can lead to an inhibition of insulin-induced signaling.
Many other honey varieties may contain some MGO, especially honeys that have been heated.
Some European countries test honey specifically for MGO and ban honey imports with higher levels of MGO. Compared to other honeys, levels of MGO in Manuka honeys are up to 1,000 times higher. The amount of MGO is small or absent in most honey varietals. (According to recent research, manuka honey may be safely used as a topical agent for treating superficial skin infections, wounds and burns.)
Among high-fructose honeys, with low GI: acacia, tupelo, chestnut, thyme, calluna. See here a more detailed list.
And if you are still not convinced about the efficiency of honey in diabetes, you can combine it with real cinnamon, as it is known to control glucose levels in blood.
Or, any other raw honey that you can find, and mentions it is raw. And, of course, as fresh as possible! 🙂
It’s not only about diet!
There are four equally important things in our lives that together make our life-style.
1. Good sleep (at least 7 hours of sleep per night!)
2. Regular exercise (walk, run, dust, whatever! Only don’t play dead.)
4. Attitude, thoughts, feelings.
We are all these together.
References and picture credits:
– Stefan Bogdanov, Bee Product Science, Feb 2014, www.bee-hexagon.net
– Ron Fessenden, MD, MPH, “The new Honey RevolutionRewstoring the Health of Future Generations”, May 2014
– P Shambaugh, “Differential Effects of Honey, Sucrose and Fructose on Blood Sugar Levels”, 1990
– M Abdulrhman, “Metabolic Effects of Honey in Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus: a Randomized Crossover Pilot Study.” Journal Medical Food, Jan 2013
– M Abdulrhman, “Effects of Honey, Sucrose and Glucose on Blood Glucose and C-peptide in Patients with Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus” Feb 2013
– M Brownlee, “The Pathophysiology of Diabetic Complications: a Unifying Mechanism”, 2005
– Al-Waili, “Natural honey lowers plasma glucose, C-reactive protein, homocysteine, and blood lipids in healthy, diabetic and hyperlipidemic subjects: Comparison with dextrose and sucrose” Journal of Medical Food, 2004
– Arabmoazzen S, Sarkaki A, Saki Gh, Mirshekar MA. Antidiabetic effect of honey feeding in noise induced hyperglycemic rat: involvement of oxidative stress. Iran J Basic Med Sci 2015; 18:745‐751.
fridge picture credit: Nick via flickr.com,
honey bear picture credit: Boians Cho Joo Young, via Free Digital Photos;
‘hundred percent quality’ picture credit Stuart Miles, via Free Digital Photos;
‘figure with green check mark’ picture credit Master isolated images, via Free Digital Photos;
‘red ripe apple’ picture credit SOMMAI,via FreeDigitalPhotos.net;
‘sun flower’ picture credit jacky1970, via FreeDigitalPhotos.net;
‘bee movie’ picture from wolcartoon.com