Honey has been used in medicinal practices for thousands of years. Although, during most of that time, people only knew instinctively of its health advantages. They’d eat it straight from the comb or slather it on war wounds without using the words antimicrobial or probiotics. Now, however, with the help of modern scientific methods, these medicinal benefits are explicitly known—some of which are coming to light for diabetics.
Honey is made up of mostly simple sugars, which is why the golden nectar is so sweet. But when you eat honeycomb, you’re also eating bits of bee pollen, propolis, and royal jelly, each coming with its own nutrient makeup. Honey is also said to be low-glycemic, meaning it won’t spike blood sugar levels as sharply as regular white sugar, making it a better sugar alternative.
Although, this doesn’t mean that people with diabetes can go forth with an unabated sweet tooth. Before digging in, let’s break down the link between honey and diabetes, and how it could be used as an alternative to sugar consumption.
Three Reasons Why Honeycomb is Better Than Sugar
People with diabetes have to carefully monitor their blood glucose levels. As they eat carbohydrates (simple or complex), the body breaks them down into simple sugars, or glucose. Glucose is the primary energy source in a person’s body. Once the glucose is in the blood, insulin helps the cells absorb the glucose directly from the bloodstream. Type 1 diabetes is a condition where the body can’t make enough insulin; type 2 diabetes is when the body doesn’t respond properly to insulin.
Thus, why reducing the blood glucose levels matters for diabetics, and why reducing the intake of sugary foods is important. But not all sugary foods are treated the same in the body. Honeycomb and granulated white sugar both have similar effects on foods and the body, but one is much healthier.
To determine why honeycomb is better than sugar, there are three things you need to understand:
- Honey is sweeter than sugar
- The beneficial components within honeycomb
- Honey’s effect on insulin resistance
Honey vs Sugar: Battle of Sweetness
Although a subjective marker of taste, most people consider honey to be far sweeter than sugar. In fact, before the agricultural means of mass-producing sugar became available, all there was to sweeten food was honey. Ancient Greece was the first known beekeepers to understand the cultivation of the sweet nectar, and they have the cookbooks to prove it.
What do the Greeks have to teach us today? That if you want to add something sweet to your favorite salad, sandwich, or dessert, you don’t have to use much of a honeycomb. In fact, you can use a lot less than you would cane sugar. This is a major factor for diabetics. If by choosing honey you can cut the sugar intake by half, that’s a significantly less glucose intake you have to be worried about, and less insulin you have to inject as a response.
To be clear, it’s not just because honey is a more concentrated form of sugar—although honey is primarily simple sugars. Broken down, here is the gram for gram of what’s in honey versus sugar.
One tablespoon of honey contains:
- 17.3g sugar
- 3.6g water
- 11mg potassium
- 1mg calcium
- 1mg sodium
- Trace amounts of zinc, vitamin C, and B vitamins
While sugar, on the other hand, contains nothing but itself.
Whereas sugar’s main job is to make something taste sweet, honey has a wide range of compounds within it that offer more than just a sweetener. To understand the added benefits, here are some components within honeycomb:
- Honey polyphenols – Polyphenol is a generic term for plant-based antioxidants. These antioxidants, like the ones found in honey, are beneficial to a number of diseases including CVD, neurodegenerative disease, and diabetes.
- B-vitamins – Vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B8, and B9 are all found in pollen and royal jelly, which is a source of food for adult queen bees and their larvae. Pollen and royal jelly are only found in raw honey packed between the honeycombs themselves. Pasteurized honey (as seen on store shelves) are often devoid of these benefits.
- Amino acids and digestive enzymes – Packed within the honey itself are amino acids and digestive enzymes that help to digest the sugars slower. This keeps the blood glucose levels from spiking as sharply.
- Fiber and vitamin A – Also included in honeycomb is the actual beeswax that makes up the hexagons. While very low in nutrients, it does come with trace amounts of fiber and vitamin A.
Pasteurization vs Raw Honey
At this point, it’s important to understand why only raw honey provides these benefits. Pasteurization involves a filtering and heating process that leaves just the honey behind. It doesn’t leave the amino acids and digestive enzymes, as those are cooked away in the heating process. That’s why if you’re going to use honey for diabetes, always go with raw, natural honeycomb.
Insulin Resistance and Honeycomb
As a final benefit of honey, there have been studies on beeswax’s effect on insulin resistance. A group of individuals with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (which is closely linked to insulin resistance) was offered beeswax alcohols as a method of reducing insulin resistance. The extracts reduced insulin levels by 37%.
Honey and Diabetes
Everybody has a sweet tooth. Whether it’s when that one cookie turns into three, or when the ice cream section in the grocery store gets some extra lovin’, sometimes we just can’t resist. And for people with diabetes, it’s no different. For this reason, finding a sugar alternative allows everybody to have their cake and eat it too. And what better “cake” than what the ancient Greeks called the nectar of the gods.
Med BC. Honey Dressing for Burns – An Appraisal. http://www.medbc.com/annals/review/vol_9/num_1/text/vol9n1p33.htm
NCBI. Beneficial roles of honey polyphenols against some human degenerative diseases: A review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29128800
The Journal of Nutrition. The B Vitamins in Honey. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article-abstract/26/3/241/4726305?redirectedFrom=fulltext
NCBI. Effects of D-002, a mixture of high molecular weight beeswax alcohols, on patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3712152/