Honey for Diabetes? Yes!

by Dr. Ron Fessenden, MD, MPH

There have been countless times in the past couple of years during some occasion in which I have been speaking about the health benefits of honey when someone soundly objects, “Oh, I can’t eat honey. I have diabetes. My doctor has told me to avoid all sweets.” Such, unfortunately, is the state of knowledge about honey among the general public and among most health professionals. The conventional wisdom is that honey and diabetes don’t go together.

Rather than arming patients with facts to refute the apparent ignorance of their health care professional – a tactic bound to fail – a better strategy is suggested. Diabetic patients should simply ask their doctor if fruits are permitted in their diets. Since the question is a bit rhetorical, they can have confidence in knowing that honey is permitted. A tablespoon of honey consists of nearly the same carbohydrate content as a cupful of quartered raw apple. The diabetic patient can also be assured that consuming honey will produce a significantly lower blood sugar response than an equivalent amount of sugar or other glucose rich starches.

When consumed regularly over several weeks or months, honey will lower blood sugar and HbA1c levels. Glycosylated (or glycated) hemoglobin, or HbA1c as it is commonly known, is a marker used by physicians to identify the average plasma glucose (blood sugar) concentration over prolonged periods of time. The measurement will be proportional to the average blood glucose concentration during a period of time typically considered to be one to three months prior to the measurement. Research studies using humans have shown that honey consumption will result in lower blood sugar levels by as much 60 to 100 mg/dl at 60 and 90 minutes following ingestion of a comparable amount of sucrose. Therefore it is not surprising that the HbA1c levels will be lower by as much as 2 to 4%. This dietary change alone would mandate tremendous differences in the treatment recommendation guidelines followed by most physicians. It would no doubt result in much less medicine being prescribed.

In fact, the more advanced one’s glucose intolerance, or in other words the worse their diabetic condition, the greater the positive impact on blood sugar levels from ingesting honey. Logic would dictate that the addition of honey to the diet, along with the elimination of most sugar and HFCS should be the first recommended treatment of choice for Type 2 Diabetes.

It may surprise most Americans to learn that in many countries around the world that is, in fact, the case. How can this be so and what makes honey so tolerable for those with conditions marked by glucose intolerance? The answer is really quite simple. The balance of sugars and the presence of multiple co-factors in honey serve to make this natural food quite different than table sugar, HFCS or other artificial sweeteners. Honey is an intelligent food, an informed food, a miraculous natural substance!

The physiologic mechanisms responsible for this unique response of the body to honey versus other sugars, HFCS or other starches are not completely understood. We do know that honey is directly converted to liver glycogen and does not raise blood sugar levels as does sucrose or HFCS even though it contains the same simple sugars. This fact alone is indication enough to recommend honey for diabetics.

How much honey is enough? Generally, three to five tablespoons of honey a day is sufficient. A good regimen to follow is to consume a tablespoon or two of honey in the morning with fruit or yogurt (diabetics should avoid “low-fat” yogurt as it contains HFCS) or cereal. Another tablespoon should be consumed at bedtime to insure restorative sleep. In between, another one or two tablespoons can be ingested with fruit snacks, in baked goods, or as used in cooking. In addition, honey is an excellent fuel when eaten twenty to thirty minutes prior to exercise.

Honey contains about 60 Calories per tablespoon. Generally, the percentage of ones total caloric requirements provided from simple sugars should not exceed 10%. Thus, the 180 to 300 calories a day provided from honey is sufficient, unless excessive energy demands allow for additional consumption.

Dr. David Baer, from the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center stated at the First International Symposium on Honey and Human Health in January 2008, “Experimental evidence suggests that consumption of honey compared to other sweeteners may improve blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity.” Honey is indeed the sweetener of choice for diabetics.

About by Dr. Ron Fessenden, MD, MPH

Dr. Fessenden is retired from active medical practice and spends most of his time researching and writing about honey and health. He is the co-chairman for the Committee for the Promotion of Honey and Health in America, a non-profit organization devoted to educating the consumer with regard to the healthful benefits of honey and promoting the honey and health message based on good science.

The above article is excerpted from The Honey Revolution – Restoring the Health of Future Generations, Ron Fessenden, MD, MPH and Mike McInnes, MRPS, WorldClassEmprise, Inc, December 2008 with permission.