In Nigeria, Many diabetics and non-diabetics alike use honey as a sweetener to their tea, coffee, pap or even when baking as an alternative to table sugar. Of course, diabetics would and for obvious reasons should be concerned about its effect on their blood sugar because people living with diabetes have to keep in check, control and manage their sugar intake.
Before we address the issue of whether or not those living with diabetes should take honey, it is important to first Xray honey and its natural make up, and then we can determine if diabetics should actually take honey.
What is honey?
Honey is a thick golden-colored liquid produced by honey bees and other insects. It comes from the nectar that is found within flowers which these bees collect, store and release in the hive. Nectar on the other hand is made up of sucrose (a kind of sugar), water and other substances. In order to produce the liquid gold called honey, the bees ingest and regurgitate the nectar over and over again, thereby removing the water. Later, the bees store the honey in honey combs to be used as a source of energy during winter when it is more difficult for them to find food. The honey combs are often gathered by humans through the practice of bee keeping.
Types of honey
There are many types of honey. Although having a fair knowledge of the types of honey in Nigeria is not bad, because the nutrition profile of honey may sometimes vary with the type, you should not bother much about committing to memory the various types. But for the purposes of this article, I would mention a few types though most of them are of foreign origin. In Nigeria here, we are yet to really identify them with English expressions so the names are local according to dialect eg Nsukka Honey, Mbaise Honey, Abakiliki Honey etc. But note that simply going for Nsukka Honey OR Mbaise Honey does not guarantee the purity or if you like originality of the Honey. This is generally determined by the process explored in expressing the honey from the hive and handling thereafter. But as you know, this write up is not on how to identify pure honey but is centered on whether those living with Diabetes should use Honey as a sweetener. So let us go ahead and outline some types as mentioned:
- Clover honey
- Orange blossom honey
- Sourwood honey
- Manuka honey
- Acacia honey
- Wildflower honey
- Tupelo honey etc
How much calories does honey contain
Although the nutrition profile of honey varies depending on type, One tablespoon of honey typically contains about 60 calories and 17 grams of carbohydrates. This is a bit more than a teaspoon of table sugar would have. So you can see it is high in calories. Comparatively, a tablespoon of sugar contains 12.6g of carbohydrate and 48 calories.
What nutrients does honey contain?
In addition to sucrose, honey also contains many vitamins and minerals including iron, vitamin c, folate,magnesium, calcium and potassium. It is also high in anti-oxidants such as phenolic acids and flavonoids, this means that eating honey may increase the anti-oxidant status of your blood.
What is the glycemic index of honey?
Glycemic index simply means the rate at which a food raises the blood glucose level after consumption. The glycemic index of honey is 58 while that of table sugar is 65. Both honey and table sugar are classified as medium glycemic index food.
Although honey does not raise blood sugar as quickly as table sugar, the difference is not much and therefore, honey should not be used as a replacement for sugar in your foods.
So, what is the effect of honey on blood sugar?
Because honey is a natural sugar and a carbohydrate as well, it is only natural and logical for it to affect blood sugar although not as table sugar would. A study published in the journal of medicinal food in the year 2004 evaluated the effects of honey and table sugar on blood sugar levels. Those used for the study were individuals with and without type 1 diabetes. Researchers found out that unlike table sugar, honey may cause an increase in insulin, which is an important hormone for controlling blood sugar.
Is the consumption of honey beneficial for those living with Diabetes?
As already briefly highlighted from the study carried out some years ago, one benefit of eating honey is that it has the capacity to increase your insulin level which in turn would help to regulate your blood sugar. Also, since honey has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties it may also be beneficial for you. This is because, a diet rich in anti-oxidants can have a dramatic effect and ultimately improve how your body metabolizes sugar. Similarly, the anti-inflammatory properties in honey can reduce diabetes complications. And as you may already be aware, inflammation can lead to insulin resistance, which simply means the body not responding properly to insulin.
Does consumption of honey prevent diabetes?
It is true that that honey may increase insulin levels and help people living with diabetes control their blood sugar, there is no conclusive research supporting honey as a preventive factor for diabetes.
Is there or are there risks involved in eating honey if you have diabetes?
The truth is: since honey is sweeter than sugar, if you are using it as a substitute for sugar, you need only a little. Be careful about honey purchased in grocery stores; be sure it does not contain sugar or syrup because the added sweetener can affect your blood sugar adversely. Also, if your diabetes is well-controlled and you want to add honey to your diet, choose pure organic or raw natural honey. This is a lot safer for people living with diabetes because all-natural honey does not have any added sugar.
The Bottom line:
While honey is a medium glycaemic index food, it is however not a good replacement for table sugar in foods. It can have negative effects on your health when consumed in high amounts due to its high sugar, glycemic index and calorie content. If you must consume honey, please do so under the guidance of a Dietitian or Nutritionist.
If you need help with managing your blood sugar perfectly while enjoying a variety of Nigerian meals, you can check out our bestselling book The Nigerian Diabetes Cookbook.