The Glycemic Index of Honey and Diabetes

Honey is often used as a sweetener so we often wonder if its glycemic index is safe for people with diabetes and other metabolic disorders. Continue reading to find out more about this subject.
The Glycemic Index of Honey and Diabetes
Anna Vilarrasa

Written and verified by the nutritionist Anna Vilarrasa.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Diabetic people often wonder about the glycemic index of honey and whether they can use it as a natural sweetener and benefit from its medicinal properties. For instance, does this substance increase blood glucose? Can they use it instead of sugar? Today’s article will answer some of these questions so stick around.

The concept of the glycemic index (GI) appeared about 30 years ago. The scientific field uses it to classify foods that contain carbohydrates according to the speed with which they raise blood glucose.

Scientists put the values of each food item in a table in order to compare them and use glucose as a reference. This is because it has a glycemic index of 100. The rest they classify in a range between 0 and 100.

  • The low glycemic index (below 55) is the value of a significant array of dairy products, fruit, vegetables, legumes, and some varieties of pasta.
  • The medium glycemic index (between 55 and 69) is the value for rice, bread, and some breakfast cereals.
  • The high glycemic index (more than 70) is for white flour and potatoes, this is the value for most baked goods out there.

The glycemic index of honey

Honey is made up of carbohydrates (80%) and water mainly. These contain glucose and fructose in higher quantities. The ratio between one type of sugar and another depends on the variety of honey we measure.

In general, floral varieties tend to be more abundant in fructose and, consequently, have a lower GI. The glycemic index of honey is around 61, although it can fluctuate about 3 points — either up or down.

As you can see, the variety of honey and its glucose-fructose percentage is what makes a difference in the value. Therefore, this index places honey within the food items located in the middle group.

Two jars of honey.
Honey is mainly composed of carbohydrates.

Health and diet

Many experts and nutrition professionals have long advocated a diet based on the glycemic index of food items. Those in the group with the lowest GI should abound and those in the highest group should be either eliminated or restricted entirely.

Nutritionists advocate these types of diets because humans can only digest and absorb those with a lower GI slowly. Thus, they lead to lower or longer glucose peaks over time.

Why is this desirable? Well, it’s because people with diabetes, for instance, have difficulty processing sugars effectively. In these cases, good glycemic control helps delay the onset of complications related to the disease, such as kidney damage, nerve damage, or even an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

In addition, there’s scientific evidence that links diets with low glycemic index foods with the following benefits:

  • LDL cholesterol reduction
  • Weight loss
  • Lower risk of cancer (colorectal, breast, endometrial, etc)
  • Reduces the risk of heart disease

Read more about Six Artificial Sweeteners to Limit Your Sugar Intake

The glycemic index has some cons

Looking only at one nutrient (for example, the glycemic index) isn’t usually a good strategy in nutrition science. This is because focusing only on some of the attributes leads us to ignore its value as a whole. These are some things to consider when it comes to the glycemic index:

  • The values ​​of every food item are different according to the studies you consult.
  • Not all people respond in the same way to all food as insulin sensitivity varies from person to person.
  • We seldom eat isolated foods; in fact, we usually mix them in the same meal, and the glycemic indices that appear when analyzing the food in isolation are altered. For example, the presence of fats or proteins regulates the absorption of glucose and its subsequent rise in the blood.
  • Finally, if we only look at this indicator, to either include or eliminate food, we stop taking into account other important aspects such as its nutritional density, possible probiotic effects, and satiating capacity, among others.
A bowl of syrup.
Taking the glycemic index of honey into account has its pros and cons. However, it’s usually a good sweetener for diabetic patients.

What does the glycemic index of honey indicate?

Honey’s nutritional and therapeutic value has been well-known for thousands of years. Its nutritional composition includes antioxidants, phenols, organic acids, and trace amounts of vitamins and minerals.

Currently, honey is used as a natural sweetener for remedies associated with natural medicine. In fact, there’s scientific evidence to suggest that a small amount of honey may be good for a person’s health. Without going into much detail, we can summarize its properties as follows:

  • Honey has an antioxidant capacity
  • It leads to a reduction of analytical indicators of inflammation
  • It promotes cardiovascular health by improving blood cholesterol, reducing triglycerides, and slightly decreasing body fat
  • Some antibacterial effects can be positive in cases of gastroenteritis or Helicobacter pylori

Read more: Ten Types of Food to Avoid for Glucose Balance

However, you shouldn’t eat a lot of honey on a daily basis only because of its properties and the fact that it lies in the medium glycemic index.

It’s definitely a better option than refined sugar and artificial sweeteners, but keep in mind that excess sugars can also lead to long-term health problems. Thus, don’t exceed the recommended amount of 1-2 fl oz per day.

Other benefit indicators

In conclusion, a glycemic index is a measuring tool with which to classify the response of blood glucose levels after eating food high in carbohydrates. Honey is one of them and basically made up of two types of sugars: glucose and fructose.

Finally, honey has a medium GI, which could represent a better alternative to sweeten any of your favorite dishes and drinks. However, you must take into account the problems associated with a high intake of sugars in your diet in addition to using this index as an indicator.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Barclay A.W. et al. Glycemic Index, Glycemic Load, and Chronic Disease Risk–A Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Marzo 2008. 87(3); :627-37.
  • Brand-Miller J.C, et al. Glycemic index, postprandial glycemia, and the shape of the curve in healthy subjects: analysis of a database of more than 1000 foods. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Enero 2009 89(1): 97-105.
  • Deibert P. et al. Glycaemic and insulinaemic properties of some German honey varieties. Setiembre 2009. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 64;762-764.
  • Nur Zuliani R. et al. A Review on the Protective Effects of Honey against Metabolic Syndrome. Nutrients. Agosto 2018. 10(8):1009.
  • Venn B. J, et al. Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load: Measurement Issues and Their Effect on Diet-Disease Relationships. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.Diciembre 2007. 61Supple 1: S122-31.
  • Visweswara R.P. et al. Honey, Propolis, and Royal Jelly: A Comprehensive Review of Their Biological Actions and Health Benefits. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. Julio 2017. 26
  • Yahoobi N. et al. Natural Honey and Cardiovascular Risk Factors; Effects on Blood Glucose, Cholesterol, Triacylglycerole, CRP, and Body Weight Compared With Sucrose. Scientific World Journal. Abril 2008. 20; 8:463-9.
  • Radulian G, Rusu E, Dragomir A, Posea M. Metabolic effects of low glycaemic index diets. Nutr J. 2009;8:5. Published 2009 Jan 29. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-8-5

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.