Do you have to give up honey on a low-carb diet?
Many people swear by the healing properties of honey and don’t want to give it up.
In this post, I go over the pros and cons of eating honey on a low-carb diet, so you can decide if it is the right fit for you!
Sugar vs Honey
Honey, like sucrose (a.k.a. table sugar), is actually a mix of two sugars: fructose and glucose.
Table sugar starts out as a plant, typically sugar cane, and then goes through a big refining process.
This refining process turns the sugar cane plant into the white crystals that we are all familiar with.
Unfortunately, this refining process also strips out all of the beneficial components of the original sugar cane plant.
Raw honey, on the other hand, is honey that hasn’t been subjected to the heat of pasteurization, therefore it retains its nutrients.
So, you will find things like vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and plant compounds that act as antioxidants in raw honey.
These antioxidants and nutrients are what gives honey its well-deserved reputation as a healing substance.
The Antimicrobial and Antibacterial Properties of Honey
I’m not going to go into all of the health benefits of honey in this post.
(It would make this post way too long!)
Plenty of articles and posts have thoroughly covered this topic already.
With that said, I do want to mention honey’s antimicrobial as well as antibacterial properties.
As we see in this study, honey can give us similar results to what we would see with an antibiotic. (1)
Honey is also popular as a home remedy for a wide variety of things including treating a sore throat and quieting allergies.
From an overall health perspective, I would say that honey is a better choice than sugar.
The question of whether or not you can use honey on a low-carb diet depends on your metabolism.
Is Honey Considered a Low-Carb Food?
If we look at honey from purely a carbohydrate perspective, we see that it is not a low-carb food.
Honey contains about 17 grams of carbs per tablespoon, (which is a 21-gram serving).
That is a substantial amount of carbs for most low-carb dieters.
How Many Carbs Can I Eat and Still Lose Weight?
While there is no official range for a low-carb diet, it’s safe to say that the absolute upper limit of a low-carb diet is 125 grams per day.
This upper limit would be more for someone who is young and athletic.
If your metabolism is strong, you might find that you can tolerate a daily dose of 17 carbs from honey and still lose weight.
Reasons Why You Might Want to Avoid Honey on a Low-Carb Diet
- You tend to lose weight slowly
- You have been overweight for a number of years
- You have a history of a poor diet that included things like soda and refined carbs
Your body might not release fat unless you keep your total carb count below 50 grams or even 30 grams per day, (which is in the ketogenic range).
If that is the case for you, then one tablespoon of honey would be more than half of your daily allotment of carbs.
An Argument For Keeping Honey on a Low-Carb Diet: Glycemic Index
Now, to play devil’s advocate, there is an argument that can be made for honey not causing as much of a blood sugar increase as table sugar.
We know this because honey has a lower glycemic index than sugar.
The glycemic index is a scale used to measure how much a particular food will impact your blood sugar.
The glycemic index of honey is around 55, which is lower than table sugar, (or sucrose), which has a glycemic index of 68.
An Argument For Keeping Honey on a Low-Carb Diet: Blood Sugar Stabilizing
There is also a fair amount of research out there that shows that honey may have a blood sugar-stabilizing effect.
This effect was even found to be true in diabetic patients, as pointed out in this review paper: (2)
The reason for the blood sugar-stabilizing effect is not completely understood.
There are a lot of components in honey, but it is likely due to the fact that the most prominent sugar in honey is fructose.
In the study, “Fructose content might contribute to the hypoglycemic effect of honey”, This topic is explored more in-depth. (3)
Fructose is a Double-Edged Sword
However, fructose is a double-edged sword.
It doesn’t spike blood sugar, but taking in concentrated amounts of fructose is not healthy, particularly to your liver.
Another popular argument in favor of honey is that honey is much sweeter than sugar.
Since it is sweeter, you do not need to use as much of it. This same argument is often made for sweeteners like stevia.
However, then you are also reducing the beneficial compounds from the honey, which is the reason most people wanted to use honey in the first place.
Final Thought About Using Honey on a Low-Carb Diet
Ultimately the decision to keep honey in your diet is up to you.
In my opinion, if you are overweight and eating honey on a regular basis, it will move you one step forward and one step back.
What I mean by that is:
By adding honey to your diet you are getting the health benefits of the honey and possibly some blood sugar regulation.
However, that regulation is likely due to fructose, which is not a friend to your waistline.
The threat to your health from obesity is more significant than the benefits you will get from honey.
There is wisdom in getting the weight off first, and then adding honey back into your diet once your weight is under control.
Thank you for reading. I hope this information will help you reach your healthy goals!
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- Mohapatra, D. P., V. Thakur, and S. K. Brar. “Antibacterial efficacy of raw and processed honey.” Biotechnology research international 2011 (2011).
- Erejuwa, Omotayo O., Siti A. Sulaiman, and Mohd S. Ab Wahab. “Honey-a novel antidiabetic agent.” International journal of biological sciences 8.6 (2012): 913.
- Erejuwa, Omotayo O., Siti A. Sulaiman, and Mohd S. Ab Wahab. “Fructose might contribute to the hypoglycemic effect of honey.” Molecules 17.2 (2012): 1900-1915.
About the Author
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.