Is Honey Bad For You, or Good? The Sweet Truth Revealed

Boy Eating HoneyHave you heard of the term “nutritionism”?

It’s the idea that foods are nothing more than the sum of their individual nutrients.

Nutritionism is a trap that many nutrition enthusiast and professionals tend to fall into and I am guilty of it myself.

The fact is that real foods are way more than just the sum of their nutrients.

They contain various substances, some known, others still a mystery, that can affect health in ways that science has yet to uncover.

Honey is More Than Just Liquid Fructose

Fruits aren’t just watery bags full of fructose and nuts aren’t just shells loaded with Omega-6 fatty acids.

Even though fructose and Omega-6 fatty acids have been linked to health issues when isolated, the “real foods” containing them can have a completely different effect.

Honey is considered unhealthy in many circles because it contains sugar, specifically fructose. But there is more to honey than can be dismissed with a wave of the hand and a mention of fructose.

Honey is a real food that has been accessible to humans throughout evolutionary history and can still be obtained in its natural form.

Is Honey Bad For You, or Good?

Honey bees swarm around their environment to collect Nectar, which are sugar-rich liquids from plants.

Producing honey from the Nectar takes place in the bee hive. It is a group activity consisting of repeated consumption, digestion and regurgitation (expulsion from the digestive tract).

A few cycles of this ends with what we know as honey, but the composition and nutritional properties depend on the sources of the Nectar, i.e. which flowers are in the vicinity of the beehive.

According to nutrition data, a typical batch of honey supplies:

Bee Collecting Honey

  • 82% sugar, by weight.
  • Half of that sugar (40% of total weight) is fructose.
  • Contains only trace amounts of vitamins and minerals.
  • Honey contains various antioxidants (1).
  • Its relative glucose and fructose content can vary greatly and its Glycemic Index ranges from low to high (2 – pdf).

Studies on Honey and Risk Factors for Disease

There are certain factors that can be measured in the blood which are strong indicators of health and risk of disease in the future. Cholesterol, triglycerides and blood glucose are particularly important.

Diabetics have big problems with all of these.

In a randomized controlled trial of 48 diabetics, those fed honey for 8 weeks lowered their body weight, triglycerides and total cholesterol while their HDL cholesterol increased.

However, HbA1c (a marker of blood glucose levels) also increased, which is bad (3).

Another study in healthy, diabetic and hyperlipidemic subjects revealed that (4):

Doctor With Thumbs Up

  1. Honey raised blood sugar less than dextrose (glucose) and sucrose (glucose and fructose). It still did raise blood sugar, just not as much.
  2. Honey reduced C-Reactive Protein (CRP) – a marker of inflammation.
  3. Honey lowered LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides and raised HDL cholesterol.
  4. Honey also lowered Homocysteine, another blood marker associated with disease.

The Antioxidants in Honey

Unrefined honey contains an abundance of various antioxidants that can have major implications for health. Generally speaking, antioxidants in the diet are associated with improved health and lower risk of disease.

Two human studies revealed that consumption of buckwheat honey increases the antioxidant value of the blood (5, 6).

Some Studies in Rats

In rats, honey leads to less oxidative stress, lower triglycerides and less fat gain than either sugar or purified fructose (7, 8).

Topical Administration of Honey

Honey may have some medicinal properties when applied to the skin, killing bacteria and speeding the healing of wounds (9, 10).

Choose Darker Honey

Honey

As I mentioned above, the composition of honey depends on the environment that the bees harvested in.

The antioxidant content of different types of honey can vary up to 20-fold. Generally speaking though, darker honeys like Buckwheat honey are better than the lighter varieties.

Should you eat honey? Well, that’s for you to decide and as with most other questions in nutrition, it depends.

If you’re healthy, active and don’t need to lose weight, then having some honey is unlikely to do you any harm and seems to be a lot less bad for you than sugar.

However, people who are overweight, diabetic and struggle with their dietary load of fructose and carbs, should probably avoid honey as much as possible.

When it comes to baking some occasional, healthy-ish treats, honey seems like an excellent alternative to replace sugar in recipes.

Bottom Line: Honey is rich in fructose, which is bad, but it is also rich in various antioxidants, which is good. It is at least healthier than sugar and whether it is safe to eat will depend on the individual.

66 Comments

  1. When carb backloading after a heavy aneorobic “crossfit” type workout I think honey is an ideal choice simply due to the fructose content. Its not HFCS, but a natural form. Fructose is uniquely good to restore liver glycogen which depletes moreso then muscle glycogen when doing high aneorobic sports (Boxing/MMA/wrestling/Crossfit).

    So when employing backloads I often seek out a source of Fructrose to include (as long as its from a fruit or honey). Even being more carb senstive than most I find honey during these times excellent.

    I always have a hard time with the idea that any natural food is “bad or good”, as the context, your goals, your personal health issues, always come into play. We are not all diabetics or with metabolic syndrome, but we are all not pristine hunter gatherers without damage from the standard western diet.

    • I agree, Danny. Everything in nutrition has context.

    • Michael Gerard says:

      Danny, your cell’s absorption of glycogen is carried out faster with HFCS than most other forms of sugar (one reason you find it in so many sport drinks). Whether or not that remains true with the sugars in honey, I really can’t say, but I just thought that might be something worth looking into.

    • Michael Gerard says:

      One more thing. It is not actually the fructose in sugars that raises your glycogen levels. I don’t know if I’m telling you something you already know, but sugar, in all forms (including HFCS), contains one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule. These two molecules are connected by an enzyme that is dissolved within two seconds of entering the stomach. It is then the glucose that goes on to raise the glycogen levels in your cells, not the fructose, no good ever came from fructose.

      • All of the fructose is metabolized by the liver, and if there’s room then it will be turned to glycogen. If the liver is already full of glycogen, the fructose will be turned into fat.

        • Michael Gerard says:

          I looked it up, and turns out you’re right. Good call Kris. I’m not sure where my mistaken understanding came from.

        • Michelle Towle says:

          How does one know if there is room to turn to glycogen or if it will turn to fat? I wouldn’t want to take honey thinking I am doing good when all it may be doing is turning to fat. Also, I heard that taking honey before bed can be good for adrenal fatigue. Any information on this? Thanks!

          • Michelle I’m no expert but I think if you lead a sedentary lifestyle then chances are your liver glycogen stores are not going to get used as it is only released when the blood glucose is decreased through exertion or fasting, and you know how active you are or are not on a daily basis or if you’re fasting. Anyone please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

  2. Fantastic and thorough. I always love reading your articles! You do a great job cutting through all the BS with facts.

  3. Derek Carter says:

    Great article. What do you think about bee pollen?

  4. I use honey every night as a facial/neck wash (squeeze a small amount in your hand and then add a few drops of water. Scrub and then wipe off with a wash cloth) and then apply coconut oil straight from the jar. I’m 53 yo and I get comments all the time about how amazing my skin looks. Most people think that I’m in my early 40′s:)

    • Hey Christine! I was just curious what skin type you have? I have heard honey works great on the skin, but haven’t heard about coconut oil. I have very oily skin and I was wondering if you thought this would be any good for my skin? What kind of honey and coconut oil do you use? Thanks.

      • Alicia, I also use honey and coconut oil for my face exactly the same way. My skin is oily and it helps it balance it out very well. I recommend it.

  5. Bravo Kris. As the wife of a beekeeper, it is good to see some common sense expressed about this wonderful product. We have regular customers who come every year to get local honey to aid hay fever.

    • I have never gotten real raw honey other than the store bought brands. So many brands, who do you trust anyway? How can you tell if it’s not fake honey?

      • If it is pasteurized, store bought honey there is a good chance there is little to no honey in it and high temperature processing has destroyed any goodness anyway. A lot of unscrupulous people are cutting honey with HFCS. Some beekeepers provide HFCS and sugar laced with antibiotics for their bees too. Better to get to know a small local beekeeper who can show you his setup and whom you can trust.

  6. Michael Pazinas says:

    Hi Kris,

    How about coconut sugar? Would like to hear your views on that. Many thanks for all the great info by the way.

  7. Hey Kris, thanks for another great article. Any chance you could do a similar one for molasses?

  8. I love reading these so much – thank you.

    I’m interested in your view of the drink “pepsi next” which is sweetened with stevia?

    • Hmm.. it still contains sugar though, right?

      Check the label… if it’s only sweetened with Stevia then it’s probably better for you than other diet drinks.

      Still there are lots of observational studies showing that artificially sweetened beverages are associated with disease so personally I choose to avoid them as much as possible.

      • Thanks so much for your reply Kris.

        • Oh, and what do you drink to have a change from water? I do really love water, but it feels there is NOTHING else ‘safe’ to drink. I’ve actually never been a fizzy drink person, but these started being a replacement for alcohol i think.

          • Coffee and tea, carbonated soda without artificial sweeteners. Some people like to put a little bit of lemon in their water.

            Personally I just drink plain water and black coffee.

      • Kris from what little I know about sugar versus fake sugar, it is better to stick with the real, not fake. Real raises cholesterol but fakes causes cancer.

        Yes Kris, I know right what you are going to say! YOU SMOKE and are worried about cancer from fake sugar. All I can say is, I smoked since I was 12, 57 now and NO CANCER (Yes, finding real wood to knock on is getting hard to find) – why increase my chances of getting cancer by using fake sugar?

    • I think Pepsi next is actually sweetened with “PureVia”, Pepsi’s brand of “stevia” which only contains some of the stevia compounds along with some other artificial sweetening compounds. (“Truvia” is the Coke version). Neither is pure stevia nor can they be expected to be as healthy as stevia is often touted to be. Since stevia itself is a natural leaf, a company cannot patent it, hence the reengineered formulas Truvia and PureVia.

      I personally wouldn’t touch them as they are untested and received expedited FDA approval, while Stevia itself is prevented by the FDA from being sold as food despite much evidence that it is a natural and healthy sweetener with no evidence of the side effects found in artificial sweeteners.

  9. I have type 2 Diabetes, I dont have a sweet tooth, drink alcohol or smoke. I lift weights, I have started drinking boiled water with honey and two tea spoons of cinnamon stirred in once at night and once in the morning.

    Is this ok as I read that honey with cinnamon was good for type 2 Diabetics?

  10. Kris,
    I actually enjoyed the article, the various comments and the other articles referenced by various people.

    Would you please tell me what you think about both of them (Honey and Coconut sugar) for triglycerides. I have just been told that my triglycerides level is high (about 300). I am very, very slim, fit and have no sickness. I do not drink or smoke (they say those are the first suspects). In-fact, I do not take any processed drinks. I drink only water and decaf coffee, even in parties.

    My sources of fat and sugar were; fried food (at home), freshly squeezed fruit juice/smoothie, heavy African food with high carbohydrate content, bread/biscuits and brown table sugar/honey that I used in my decaf coffee. Now I have eliminated fried food, red meat, fresh juice, biscuits, brown sugar/honey altogether, and drastically reduced the carbohydrate foods that I eat, trying to replace them with high protein ones like beans. I have changed to only whole grain bread and whole grain cereal and eat them small and sparingly.

    And then I was introduced to Coconut sugar (for my decaf coffee) which has in its nutrition list “0 trans/saturated fat, 0 cholesterol and 4g carbs”. I thought it was gold before reading your article this evening. I have resumed regular exercise and I am praying that I keep it up. So tell me what you think, if it will not be too much bother.

    • All carbs… including coconut sugar and honey can be turned into triglycerides in the liver.

      I think if your main goal is to reduce triglycerides, then you should cut back on all carbohydrates and especially fructose. Coconut sugar and honey are both rich in fructose.

      No need to reduce red meat, as long as it is good meat. Then you should supplement with some cod fish liver oil, one tablespoon per day.

  11. Great article, really interesting and easy to understand. I think I’m going to give honey a try, I’m a fit 26 year old guy but torture myself by not giving into my sweet tooth. Lol at least I’ll know a bit of honey is better than a chocolate bar!

  12. Muslih Mohamed Ismail says:

    Is honey bad for diabetic patients? If so, why? I also would like to asked whether dried dates are also bad for diabetes?

  13. When you are eating 50 carbs or less a day, is there a certain amount of calories, fat and protein you are suppose to eat along with your carbs? Great site you have. Thanks for sharing with us.

  14. It all sounds problematic… I stopped using spends. Then I heard that coconut palm sugar is best for you… then solgar!

    Totally confused as to what to use for baking?

    Then thought Smuckers Simply Fruit instead of Splenda… have no idea what to use for sweetener? And I may be allergic to Stevia because it’s a plant… at a complete loss.

  15. Peter Lee says:

    Great read. Thanks, Kris.

    Also comments from Danny too. I had a similar thing that happened to me when I was training. Someone told me about eating half or 3/4 of a Jar of honey a few days leading up to the London Marathon which will help store energy in the muscles and I so believe that really helped me push to get 3 hours 59 minutes!

  16. I have a sweet tooth and I’m trying to lose weight. I don’t like my coffee without sweetener. Honey is not good when you are trying to lose weight and sugar is bad. I’m looking for a natural way.

  17. Hi, I have issues with my liver. I was reading that honey is good for your liver because of the vitamin B, is that accurate? If this is not accurate, what is good for the liver?

    • No, honey is not good for your liver. “Liver issues” could mean lots of things, I recommend you talk to your doctor about it.

      • Link Between Honey and Liver Damage

        Indian honey can protect the liver from oxidative stress induced by drugs such as acetaminophen, or Tylenol, and prevent damage to the liver, as demonstrated in lab animals, according to an article published in the December 2009 issue of the journal “Biologia.”

        Another study published in the June 2008 issue of the “World Journal of Gastroenterology” also reveals that honey can prevent liver damage that occurs due to the obstruction of the common bile duct.

        Some animal studies, such as the one published in the February 2008 issue of “The American Journal of Surgery,” say the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity of honey might be responsible for its ability to protect the liver during obstructive jaundice.

        Read more: http://www.livestrong.com/article/478981-is-honey-good-for-your-liver/

  18. I liked the “Before reading further, if there’s any doubt in your mind whether honey is “paleo…””. I think people go too far with what is and isn’t “paleo”. To my knowledge, our cave dwelling hunter-gathering ancestors weren’t eating coconuts. They almost certainly were eating honey. They were likely eating legumes, even if we wouldn’t recognize the varieties if we saw them on the supermarket shelf.

    They almost certainly were eating high carb tubers where and when they were readily available. The meats they ate were more varied and quite different than what most of us have access to today. Still, we can take the principles of their diet and apply them to modern lives without getting all caught up the what is and isn’t paleo.

    I love honey, not just for the sweetness but for it’s flavour. My favourite smoothie consists of banana, coconut milk, peanut butter and honey. It may not be strictly paleo (no electric blenders :)) but boy it’s delicious! Great after some hard physical work.

  19. Being South African, apart from coffee and water, I drink Rooibos or Honeybush tea (they are not the same thing). It is definitely paleo! The Koi and San tribes of the Cape use it for medicinal purposes too. It is full of anti-oxidants and very refreshing steeped with ginger, and a small bit of honey, which I find I do not necessarily need to enjoy the drink. You should try to acquire the taste!

  20. Hello,
    I personally survive on honey since 2011 . I used to eat honey for my breakfast regularly and started to eat honey, 5 kg per month divided for every 3-4 hours a day (2-3 tb spoons) for 2 years since early Jan 2011 until Oct 10 2012.

    I took it exactly like medication. It helped me to gain energy again and live a good, energetic and tireless life but did not cure my illness. On Oct 10th 2012 I decided to fast with honey for 7 days and eat only honey any time I felt hungry or thirsty. And guess what happened!

  21. Is butter a better choice than honey?

  22. I race mountain bikes and use pure local honey vs. other engineered gels and supplements and have better success on long endurance races and training with honey vs other purchased products. These are high intensity workouts sustained for 2 – 4 hours though so there are a lot of calories burned and glycogen stores being depleted.

    I will go through 2 – 4 ounces of honey during these rides. I have never had any hints of bonking while using honey on long rides. I do also eat oranges, apples or bananas while riding. I believe there is no substitute for natural food, but I digress, I do use other supplements for loss of electrolytes, more so when the heat kicks in.

    At the end of the day it’s how well your pants fit, what your blood work tells you and how you feel overall mentally and physically.

    • Jeff – What do you use for the electrolytes?

      I cycle some and I haven’t found the best source for me yet on long rides.

  23. Zhila…. what happened? You left us hanging.

    My dad bought some property this summer and we discovered that the building there had an entire wall covered with a bee hive. We have been taking the comb out little bits at a time and extracting the honey. Christmas day I bottled 9 half pints and 2 full pints. The honey is wonderful.

    I believe that just like anything else we eat, you must do it in moderation. Even the best foods can cause disruption and harm if over consumed (such as bananas can cause constipation if over eaten). We all just need to use out common sense I think, huh?

  24. “All of the fructose is metabolized by the liver, and if there’s room then it will be turned to glycogen. If the liver is already full of glycogen, the fructose will be turned into fat.”

    May I suggest you read pure white and deadly and also a lecture by the name of sugar the bitter truth.

    Much of what has been said about “sugars” are lies. As another person stated, nothing good comes from fructose. Indeed 30% of fructose is turned into fat, fructose is a poison.

  25. Sorry, I lost 6 stones in 6 months, I used to have many cups of tea a day, my sweet tooth was 2-3 sugars in each cup. I replaced sugar with honey and the weight fell off. Yes, I did change some other habits, not drastically, but when I could not eat, I would continue to drink around 20 cups a day, so you can imagine the levels or calories of sugar intake.

    If you read to much into science it can most certainly distract you from truth. Sorry Kris, you read to much, my cholesterol dropped dramatically too. Seriously guy, this science goes straight out of the window, I’m living proof.

  26. Kris you forgot to mention that part of the fructose is in the indigestible form of fructooligosaccharide, a soluble fiber that is used by the good guys in your gut. It passes unharmed the amylase and hydrochloric acid ordeal into the small intestines.

  27. Its a whole lot. Whole lot of crap actually. 40% fructose in honey I believe. I would have honey over anything. Rice malt is so manufactured. I still use it though.

    I find it hard to talk about it with honey and bee lovers, lol. I’m a recovering honey lover. Heck I even make beeswax candles.

  28. Below is a typical honey profile, according to BeeSource:

    Fructose: 38.2%
    Glucose: 31.3%
    Maltose: 7.1%
    Sucrose: 1.3%
    Water: 17.2%
    Higher sugars: 1.5%
    Ash: 0.2%
    Other/undetermined: 3.2%

  29. James c says:

    I have hep c. I work a lot and am very thin. I’m 61. I eat honey every morning in my oatmeal. Is this bad for my health?

  30. Thanks for article. I want to ask, I have total cholesterol about 220, triglycerides 268 and LDL is 115, while HDL is 37. How to control these levels, is honey useful?

  31. I’m confused. I mix a teaspoon of honey, a tsp of cinnamon, 2 tbsp of Oats and almond milk, heat it all up in the micro and have it as my breakfast drink – is this good for health? My cholesterol is high and I don’t know if I should continue with this concoction. Help please, I have to get my cholesterol down. I have 6 months to do it before the doc puts me on meds, which I don’t want to have to take. I do have a pretty active lifestyle, hot yoga and workouts at the gym.

    • Hey I’ve read recently that walnuts have a great impact. If eaten four times a week can lower cholesterol by 16%. Oh there is a honey vinegar and lime juice concoction as well.

  32. Is honey good or bad for fatty liver?

  33. I had back surgery in 2011 for a herniated disc. Since that time, I felt like the disc was ready to herniate again if I was not careful. I felt pressure, not pain. Since, I have been putting honey and cinnamon in my coffee, I no longer feel that. After hearing what Kris is saying, it worries me about the glucose.

    We have diabetes in our family, so I’m really cutting sugars and thought I was doing a good thing by replacing with honey. I have about 2 teaspoons a day.

  34. What is most harmful to diabetics is the misinformation and flawed research by so-called. I came down with type 2 diabetes and woke up blind almost three years ago. The fact that I swam 3/4 of a mile, ran 30 stories of steps, and lifted weights everyday 5 days per week, ate a healthy diet by U.S. standards I still contracted type 2 diabetes. My waist is 29 inches, one inch more than when I competed in college sports 40 years ago.

    I am a scientist also. When I look at how some of these tests are done to come to the conclusions they do I laugh. You are what you eat, right?

    Okay, let’s look at honey and what this research FAILS to consider. First, there are different types of honey. In the U.S. type 2 diabetes is becoming epidemic and there is a reason for it which I have proof of. In the U.S. it has become recent news that bees are dying in large numbers. Why? Because of chemicals they ingest. So the common sense these educated idiots lack in their studies is this. They fail to factor in where the bees obtain the nectar to make the honey and how it affects the chemical composition of that honey.

    My blood sugar levels react better to raw honey as opposed to pasteurized honey in the USA. Again, anything man gets involved in when it comes to nature, he screws up.

    I now live in Greece, where preservatives, GMOs, chemicals, dyes, etc. in food are illegal. We have honey here in Greece that is so much better than U.S. honey in taste, quality, and above all, health benefits. I can pour all the honey I want on anything like almonds, or whole grain cereal and within 2 hours my blood sugar is at 85 to 95. So American honey may cause problems, but it sure don’t here in Greece.

    Another example, is Gymnema Sylvestre. Gymnema Sylvestre grows naturally in only the rain forests of India. It is used to treat diabetes in India and it works because I use it. Anyway, they have tried to reproduce it in America. I have tried the American Gymnema. It is garbage and does not work. Why? Because the soil conditions are from two completely geographic locations and the compositions of those solid are completely different and that is what the Gymnema Sylvestre plants grow from as they food source. I could go on.

    By the way, I am a pilot and diabetes is the kiss of death for your license. I refused medical prescription treatment and used natural supplements. After 6 months of testing by the FAA doctors my pilot license was reinstated. My 12 hour fasting blood sugar was at about average 108 in the U.S. It is now down on average to 96 now that I live in Greece and eat a mediterranean diet. The Greek olive oil is the best in the world and is also an anti-inflammatory. Diabetes is an inflammation.

    Keep in mind folks. Big pharma, is in the business to produce drugs to treat diseases, not cure them. They have the FDA in their back pocket. It is more profitable to treat diseases than to cure them.

If you made it all the way down here, you probably liked the article. Please share it:

Speak Your Mind

*