Honey Glycemic Index

Honey Glycemic Index tells just how quickly, or actually moderately slowly, raw, pollen-rich honey is turned into blood sugar.

This page was last updated by Bernard Preston on 28th November, 2018.

By Bernard Preston

I have a confession to make. For one supremely interested in all things bees, and who considers himself a well informed and interested person in the subject of GI, I have discovered that I was extremely ignorant on this aspect of the golden nectar of the bee. It turns surprisingly slowly into sugar in the blood stream.

Eaten together with some protein and fat, even diabetics can enjoy a delicious sweet sandwich. More about that lower down.

Okay, so I think I'm a good chiropractor, and an experienced beekeeper and a bit of a know it all when it comes to healthy living, but I'm also a lousy photographer; or rather a lazy one. That is my grandchildren's trampoline in the background. Just focus for the moment on the pure gold in the foreground.

What is glycemic index and why is it important? The GI of a carbohydrate gives us a numerical measure on a scale of 1 to 100 of how quickly it is turned into glucose in the blood stream. The figures are a bit arbitary, but generally

  • above 70 is considered high GI
  • 55 to 70 is moderate GI, and
  • below 55 is a low glycemic index food.

High glycemic foods are turned rapidly into blood glucose and cause a sudden rise in insulin to counter that raised blood sugar. If you're running a marathon, that glucose will be immediately used for energy. If you're sitting watching television, it will be turned to adipose tissue; fat, in short. Insulin is the fat hormone. Repeated episodes of high blood sugar are very bad for the body, damaging in particular the blood vessels and the nervous system so the pancreas is called upon to dump insulin into the bloodstream. 

Crystallised honey in week 1.

Honey Glycemic Index

Honey glycemic index asks if all sweet foods are delicious but bad for you?

It would seem obvious that simple carbohydrates like table sugar and honey have high glycemic indices and complex starches like potatoes, rice and bread would be low glycemic foods.

That's quite wrong, fortunately. Honey has a glycemic index of 55 which is borderline low, and baked potatoes, white rice and bread are all high. Even table sugar is well below that of those starches mentioned.

It's fortunate so you can enjoy honey, but it's unfortunate because if you have a weight or diabetic problem, you should avoid refined starches and even potatoes, baked or boiled. Diabetes osteoporosis is one of those sequelae, hence my interest as a chiropractor; but even worse blindness, and all the vascular diseases associated with diabetes.

Much has to do with how refined a carbohydrate is. For example, white rice has a glycemic index of 89 which is extremely high, but brown rice is 50. Cornflakes have a very high GI of 93 whilst even sweetcorn on the cob is only 60 and in the moderate glycemic range.

Secondly, how a food is cooked is important. Baking and roasting raises the glycemic index, but boiling lowers it.

Baked potato comes in at a record breaking 111, whilst boiled at 80, both high.

So, what about the honey glycemic index? Knowing that honey is a saturated solution of fructose, glucose and sucrose, one would think that it would have a very high glycemic index; at least that's what I've always assumed. But, no, the glycemic index honey is only 55; it does not cause a blood sugar rush and is thus also not rapidly stored as fat.

You may well be confused by the published tables of indices; they vary quite considerably. The reason is simply that different kinds of potatoes and rice, for example, can have very different glycemic indices.

Likewise, honey from acacia trees have a low glycemic index, whilst honey from citrus for example would have a higher value. Why is that? It all has to do with how much fructose there is in a particular honey.

The fructose in honey varies between 30 and 44 percent; it's a supersaturated solution of mainly fructose and glucose. The higher the percentage of fructose, the lower the honey glycemic index; they are inversely related.

High fructose honey also tends to stay runny. However, there's a catch; don't assume that because a honey is runny, that is must be a lower glycemic index honey, and is therefore more healthy. Over processing of honey, as is the norm in the food processing industry will also keep it runny, because that's what the public wants.

That fructose content not only affects the glycemic index but also how quickly the honey will set and herein lies a contradiction; a honey with fine, uniform crystals is a sign of a better honey, despite its lower fructose content, and thus higher honey glycemic index. Unfortunately, when it comes to food, there's nothing simple.

One last point may be useful; to lower the glycemic index of any particular carbohydrate you must add fat and protein to it. So, honey and cheese on buttered wholewheat bread would belong to the low to moderate glycemic index foods.

If you are serious about wanting to enjoy the many benefits of honey as a sweetener over chemicals and highly refined sugar, then find a source of lightly filtered honey; preferably from a local beekeeper because of the local pollen content.

Lightly filtered honey is visually less attractive; it has the cloudy look of that honey above because of the pollen content. It will also set much faster; but it has two advantages. One, the local pollen content gives you protection against the pollen allergens in the air causing sinusitis and asthma.

Secondly, pollen is the fat and protein source the bees must have. Allowing that pollen to remain in the honey further lowers the glycemic index honey. More on the subject of how to lower the GI of a food at our low GI bread page.

Provided it's not been heated, which is rare in honey from your supermarket, if it's liquid then it has a lower GI; they are usually lighter in colour.

However, beware, there's nothing simple in nutrition. Darker honeys, unless they've been heated, provide more antioxidant protection due to phenols present.

The long and the short of it is that honey is a fine, healthy source of sweetening, especially if it's lightly filtered raw honey. A good sign of that is that it has fine, uniform crystals. Why does honey crystallise and should you buy set or runny honey may be interesting topics for you.

When you're in your parlour, Queen, rather have bread, cheese and honey, and don't forget the butter.

Glycemic index honey

See the fine, uniform crystals in last year's honey on the right. On the left is the lightly filtered honey from those bottles at the top of this page. Within a few weeks it will set and look exactly like the one on the right.

GI honey

To be quite certain, it's safer to buy honey like that on the right. You wouldn't know whether the honey on the left is fresh like this one, straight from the hive, unless you know the beekeeper or whether it's processed, heated and filtered.

The rule of thumb: buy crystallised honey. So much for honey glycemic index. Eat your raw honey with gusto and pleasure, but of course it should be included in your calorie count if you are overweight. Adding a leaf of lettuce and making a sandwich would further improve matters. Try it, you won't be disappointed.

Honey + cheese + butter + lettuce + wholewheat bread = low glycemic index honey sandwich.

Polyphenols in honey

Honey is a remarkably complex substance containing at least 181 different substances, according to researcher JW White; many of these are the polyphenols in honey that help in giving protection against a wide range of diseases from cancer to heart conditions, stroke and even cataracts.

They include quercetin and kaempferol and a host of other compounds.

Very low glycemic index

This is a fourth category sometimes used over and above high, moderate and low; very low GI.

Usually it applies to foods which combine these properties:

  • Minimally ground
  • Lightly cooked as possible
  • Added protein
  • Added fat.

Our authentic hummus recipe for example combines the low GI properties of chickpeas, added sesame seeds and olive oil for protein and fat, and parsley for more fibre.

Hummus has a GI of only 6. Add it to your salad for lunch, and then you can enjoy your bread and honey utterly without guilt! The overall glycemic index of the meal would be very low. So you see, honey glycemic index need hold no fears for you.

Very low glycemic index lunch; absolutely scrumptious and filling. I added an extra slice of homemade bread and mulberry jam. How to make mulberry jam ...

Low GI bread

That notch seen in the slice of bread and honey above is significant; it's the sign of a homemade loaf in a bread machine. By adding a protein like hummus and olive oil you can combine these properties to make your own low GI bread. It takes me five minutes only using our bread machine. It's so easy, I don't understand why folk don't do it more often. Half the price of the supermarket low GI bread and none of the chemicals added to bread today. Like good raw honey the glycemic index is not high.

I make no apology for recommending butter over margarine; if you're eating foods like these, fears of raised cholesterol need no place amongst the terrors of the night. Margarine is 50% trans isomers, proved to be very unhealthy and totally unnatural; no where are they found in nature. Hydrogenated foods ...

Bernard Preston books

Bought one of my books yet? Have you enjoyed this page about honey? Then you'll love the story about the tete-a-tete that Bernie has with a Dutch radiologist who is also passionate about beekeeping; we didn't discuss glycemic index though, and mistake perhaps in retrospect.

Read it on your Kindle or smartphone; no more long boring hours waiting in queues and for aeroplanes. This ebook is dirt cheap; the greed factor has set in for many ebooks but I keep the price down for you. Kindle fiddles the price but it's about $4. Can't go wrong!

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