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Can raw honey reduce blood sugar levels? Why new study may not apply to Indians

‘Test subjects had a low carbohydrate diet, with less than 10 per cent of calories from sugar. In India, 60 to 70 per cent of our total calories come from carbohydrates. Adding honey on top of that is risky,’ says Dr V Mohan, Chairman, Dr Mohan’s Diabetes Specialities Centre, Chennai

The benefits of honey were revealed in people who ate a heavy diet containing 10 per cent or less sugar.

Not all studies should be taken at face value unless we find if they work in the Indian context or not. A new study by researchers at the University of Toronto has found that honey, unlike other sweeteners, may actually be good for cardio metabolic health. Their logic is based on the fact that unlike most sweeteners, honey isn’t all about the sinful fructose and glucose but has rare sugars which improve glucose response, reduce insulin resistance and grow good gut bacteria. Besides they have many polyphenols and flavonoids, with antioxidant properties.

But the catch lies in the test subjects of the study. The benefits of honey were revealed in people who ate a heavy diet containing 10 per cent or less sugar. “This study is biased as it has been done in a non-South Asian population of healthy people, who did not have sugar, BP or obesity. In India, a majority of people are either diabetics or at risk of developing it at some stage in their lives. We have to be very cautious about the use of honey in India. Besides, the test subjects had a low carbohydrate diet, with less than 10 per cent of their calories coming from sugar. In India, 60 to 70 per cent of our total calories come from carbohydrates. Now if you add honey of any kind to the mix, you are raising the risk of diabetes,” says Dr V Mohan, Chairman, Dr Mohan’s Diabetes Specialities Centre, Chennai.

Besides, he clarifies, there’s not much gain substituting honey for sugar as both affect blood sugar levels. But since honey is sweeter than granulated sugar, one might use it in lesser amounts.

The study suggests that honey — particularly the raw (unpasteurised) monofloral (made by bees from the same flowering plant) one — may be a healthier replacement for sugar already being consumed. “While it may be true that some types of honey may be beneficial for select populations where carb intake is low, we may not be able to access such curated honey everywhere. In our experience, honey in India is intensely sweet. Even people without diabetes can just about tolerate small quantities of honey or sugar. But we cannot say that it is beneficial long-term. Ultimately, it can cause blood sugar levels to spike, especially when a person uses honey in addition to, rather than instead of, another form of sugar,” adds Dr Mohan.

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Besides, he feels that the study has played down how the use of honey raised inflammatory markers like IL6 and TNF-alpha in the study participants. “This can’t be beneficial as it increases inflammation, raising the risk of a variety of illnesses and conditions, which is not desirable. This again is a matter of concern for Indians who are prone to obesity and dyslipidaemia. Findings cannot be applied to a majority of Indians,” concludes Dr Mohan.

Taken in extremely controlled and favourable scenarios, the trials showed that honey lowered fasting blood glucose, total and “bad” cholesterol as well as markers of fatty liver disease. Well-known monofloral honeys include Tupelo honey — from White Ogeechee Tupelo trees — clover honey, robinia honey, and French lavender honey. Each has a distinctive flavour. The researchers found that clover and robinia monofloral honeys lowered LDL cholesterol and overall cholesterol, as well as fasting triglycerides. Clover honey also reduced fasting glucose levels.

First published on: 29-11-2022 at 10:22 IST
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