Made by bees with existence dating back to several thousand if not millions of years, honey is a natural sweetener that is used by people worldwide. But apart from its use as a sweetener, honey also has several medicinal uses (1) including the treatment of burns and in wound dressing. For those who plan to start the keto diet and those who are already on the diet, it is only right to wonder whether this natural sweetener is suitable.
The simple answer to this is that honey is not keto-friendly and the explanation as to why this is so is that honey is high in carbs. However, while honey has a high carb content, it is still preferred over sugar and it provides many other health benefits when compared to sugar. This article focuses on why honey is regarded as unsuitable for the keto diet, and possible healthier low-carb sweeteners that can be used in its place.
Why is Honey not Suitable for the Keto Diet?
Sticking with the required carbohydrate and sugar intake while on the keto diet is necessary to achieve the best results. This means cutting off foods that have high carb and sugar in them. One of such sweeteners, as already mentioned, is honey. This natural sweetener contains a total of about 17 grams of carbohydrates in one tablespoon. This value is not above the maximum recommended value of carbohydrates that can be consumed to remain in ketosis Exceeding a total of about 15 to 20 grams per day has been shown to easily push an individual out of the ketotic state.
How does honey push one out of ketosis? For a start, the high carbohydrate content in honey can significantly increase the level of insulin in the body. Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas. When there is an increase in this hormone levels, the pancreas is stimulated and the effect is that carbohydrates consumed are converted into fat which is stored for use as energy. If an individual’s aim for starting the keto diet was to burn fat and promote weight loss, it is clear that this purpose is defeated when foods and sweeteners high in carbs are consumed.
But does this argument make honey unhealthy or should it be totally avoided while on the keto diet? For everything, it is important to remember that moderation is key. The same can be said for the use of honey as a sweetener while on a low-carb diet. Using a moderate amount of honey may not necessarily kick one of ketosis. Also depending on the type of keto diet a person chooses, honey may just have a place on low-carb diets. For example, individuals who follow a targeted ketogenic diet can add an extra 20 to 50 grams of carbs to the maximum recommended value for carbohydrates intake. This extra carbohydrate should be consumed just before or after exercise. Thus, including honey when following such a diet may not interrupt the ketotic state.
Another type of ketogenic diet that can accommodate the addition of raw honey is the Cyclical ketogenic diet. It involves alternating a low-carb diet for a couple of days and then consuming a moderate amount of carbohydrates for the remaining days of the week. Usually, the Cyclical ketogenic diet may require that the individual remains in the ketotic state for five days and may proceed to eat extra carbs for two days. This type of diet, however, is best for those who train hard. While using a moderate amount of honey on keto may not be that bad, if possible, it is best to avoid this sweetener while on a low-carb diet. Replacing honey with other low-carb sweeteners may be best for those on the keto diet.
4 Alternatives to Honey While on Keto
When a person starts the keto diet at first, intense sugar craving may be experienced. With keto-friendly sweeteners, this craving can be satisfied without halting fat loss and ketosis. Again, while naturally obtained honey may not be suitable for use on keto, there are other alternatives that contain less carbs and are considered keto-friendly. Four of such alternatives are discussed in this section.
Stevia: This is one of the popularly used alternatives for honey. It is derived from the Stevia rebaudiana plant. It is available worldwide and can be purchased in a number of forms including – powdered, and liquid forms. Not only does stevia have a low glycemic index, but it also does not contain sugar and has a low-carb content. With its low-glycemic index, stevia cannot cause a spike in blood glucose levels or raise insulin production in the body. Unlike honey that contains sugar, stevia has zero sugar content. All these characteristics make stevia a great sweetener of choice for use while on keto.
Erythritol: Regarded as one of the best sugar alcohols suitable for the keto diet, Erythritol is a suitable alternative for honey. This sweetener does not add any calories but has about 4 grams of carbohydrates in a teaspoon. Even with its carb content, the net carb count in Erythritol is still zero. This makes it suitable for use on keto as a sweetener. Different studies have shown that the use of Erythritol has numerous health benefits and it does not affect glucose and insulin level. One reason for this behavior could be that when this sweetener is consumed, it is usually not metabolized by the body and is excreted unchanged in the urine.
Sucralose: Like Erythritol, sucralose is another alternative to honey that is not metabolized and is excreted from the body undigested. This honey alternative is an artificial sweetener that is calorie-free with low carb content. One great advantage of using sucralose is that it is much sweeter than sugar, so only a little quantity is required to add to foods but not to baked goods. The commonest form of sucralose that is available on the market is called Splenda. This form of sucralose contains other bulking agents that increase its calorie load. The added sugars could cause undesirable effects in those who follow the keto diet. For example, an individual may experience weight gain and raised insulin and glucose levels. When used in moderate quantity, however, these effects will not be experienced.
Monk Fruit Extract: Extracted from the monk fruit, this extract is free of calories and carbohydrates. It is thus a suitable alternative for honey as a sweetener. With only about 0.4 grams of carbohydrates in a teaspoon of the monk fruit extract, this extract in no way causes raised blood sugar levels. Its net glycemic index is also zero, suggesting that it has no impact on insulin levels. Also, unlike other sweeteners, the monk fruit extract does not affect bacteria in the gut and is relatively free of harmful side effects.
Honey, although naturally obtained is not suitable for a low carb diet since it is high in carbohydrates. This can stop an individual from entering or remaining in the ketotic state. With moderation, however, honey can be incorporated into the keto diet. The success of honey, when used in moderation on keto, has been linked to the type of keto diet an individual chooses. To get the best of the keto diet, it may be necessary to replace honey with other low-carb alternatives that have the same function of sweetening foods.
We hope this puts to rest the question “is honey keto friendly or not?” once and for all.