Do you shriek when a bee is near? These small insects may seem like a summertime annoyance, but they’re one of the most valuable creatures on Earth. Bees pollinate plants, helping to fertilize over 30 percent of the world’s crops and 90 percent of wild plants[*].
Of all the foods you have bees to thank for, honey is the most well known. Raw honey contains a host of nutrition benefits. It’s packed with antioxidants and is a healthier alternative to sugar.
But is honey suitable for the keto diet? And how many carbs are in honey, anyway?
What Is Honey, and How Is It Different Than White Sugar?
Honey has existed for 150 million years, with the first records of beekeeping dating back to 7,000 BC[*]. Raw honey is a thick, golden liquid. It’s a pure, unfiltered, natural sweetener produced by bees from the nectar of certain flowers. Nectar is a sugary sweet juice that the bee takes from the flower and stores in its stomach. Bees have two stomachs — one for eating and one to carry nectar back to the hive[*].
How Is Honey Different From White Sugar?
When it comes to the comparison of raw honey to cane sugar, there are several factors to consider. Both contain two sugar molecules: glucose and fructose.
Honey and sugar are digested differently. The honey bee adds a special enzyme to raw honey. This breaks down the two sugar molecules so it can be immediately used for energy[*]. With table sugar, we do the work — your body must break the sugar molecules apart using enzymes before you can store them as energy.
How Many Calories Are in Honey?
One tablespoon of table sugar (sucrose) contains 46 total calories, while a tablespoon of raw honey contains 64 total calories[*][*]. Honey is higher in total calories but typically sweeter than regular sugar. Table sugar is stripped of much of its natural sweetness during processing.
Is Honey Low Carb or Keto-Friendly?
One tablespoon of raw honey contains 17 grams of net carbs — 16 of which come from sugar. It contains zero grams total fat, no dietary fiber and only a tenth of a gram of protein. As you probably guessed from its nutrition facts, honey is a high-carb food and holds no place on the keto diet.
Will Honey Kick You Out of Ketosis?
Remember, ketosis is a metabolic state; the keto diet provides guidelines to help you enter ketosis. The average individual can consume 25 to 50 grams of total carbs per day and remain in ketosis. Active individuals and endurance athletes report they can eat up to 100 grams of carbohydrates per day and stay in ketosis.
Technically, you could eat a high-carb food, like honey, and stay in ketosis. Clearly, eating honey in large quantities will prevent you from entering ketosis and reverse your progress. Eating one tablespoon (one serving size) of honey probably won’t hinder your results.
Here are a few times when a small amount of honey is acceptable:
- If you follow the Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD): The TKD allows for 20 to 50 grams of extra carbs up to an hour before or after your workout window. If you’re an athlete you could eat one tablespoon of raw honey pre-or-post workout.
- If you follow the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD): The CKD follows a traditional low carb diet for five days, followed by two days of carb backloading. This means that for 24 to 48 hours of the week you replenish your glycogen stores with higher amounts of carbs. This is typically only recommended for endurance athletes who need higher amounts of carbs to perform.
If you are able to stay in a state of ketosis with a higher carb intake, you may find honey to be a perfectly acceptable part of your diet in moderation. It may be best for beginners new to the keto diet to hold off.
What Are the Nutrients in Raw Honey?
While honey is not suitable for the keto diet, it is a healthy alternative to white sugar. Raw honey is abundant in different micronutrients, including vitamin B6, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc[*].
There are key health benefits you gain when you replace traditional table sugar with raw honey. These include weight loss, a powerful source of energy, an increase in antioxidants found and distributed throughout the body, a restful night’s sleep, wound healing, antibacterial effects and lower chances of developing diabetes[*].
What Low Carb Sweeteners Should You Eat Instead of Honey?
Instead of honey, choose a sweetener that won’t spike your blood sugar. Like honey, these sweeteners are healthy alternatives to table sugar, but rank low on the glycemic index. They won’t spike your blood sugar or insulin levels — two negative side effects of honey.
Choose one of these keto-friendly sweeteners instead of honey:
- Stevia: Stevia contains no calories, ranks zero on the glycemic index and is 200 to 300 times sweeter than regular sugar[*].
- Monk Fruit: Monk fruit is typically prefered to stevia, as it doesn’t have a bitter aftertaste. It also ranks zero on the glycemic index and is 300 times sweeter than sugar.
Recap: Honey Is Not Low Carb or Keto Friendly
While raw honey beats most traditional sweeteners in terms of overall health benefits, it is too high in carbohydrates and natural sugars to be a safe bet for the ketogenic diet. The only way to make raw honey a part of your diet on a low carb or keto diet is if you are:
- Following the TKD and eat honey pre- or post-workout
- Following the CKD and eat honey during your carb backloading
- At or under 50 grams of carbs for the day, including the honey
Honey is not low carb or keto friendly. Instead, choose stevia or monk fruit as a keto-friendly sweetener.