So, you've decided to follow a paleo lifestyle and you are wondering what options there are for sweeteners that are natural. You've eliminated sugars, grains and processed flours, but what do you do if you fancy something sweeter like a paleo cake on a special occasion? You know table sugar is out, but what about all the options that are a bit more natural than the powdery white stuff? Is honey paleo?
The paleo diet (referencing the Paleolithic era) is based on the idea that we would be a lot better off eating a diet closer to what our ancient caveman ancestors ate. In other words, we should be sticking to whole foods that come out of the ground or from an animal, not heavily processed, and ideally as close to wild as possible.
When you start to take processed foods out of your diet, the first thing you might notice is a craving for carbs and sugar. Again, we know that refined sugar is out, but what's the best natural replacement? Raw honey is a great option — in moderation — for a number of reasons. Let's explore them below.
Honey vs. Raw Honey
You're likely familiar with pasteurised dairy products, but honey can also be pasteurised. Most commercial honey you'll find at the supermarket is pasteurised — a form of heat sterilisation designed to kill any potential pathogens that may have had contact with the food in question.
Raw honey is naturally antimicrobial, so the risk of a bacterial infestation is very low.* Pasteurising also kills the harmless yeast sometimes present in raw honey, which can cause crystallisation, so it's used as a method to extend shelf life. That being said, crystallised honey is perfectly fine to consume, it just doesn't spread the same way as liquid honey.
The downside of pasteurisation is that it kills off many of the beneficial properties you'll find in raw honey.
*In rare cases, unpasteurised honey may contain a bacteria called Clostridium botulinum, which can cause botulism. A study measuring levels of this bacteria in raw honey found that only 2.1% of samples contained C. botulinum, and other data suggests that 90% of infection occurs in infants under six months old . In other words, risk of botulism is virtually non-existent for humans over one year old.
Raw Honey in Traditional Medicine
Raw honey is actually a bit of a superfood. It's been used for millennia as a healing elixir across a number of cultures in human history. Practitioners of traditional and alternative medicines have used it in the treatment of :
- Eye diseases
- Bronchial asthma
- Throat infections
- Worm infestation
- Wound healing
Honey has been used for its antioxidants, antimicrobial properties, anti-inflammatory effects, enzymes, prebiotics, antiproliferative effects, anti-cancer properties, and antimetastatic effects. Evidence also suggests that honey may have a beneficial effect on blood sugar levels (and Type 2 diabetes), asthma, GI issues, and cardiovascular health .
As far as nutritional health benefits, it's clear that raw honey is the winner over pasteurised (as long as you're at least one year old). Unadulterated raw honey is also considered a whole food, making it paleo-friendly, whereas pasteurised honey is heat-processed and not recommended in a paleo lifestyle.
Honey Metabolism and Nutritive Effects
Now that we've established that raw honey is, in fact, a paleo food, we need to consider the health effects of honey as a sweetener. How it's metabolised is an important health factor, and the many constituents of honey have an effect on how it's metabolised.
Fructose and Glycemic Index
The glycemic index (GI) of honey is 55 while table sugar is 60. Honey contains more fructose than table sugar (sucrose) does — about 40% fructose and 30% glucose, compared to table sugar's 50/50 .
Fructose has to go through the liver before entering the bloodstream, while glucose moves straight from the digestive tract into the bloodstream. Because of the additional step that fructose requires during digestion, and because honey has more fructose than glucose, it doesn't spike your blood sugar in the same way that sucrose does. This is why it has a lower GI number.
Metabolic Benefits of Honey
Research has revealed that, when consumed in moderation, honey can be a safe substitute for individuals with Type 2 diabetes due its slower release into the bloodstream. In fact, it can also have therapeutic anti-inflammatory effects, lowering HbA1c levels and increasing HDL cholesterol . We would, however, encourage anyone with metabolic disease or Type 2 diabetes to opt for a lower sugar lifestyle such as keto, using a natural sweetener such as Inulin or vanilla.
Furthermore, since honey is a natural whole food, it contains other constituents beyond fructose and glucose. It also contains phytonutrients, flavonoids, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and prebiotics called oligosaccharides. Oligosaccharides are fibres that can actually slow digestion rate and prolong a feeling of fullness (satiety). This feeling of fullness combined with the additional nutrition honey offers above and beyond nearly all other forms of sugar may be the reason research shows that honey actually aids in weight loss in some clinical trials .
Raw Honey and Paleo-Friendly Recipes
One of the best ways to stick to a new way of eating is to make it fun and enjoyable. Extreme restriction isn't necessarily sustainable for everyone, so it's OK to ‘indulge’ from time to time. The paleo diet doesn't require counting calories or restricting your food intake, it's just about improving the quality of what you eat.
We’ve created some top-quality recipes for you to enjoy whilst sticking to paleo principles. This includes savoury options like:
- Honey Roasted Parsnips
- Glazed Aubergine With Avocado Oil & Ginger
- Keto and Paleo Lemon Poppy Seed Chicken Salad Recipe With Avocado Oil Mayonnaise
You might also like to try some sweet paleo dessert recipes:
- Keto and Paleo Chocolate Cookie Dough Bar (gluten-free and dairy-free)
- Ultimate Keto Chocolate Raspberry, Collagen, MCT & Vitamin Smoothie
- Paleo Collagen Powder Protein Bars With Coconut and Dark Chocolate
The paleo diet allows for natural sweeteners like honey in addition to maple syrup, raw stevia and coconut sugar, so use your judgment when including these in your food.
A Caveat for Eating Honey on Any Meal Plan
Large amounts of sugar of any kind is not advisable, whether it's paleo-approved or not. Again, the paleo diet is all about taking your way of eating back to the hunter-gatherer days of human history.
When our ancient ancestors roamed the earth, they were lucky to find an occasional beehive, wild berry bush or wild fruit-producing tree. They didn't have a high sugar intake (or even a daily one), as sugar wasn't abundant in the natural environment. Paleo experts recommend treating honey as a treat, not a daily indulgence.
That being said, you can rest assured that you're on track if your paleo recipe calls for honey. Just make sure it's raw.
Raw Honey as a Paleo Sweetener
To recap, honey can be either raw or pasteurised. Raw honey is paleo-friendly and pasteurised isn't, due to the heat processing required. Raw honey has been used for thousands of years in our human history as a superfood elixir for a number of ailments. Modern research supports some of the claims of traditional medical practitioners, including its benefits for wound-healing, weight loss, cardiovascular support, and digestive support, to name a few.
While honey has a lower GI than table sugar, it's not advisable to gorge on honey, as it will still have an effect on your blood sugar if consumed in a high quantity. Enjoy honey in moderation on the paleo diet, and learn about other ways to successfully implement paleo as a lifestyle.
All information provided on our website and within our articles is simply information, opinion, anecdotal thoughts and experiences to provide you with the tools to thrive.
It is not intended to treat or diagnose symptoms and is definitely not intended to be misconstrued for medical advice. We always advise you seek the advice of a trained professional when implementing any changes to your lifestyle and dietary habits.
We do however recommend seeking the services of a trained professional who questions the conventional wisdom to enable you to become the best version of yourself.