Honey is definitely an animal-sourced food but there is some debate about whether honey is okay on the carnivore diet due to its high carbohydrate content.
This post will look at how honey is made, its nutritional profile and health benefits, whether honey is okay on the carnivore diet, who should avoid it and the best honey to get if you want to make it a part of your diet.
How is honey made?
Honey is made by bees as a way to store food to last them through the winter months – honey is bees’ survival food.
Worker bees would collect nectar, the sugary juice in the heart of the flower, and store it in their special honey stomach which is separate from their food stomach.
When their honey stomach is full, they would fly back to the hive and pass it on through their mouths to other house bees by regurgitating the liquid. The liquid is passed on from bee to bee for about half an hour until it becomes honey.
The bees then store the honey in the hexagon-shaped honeycomb cells. At this stage, the honey is still liquid with high water content and the bees would fan it with their wings to dry it out and make it more condensed. The bees would then seal the cells with beeswax.
Beekeepers harvest the honey by scraping off the wax caps and placing the honeycomb frames in an extractor which spins and forces honey out of the comb.
When the bees digest the nectar, the plant sugar is mixed with the bees’ digestive enzymes and this creates something very different from simple plant sugar and gives honey its unique health-promoting properties.
Due to its low water content, honey can last indefinitely. Thousand-year-old pots of honey can still remain in perfect condition and are safely edible.
Also due to its low moisture but high acidic level and hydrogen peroxide content, very few microorganisms can survive in honey. This gives honey its wound-healing ability and other medicinal properties discussed below.
What is in honey?
Honey is primarily a source of sugar but has trace amounts of some vitamins and minerals.
As can be seen in the table below, there are 82.4 grams of sugar in 100 grams of honey. But the sugar in honey is unique in that it is mostly single-molecule sugars, monosaccharides (fructose and glucose).
In addition, there are very small amounts of vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium.
However, honey has been treasured by mankind since ancient times not just as a source of energy but also for its therapeutic properties.
Honey’s health benefits
Honey has been used in traditional medicines to treat a long list of health problems such as eye diseases, bronchial asthma, throat infections, tuberculosis, thirst, hiccups, fatigue, dizziness, hepatitis, constipation, worm infestation, piles, eczema, and healing of ulcers and wounds.
There is some evidence suggesting that honey may help improve cholesterol profile, lower blood pressure, stabilize blood sugar, aid wound healing, and decrease inflammation. [8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15]
These potential health benefits are from the consumption of genuine unprocessed honey.
If you consume processed and adulterated honey (further discussed below), it’s probably not much different from consuming refined sugar.
Different types of honey
Honey colors, aromas, tastes, nutritional contents and therapeutic properties depend on where the honeycomb frames are placed.
Honeycombs placed in the middle of a pristine rainforest will give you a distinctive floral flavor of that particular rainforest.
Bees that collect nectar exclusively from the flowers of the Manuka trees (Leptospermum Scoparium) which only grow in small parts of New Zealand and Australia will produce a special type of honey called Manuka. Due to its unique properties and rarity, Manuka honey is amongst the most expensive honey in the world.
If the bees collect nectar from flowers of plants that you are sensitive to, you might find that you are allergic to that type of honey due to the presence of residual pollen and other plant compounds.
Like many other packaged food, honey labels can be confusing.
The honey that comes straight out of the honeycomb is pure, raw, and unfiltered honey.
Honey producers may want to filter the honey to remove debris such as wax, pollen, or bits of dead bees. They may also heat the honey up to pasteurize, achieve consistency and make it easier to bottle. This gives you processed honey.
If a jar of honey doesn’t say ‘pure & raw‘ on the label, assume that the honey has gone through some processing and there may be additives.
Organic honey is the honey produced by bees that get nectar from flowers that are not sprayed with chemicals. To be labeled ‘organic honey’, honey producers must pass a set of stringent requirements. Some small local beekeepers may pass organic requirements but their honey is not labeled as such because the cost of certification is not worth it for them.
Commercial honey is usually produced by bees placed in conventional farms. When bees collect nectar from flowers that have been sprayed on, their honey is expected to contain residual herbicides, pesticides, and other chemicals too.
In a study that analyzed 198 honey samples from around the world, 75% of the samples were found to contain measurable quantities of at least one of the five tested neonicotinoids (one of the most widely used insecticides in the world). In addition, 45% of samples had two or more and 10% had four or five. Even a sample that came from a beehive kept in a forest in Neuchâtel surrounded by organic farms was contaminated. [16, 17, 18]
Pesticide residues found in honey have been found to have an adverse impact on the semen quality of exposed individuals and animals.
Exposure to pesticides even in very small doses can cause disorientation, memory loss, increased stress and risk of diseases, and poor reproductive health in bees as well as threaten their survival. [20, 21]
This has wide-ranging implications for the whole food chain, not just crops that are directly impacted by those pollinators.
Furthermore, the practice of adulterating honey (adding refined sugars such as corn syrup to real honey) is relatively common.
Beekeepers may also supplementarily feed bees with sugar to increase production or when the bees’ natural food supply is adversely affected by the weather. If sugar makes up a substantial proportion of the bees’ food, what you get from the bees is probably not much different from liquid sugar.
Is honey okay on the carnivore diet?
Given its nutritional profile and various therapeutic properties, in my opinion, it is okay to have honey on the carnivore diet.
While honey is definitely a healthier option than other forms of sweeteners (refined sugar and artificial sweeteners), it is still mainly sugar.
If you would like to consume honey on the carnivore diet, it should be treated as a natural sweetener and it’s best to stick to the suggested serving of about 20 grams a day.
Our ancestors would probably have eaten honey but it was unlikely to have played a significant role in their diet given how scarce it would have been relative to other animal-source foods.
Some people who had previously been on a strict carnivore diet have switched to animal-based diet and added low-toxin carbs to their diet including honey.
For example, Dr. Paul Saladino who began with a strict version of the carnivore diet has recently reintroduced carbs back to his diet including fruits (e.g. banana, papaya, coconut, and rambutan) and honey.
He was zero carbs for about 2 years and experienced many benefits of this diet but he began to have heart palpitation, cramp, and sleep disturbances that he couldn’t figure out why. When he added a bit of carbs back, these went away.
However, there are also people who have been strictly zero-carb carnivores for more than 20 years like the Anderson family and are happy to stay that way.
Therefore, whether it is a good idea or necessary to add a high-carb food like honey to your diet really depends on how you feel.
Who should avoid honey?
If you are allergic to pollen, obviously it’s best to stay away from honey.
Further, in my view, people who are trying to lose weight or are new to the carnivore diet should avoid honey too.
If you are trying to lose weight, you can experience with honey and see if it affects your total food and calorie intake in any material way.
If you find it stimulating appetite and if you struggle to stick to moderate consumption, avoid it.
Honey is high in calories, just one serving (20g) contains 61 calories. A few servings a day can add up to a lot of calories and you will be kicked out of ketosis: your body will switch to burning glucose rather than fat for fuel.
If you are new to the carnivore diet, it’s best to keep it simple during the initial stage and stick to meat, organ meat and fat until you are fully adapted to this way of eating. This is to reduce the risk of falling off the wagon. If you previously have a carb addiction, eating something sweet like honey may have an undesirable cascading effect.
When you consume carbohydrates, blood sugar rises and you feel a boost of energy known as the ‘sugar rush‘. The pancreas will go to work and secrete insulin to stabilize blood sugar.
When blood sugar goes down, you will feel sluggish and hangry, also known as the ‘sugar crash‘ and you want to eat something again, and you are likely to reach for another carb-rich snack or meal. And so the vicious cycle goes.
If you are metabolically unhealthy (i.e. experiencing inflammation, high blood pressure, abnormal blood lipid levels, high blood sugar, and insulin resistance), it may be best to wait till you have restored your metabolic health before introducing any form of carbs.
Choosing the best honey
The best honey to buy, in my view, would be from a local beekeeper whom you know and trust.
If local honey is not available, buy honey from a reputable company or brand.
Always choose raw and unfiltered honey.
Organic honey would be preferable but, as mentioned above, some local beekeepers do sell genuine organic honey (because they place their beehives in areas that are not exposed to chemicals) but don’t want to seek organic certification due to cost.
Quality honey does cost more, but if you only use honey as a natural sweetener occasionally, a jar of honey will last you a long time.
I would rather pay for quality food than pay for medicines.
If you can’t get genuine good quality honey, don’t eat honey
If you can’t get good quality honey, don’t buy it, you might be getting processed sugar disguised as honey.
Honey adulteration is found to be relatively common. In a study that tested 100 honey samples from 19 countries, 27% of commercial honey samples tested were found to be of questionable authenticity (i.e. they contained something other than nectar such as corn and cane syrup).
As mentioned above, Manuka honey is amongst the most expensive honey in the world due to its unique properties, scarcity and claimed health benefits. 
While the annual production of manuka honey is estimated to be about 1,700 tons only, the estimated global sale of manuka honey is around 10,000 tons each year.
That means a lot of us are paying rip-off prices for faked honey.
In a literature review on the toxic effect of honey adulteration, the authors of the study concluded that:
Adulteration increases the consumer’s blood sugar, which can cause diabetes, abdominal weight gain, and obesity, raise the level of blood lipids and can cause high blood pressure.
The most common organ affected by honey adulterants is the liver followed by the kidney, heart, and brain, as shown in several in vivo research designs.Fakhlaei et al (2020)
Again, if you are not sure what you are getting, don’t get it in the first place.
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Disclaimer: The information in this post is for reference purposes only and not intended to constitute or replace professional medical advice. Please consult a qualified medical professional before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle.
Photo credit: Benyamin Bohlouli on Unsplash