There are some pretty exciting benefits and polarizing contraindications of honey for IBS, all over the internet. Alas, if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and you’re curious about whether or not honey will work for you, my short answer is yes – unless you have a fructose intolerance. But there’s more to the story, for those who want to hear it!
In this article, I’ll unpack the latest research on honey and IBS, so you can make your own informed decision (with help from a registered dietitian / holistic nutritionist, as needed) about whether or not honey is a friend or foe to you on your gut-healing journey.
Affiliate disclosure: This article contains affiliate links*. As an Amazon Associate, I may make a commission on qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you!
- This is not medical nutrition advice! This article was written for educational purposes. I recommend that you to consult a doctor and a functional dietitian / holistic nutritionist if you’re navigating IBS.
- Honey and IBS are sometimes but not always compatible, since honey is very high in fructose.
- Children under the age of 2 should never eat honey, for safety reasons.
- Keep in mind: eating honey of any kind as a stand-alone intervention is not going to be enough to remedy IBS. (Managing those expectations is important.)
- Addressing IBS properly takes a holistic, multidimensional approach and a decent amount of time and work. There’s no such thing as a quick fix! 😉
IBS is an acronym for irritable bowel syndrome, a type of chronic and functional gut disorder which is majorly impacted by what and how we eat.
While each individual with IBS has their own unique list of foods they can and cannot tolerate without going into a flare, there can still be a good amount of overlap when it comes down to what works for people and what doesn’t, from a nutrition standpoint. (Read more about IBS diets here!)
The biggest top-of-mind concern in the IBS diets department is that honey is not compatible for most people following a low-fructose or low FODMAP diet.
Is honey high or low FODMAP?
One thing that stands out in the literature on IBS diets is that most people seem to benefit from following a low FODMAP diet.
- FODMAPs are “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols” – aka indigestible carbohydrates which cause fermentation in the gut, subsequently leading to IBS symptoms.
Honey is very high in fructose, so it’s considered a high FODMAP food. People with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), a condition which presents as IBS, are more likely to have a fructose intolerance than other people with IBS.
In my functional nutrition clinic and also as a former IBS sufferer, I’ve actually observed (anecdotally) that more people than not who have IBS are able to enjoy honey in moderation.
- 1 teaspoon of honey is considered low FODMAP) without any issues, as long as they aren’t consuming too much fructose from lots of other foods in low FODMAP servings throughout the course of a day. (That is called “FODMAP stacking!”)
If you suspect you have a fructose intolerance or would like to find out, you can look into this by keeping track of your food and symptoms via an IBS food diary*.
- If you’ve observed that you can’t eat honey without going into a flare, chances are you have a fructose intolerance.
- If you’d rather not risk suffering from trial-and-error, you could also take a fructose intolerance breath test.
On the other hand, if you can tolerate honey in moderation, it’s definitely worth checking out the potential benefits of including honey in your diet (in moderation), listed below!
Honey is a prebiotic
Honey contains about 4 to 5% fructooligosaccharides, which are a type of prebiotic (feeding certain types of probiotic, healthy microbes in the gut). (1, 2)
- A study which measured some “before-and-after” effects of honey in mice found that the group of mice receiving honey (versus no honey) experienced a hefty boost in probiotic gut microbes like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, due to honey’s prebiotic benefits. (1)
Honey helps optimize your gut microbes
In addition to being a prebiotic food, raw honey also seems to help rebalance and “modulate” gut flora, which play a pretty huge role in our ability to digest food and absorb nutrients.
- Raw honey can actually selectively target harmful, pathogenic bacteria, while protecting the good stuff. (2, 3)
- For example, in this study, certain types of raw honey were shown to reduce the growth of troublesome, illness-promoting microbes (including the infamous Salmonella, E. Coli and C. difficile to name a few!) while simultaneously boosting the growth of healthy probiotics, essentially reducing infection and inflammation.
- A 2022 study even revealed that honey was helpful in restoring and maintaining the intestinal function of rats that had been given total parenteral nutrition (TPN), which typically leads to gut atrophy over time. (4)
While more studies wouldn’t hurt, the research on honey for gut health is looking promising so far!
If you’re familiar with the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet for leaky gut syndrome and IBS/IBD, you may already know that Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride (founder of the GAPS diet protocol) endorses raw honey as the only “allowed” sweetener, aside from dates or unsweetened dried fruit.
This is because the premise of the GAPS diet is to kill off candida overgrowth and dysbiosis, which Dr. Campbell McBride (and a lot of research) have determined are a primary underlying root-cause of leaky gut, IBS, IBD and their comorbidities.
While there are skeptics, a 2006 study from Medical mycology concluded that certain types of honey do in fact have an antifungal action against Candida species.
- In my clinic, this is promising for my clients with IBS because I often find (via a comprehensive stool analysis or GI MAP test) that many of them turn out to have an unhealthy overgrowth of Candida in the colon or sometimes even systemically.
Honey and mycotoxins
Mycotoxins are toxic chemical substances which are naturally released as bi-products of toxic mold. Unfortunately in my clinic, I’ve found a certain percentage of people presenting with IBS symptoms turn out to have an underlying mycotoxicity as a result of past mold exposure.
Some of the most common symptoms of mycotoxin-induced illness in the body may include: (5)
- Brain fog
- Memory loss
- Abdominal pain
- Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS)
When left unchecked, mycotoxin overgrowth in the body can wreak havoc on the gut as well as internal organs like the liver and kidneys.
According to BMC Complementary Medicine Therapies, dietary honey was able to inhibit some of the harmful effects of mycotoxin poisoning in mice. (1) While more research is needed in this field of honey and mycotoxicity, based on what we know thus far, adding some honey into your regimen can’t hurt (unless you have a fructose intolerance!).
How much honey is best for IBS?
If you’re anything like me, now that you’ve learned all these amazing benefits of honey, you might be feeling a bit tempted to start guzzling it by the bottle. 😉
But before you get too excited, keep in mind: honey is still a type of sugar (and very high in glycemic index), so we need to treat it that way. Just like anything else, moderation is key!
If you suspect you have a fructose intolerance, and/or you’re following a low FODMAP elimination diet for SIBO, and/or you have diabetes, keeping your intake of honey below one teaspoon per day is generally recommended. (Consult with your registered dietitian if you’re unsure about this!)
Otherwise, if you find that you tolerate honey just fine and you don’t have any tendency towards blood sugar imbalances, Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride recommends limiting honey to no more than one to two tablespoons of honey in a day – ideally not all at once. 😉
How to incorporate honey in your regimen
One thing I like to emphasize often is that not all honey is medicinal. If you’re buying pasteurized honey, you’re likely missing out on some of the live benefits that raw honey has to offer! Some of the antioxidants could also get degraded when honey is overheated. (But you’ll still get the prebiotic benefits!)
Also, as I mentioned earlier, honey is pure sugar. That being said, it’s best to replace other sources of added sugar in the diet for raw honey, when possible.
- Try adding a spoonful of raw honey to coffee or tea, instead of sugar
- Use raw honey in homemade dessert recipes
- Drizzle some honey in your oatmeal instead of brown sugar
- Consider trying my favorite honey-sweetened chocolate (Honey Mama’s!)*
If you’d like some creative and tasty ways to start making more desserts with honey instead of sugar, you might like to check out some of my favorite honey-sweetened dessert recipes:
Or if you want to learn more about how different types of sweeteners impact IBS, feel free to read my other articles on sweeteners and IBS:
Aside from being high in the FODMAP fructose, which sometimes triggers diarrhea for people with SIBO and/or iBS-D (due to their fructose intolerance), honey is making its way into the spotlight as an ally for gut issues like IBS.
Not only is honey a potent prebiotic – research has also confirmed that honey can selectively optimize microbes in the gut (by feeding and boosting probiotics, while killing off pathogenic microbes like Salmonella, E. Coli, C. Diff, Candida, and more).
Nonetheless, honey is still a type of sugar, so moderation is key. Generally staying under one teaspoon (if you have a fructose intolerance) or otherwise under one to two tablespoons of honey per day is recommended, but consult with a registered dietitian to receive a custom plan.
Raw honey is better than pasteurized honey, and swapping/replacing other types of sugar for honey is the best way to start taking honey for IBS.
Either way, remember that there’s no such thing as a “be-all-end-all” quick-fix when it comes to resolving your IBS, so adding honey into your regimen likely will not cure your IBS. You’ll likely need a holistic, multi-dimensional approach along with a dose of patience, conviction and delayed gratification!
If you’d like to learn more about how to optimize your gut health and get my fast-track insights as a holistic + functional dietitian & former IBS sufferer, feel free to download my free guide: 5 IBS Diet Mistakes to Avoid!