People cannot live on honey alone

25 September 2023
What was claimed

Eating honey alone can sustain human life.

Our verdict

Eating only honey would lead to nutritional deficiencies that could eventually be fatal. It does not contain enough protein, fat or micronutrients for human survival.

A Facebook post shared widely on social media contains a number of claims about honey, including that it can sustain human life on its own. 

In fact, eating only honey would lead to life-threatening malnutrition. This article does not assess the other claims.

Bad information about health can be harmful if people act on it. We have written many times about potentially dangerous claims regarding food and diet.

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Can honey alone keep you alive?

The post says: “Did you know that honey is one of the few foods on earth that alone can sustain human life?”

More than 90% of honey is carbohydrates (sugars) and water.

Individual needs vary significantly, but the average person requires 2,000-2,500 calories (kcal) a day to maintain their body weight. 

An average woman needing 2000kcal would therefore need to eat about 694g of honey if she was going to live on honey alone. That’s about two 340g jars a day.

Assuming this woman was also able to drink water, the honey would still only provide about 2.8g of protein and a negligible amount of fat. This would become very unhealthy over time, because an average woman needs about 45g of protein a day, and fat is essential in the human diet.

What would happen to someone on this diet?

Protein deficiency can cause symptoms like muscle loss and weakness, and increase the risk of bone fractures. 

More severe cases cause kwashiorkor, the condition often seen in starving children with a swollen, distended abdomen due to fluid retention. It is more often found in poor countries, where some people have diets mostly of carbohydrates, like rice—and even rice has significantly more protein per calorie than honey. 

Kwashiorkor is fatal if not treated promptly. 

Eating no fat would lead to essential fatty acid deficiency, which can cause issues with skin and hair, low platelets (important cells in the blood that help with clotting) and intellectual disability in children.

A minimal fat diet may be used medically to treat people with leaks from their lymphatic system (which helps move fluid around the body), but this would have a set time limit by a consultant doctor.

Eating nothing but honey would cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies as well. For example, it contains no vitamin A or vitamin B12, which are essential for the body to work properly. 

Eating 2,000kcal of honey would provide about 2.9mg of iron, which is well below the required amounts to prevent anaemia, a condition that can have life-threatening consequences.

Not even bee colonies could survive on honey alone. While bees do make honey to provide them with food over the winter months, they actually rely on pollen as well for protein and nutrients.

Featured image courtesy of Anete Lusina

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