What Bees Can Teach Us About Healthy Living

Refined, processed sugar is responsible for a staggering number of health problems, even the bees know it.

If you’re ever wondering what you should eat—or, more importantly, what you should not eat—take a lesson from bees. They’re more than just smart little creatures; they’re a pretty good judge of what is healthy and what isn’t.

A team of researchers out of North Carolina State University found that bees living in the city (urban areas) are smart enough to avoid processed sugars. Instead, they steer directly to flowers and stick with the nectar-only diet rather than dipping into soda and other high-sugar junk food.

The researchers compiled data on worker honey bees from 39 different bee colonies in rural and urban areas around Raleigh, North Carolina. 15 of the colonies were wild (feral), while the remaining 24 colonies were cared for by beekeepers.

The researchers took samples from the bee colonies and analyzed the carbon isotopes in those samples in order to determine how much of the bees’ diet came from flower nectar, as well as how much came from processed sugars.

Note: Carbon-13 is a type of carbon produced by the body as a byproduct of consuming corn and sugar cane-based sugars. The higher the level of Carbon-13 in the bees’ bodies, the higher their processed sugar consumption.

The study provided some pretty fascinating evidence. First, it was discovered that the wild bees consumed the same (limited) amount of processed sugar whether they lived in urban areas or in rural areas. Even though they had access to high-sugar foods, the urban-dwelling bees stuck to their flower-based diet and avoided processed sugars.

(A) Sample locations of managed and feral honey bee colonies across a rural–urban gradient in Raleigh–Cary–Durham, NC. Shading indicates percent impervious surface, and circles (1,500 m diameter) indicate sampling locations. (B) Relationship between δ 13 C (a measure of human food consumption) and urbanization (quantified as percent impervious surface) for managed and feral bees.

However, domesticated bees (the ones living in apiaries) had a much higher sugar consumption. This is due to the fact that beekeepers often give their bees sugar water to supplement their flower nectar diet.

As you can see, even animals like bees are smart enough to avoid processed sugar. Even though urban bees have plenty of ways to get processed sugar-based food, they stick with their natural food sources and shun processed sugar. The only time bees consume sugar is when we feed it to them.

Let this be a lesson: be like the bees and stay away from processed sugar. Refined, processed sugar is responsible for a staggering number of health problems, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Avoiding processed sugar can drastically improve your health. Be as smart as a bee and be careful with what you eat.


1. Clint A. Penick, Catherine A. Crofton, R. Holden Appler, Steven D. Frank, Robert R. Dunn, David R. Tarpy. “The contribution of human foods to honey bee diets in a mid-sized metropolis“. Journal of Urban Ecology, 2016; 2 (1): juw001 DOI: 10.1093/jue/juw001.