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Monk Fruit Sweetener: Good or Bad?

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Update time : 2021-08-30 14:57:52

Monk Fruit Sweetener: Good or Bad?

Monk Fruit Sweetener: Good or Bad?

Worldwide, the low-calorie sweetener (LCS) market is on track to reach $2.2 billion this year (2020).

Driven by a desire to reduce calorie intake and lose weight, consumers turn increasingly away from sugar. As they do, they look for LCS options.
However, controversy regarding the safety of these alternatives continues.

Individuals interested in maintaining their weight and overall health prefer LCS options from natural sources. One of the most popular of these options is Stevia. More recently, though, monk fruit has gained attention.

In this article we hope to address the follow questions:

  • What exactly is monk fruit?
  • Is monk fruit healthy?
  • Is monk fruit healthier than stevia?
  • Is monk fruit keto-friendly?

What is Monk Fruit?

Monk fruit is a tropical melon. Also known as the Buddha fruit, or Luo Han Guo, monk fruit grows in Southeast Asia. Prime growing regions for monk fruit include northern Thailand and southern China.

Buddhist monks have grown monk fruit for centuries. However, it can be challenging to cultivate and takes a long time to mature.

When it reaches maturity, monk fruit is small, round, and yellowish- or greenish-brown. Fine hairs cover its thin, hard skin. Beneath the skin is an edible pulp. This pulp can be eaten fresh, although it is difficult to store. Most monk fruit is dried or processed to produce the plant's sweet extract. Monk fruit tea also uses the plant's rind.

Historically, monk fruit extract has been used in traditional Chinese medicine. Typical uses include treating colds and improving digestion.

It is also common for monk fruit to assist in adding sweetness in cold drinks.

Monk Fruit Extract

Because it spoils quickly, you won't see fresh monk fruit in a grocery store near you. Recently, though, monk fruit extract has risen in popularity among health-conscious consumers. 

The International Food Information Council Foundation describes monk fruit as 150-200 times sweeter than sugar. Some estimates put this number at 400 times sweeter than sugar. The relative sweetness of a monk fruit product depends on its form and any other ingredients.

The image below illustrates how Monk Fruit as a standalone sweetener fair in comparison to other low-calorie sweeteners. The after-taste on monk fruit lingers so that pairing monk fruit sweetener with specific flavors to mask the natural profile gaps is critical in the development of finished products.

If you, by chance, have issues with the taste sensation brought upon by Stevia, monk fruit may not be an excellent alternative for you as it amplifies all the flaws of Stevia. 

ure monk fruit draws its sweetness from compounds called mogrosides. To extract these compounds, processing removes the skin and seeds from fresh monk fruit. The remaining pulp is crushed to produce a juice containing mogrosides.

Because of the way the body metabolizes these compounds, monk fruit juice has zero calories.

Most studies of mogroside metabolism remain limited to animals. However, experts believe that human metabolism of mogrosides is similar. As they break these compounds down, the upper intestines do not absorb them. Thus, monk fruit extract does not provide appreciable calories.

Types of Monk Fruit Sweeteners

Pure monk fruit sweeteners contain only the fruit's juice. It is available in both liquid and powder form. As a powder, monk fruit sweetener appears white or yellow in color.

More commonly, consumers find monk fruit sweeteners that combine the extract and a bulking agent. Bulking agents include erythritol, dextrose, and allulose. The addition of these agents makes using monk fruit sweeteners easier.

Monk fruit products that contain bulking agents appear similar to sugar and other LCSs. Because the bulking agent dilutes the extract's sweetness, these products also measure similar to sugar.

Popular monk fruit sweetener products include Purefruit®, Nectresse®, PureLo®, Monk Fruit in the Raw®, and Fruit-Sweetness®.

Consumers can use these monk fruit sweeteners in drinks and even in baking. Monk fruit sweeteners remain stable at high temperatures. However, substituting monk fruit sweetener for sugar can produce differences in the texture, look, and taste of baked goods.

Consumers may also notice monk fruit sweeteners as ingredients in other products. These include juices and other cold beverages. Some dairy products and condiments also use monk fruit sweetener. Finally, like homemade baked goods, store-bought desserts and candy may also include monk fruit sweetener.

Is Monk Fruit Healthy?

The FDA originally approved monk fruit extract in 2010. At the time, it approved monk fruit for use as a tabletop sweetener and as a flavor enhancer in processed foods.

The original FDA approval excluded meat and poultry products from the list of foods that can use monk fruit sweetener. Additional updates—most recently in 2015—maintained these exclusions. They also added infant formula to the list of foods that cannot use monk fruit sweeteners.

The FDA has, thus, deemed monk fruit extract as an ingredient "Generally Recognized as Safe" (GRAS) in most foods. Does that mean that it's healthy for you, though?

In fact, monk fruit offers some benefits. However, it is also linked to potential side effects. Furthermore, existing research, especially in humans, is limited.

Consumers should, therefore, weigh the benefits and risks before deciding to include monk fruit sweeteners in their diets.

Monk Fruit Benefits

The most obvious benefits of monk fruit sweeteners are for weight management. Pure monk fruit extract and monk fruit sweeteners that contain bulking agents contribute zero calories. Replacing high-calorie sweeteners, including sugar and honey, with LCSs, like monk fruit, can reduce a person's overall calorie intake.

Currently, the keto diet is a popular approach to weight loss. Keto dieters might wonder, then, "Is Monk Fruit Keto-Friendly?" Another benefit of pure monk fruit is that it contains zero carbs. Monk fruit extract that is combined with erythritol and allulose also contain zero carbs. Thus, these products are keto-friendly.

When used in its pure form, monk fruit's glycemic index is also zero. As such, it won't cause a spike in blood sugar and is generally recognized as safe for diabetics. Some animal studies even suggest that the mogrosides in monk fruit can help control blood sugar. However, more studies of this effect in humans are needed.

Animal studies likewise suggest that the antioxidant properties of mogrosides may offer some health benefits. Again, though, additional studies using human subjects are needed.

Proponents of monk fruit sweeteners further tout the product as a natural alternative to artificial LCSs. These include aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, acesulfame, and neotame. The controversy surrounding the safety of many of these products has driven consumers toward more natural options, including monk fruit.

Among the most controversial of the artificial LCSs is aspartame. To date, studies have identified a correlation between aspartame and the following serious conditions:

  • Cancer
  • Neurological disorders, including stroke, Alzheimer's disease, dementia, and seizures
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Intestinal upset
  • Mood disorders
  • Headaches, including migraines

While aspartame has received the most attention, other artificial sweeteners also pose health risks.

Some consumers, therefore, opt for monk fruit extract as a more natural alternative.

Monk Fruit Side Effects and Risks

Monk fruit can be a more natural sweetener option for individuals concerned with limiting their calorie intake. However, using monk fruit sweeteners can cause some side effects.

Studies of risks associated with monk fruit use, especially in humans, also remain limited. These limited investigations, again, suggest that consumers should exercise use of the sweetener cautiously.