Sugar is almost unavoidable in our modern society, but it has a huge impact on our health. That’s why many are looking for sugar alternatives. But artificial sweeteners aren’t any better!
Monk fruit extract is an alternative to these sweeteners. It’s low in calories and may be a good choice for those avoiding sugar and artificial sweeteners (though it should also be used in moderation).
What Is Monk Fruit?
Monk fruit (Siraitia grosvenorii) is also known as luo han guo fruit. It is native to southern China. This small orange fruit with sweet pulp got its name because it was mainly cultivated by Buddhist Monks as early as the 13th century. Monk fruit is still almost exclusively grown in China.
Currently, monk fruit extract is made exclusively in China. There has been a ban on exporting this fruit since 2004. Because of this, and the fact that monk fruit degrades too quickly to be stored, Americans are unlikely to taste a fresh monk fruit.
Monk Fruit Extract
Monk fruit extract is appealing because it is 250 times sweeter than sugar but is low in calories (sugars). Compounds, including the antioxidants mogrosides, create a sweet taste without sugars. Mogrosides metabolize differently than simple sugars and do not absorb during digestion.
Monk fruit extract is a concentrated natural sweetener containing these compounds. It can be very low in calories or completely calorie-free (depending on how processed it is). This sweetener is a sugar substitute that many people enjoy.
But… is it healthy?
Monk Fruit Health Benefits
Being a low-calorie natural sweetener is not the only benefit of monk fruit extract. Studies are beginning to find many other reasons to use it.
Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory
Research shows inflammation causes many illnesses today. The illnesses include diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Monk fruit has compounds that act as antioxidants, fighting inflammation and potentially protecting against these diseases. This makes sense because many fruits and vegetables are a good source of antioxidants.
But monk fruit has antioxidants that other fruits don’t (the mogrosides mentioned above). Research published in the Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research found that the mogrosides in monk fruit can help reduce the oxidative stress associated with diabetes.
Supports Healthy Weight
It seems obvious that a no-calorie sweetener could help with weight issues, but that’s not always true. For example, artificial sweeteners spike blood sugar and may also increase weight gain.
Monk fruit extract, however, may be helpful in keeping weight in check. When obese mice were fed mogrosides from monk fruit, they had reduced body weight compared to control mice. Researchers believe this happened because of enhanced fat metabolism and antioxidative defenses.
Protect Against Diabetes
There is a lot of research that shows monk fruit can help keep blood sugar levels healthy. This is because it is a low glycemic sweetener. In traditional Chinese Medicine, monk fruit has been used for centuries to treat diabetes. Modern science is supporting this use.
A study in the British Journal of Medicine found that monk fruit extract can help reduce the symptoms and the pathological response of those with diabetes. Rats had improved insulin response and reduced blood sugar levels. It even helped support kidney function!
Additionally, some research suggests that mogrosides from monk fruit can help improve the immune function of diabetics. One Chinese study, published in 2006, found that mice given mogrosides were well protected against diabetes-induced immune dysfunction.
May Protect Against Cancer
Cancer is a disease that is strongly associated with oxidative stress. Since monk fruit is a good source of antioxidants that help reduce oxidative stress, it makes sense that monk fruit extract may also help fight against cancer.
But research supports this theory as well:
- A study in Life Sciences claims monk fruit has a protein that possesses anti-cancer properties.
- A study on mice with cancer found that monk fruit extract helped inhibit the growth of cancer cells (colorectal and throat). It also curbed tumor growth.
- Two breast cancer cell lines were studied. It was found that one compound in monk fruit has anti-cancer properties. This compound inhibited breast cancer cells by promoting cell turnover.
While more research is needed, these findings are very promising.
Read this post to learn more about the link between sugar and cancer.
This sweetener is also antimicrobial, according to a study published in the Journal of Asian Natural Product Research. So it may be beneficial for those suffering from bacterial or yeast overgrowth in the gut.
Is Monk Fruit Extract Safe?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes monk fruit extract as generally safe. There has been no research pointing to concern. However, research is in its infancy. Monk fruit has been used for centuries, but monk fruit extract is relatively new.
In small amounts, this sweetener is probably fine. But I would be cautious of using it to replace sugar in the amount many Americans would. Instead, use it as a tool to help reduce overall sugar consumption. If you struggle with a sweet tooth, check out these seven ways to stop craving sugar.
What Does Monk Fruit Extract Taste Like?
It can taste different depending on how processed the extract is. As a general rule, the more processed it is, the sweeter and blander it becomes.
Some describe this sweetener as having a mild, fruity taste. Some think it has a strong aftertaste, while others feel the aftertaste is less noticeable than that of Splenda or stevia. Of course, personal preferences vary widely.
How to Use Monk Fruit Extract
You can use this extract in the same way you would use sugar (baking, cooking, etc.). Be careful to read the directions for the correct amount to use. It is much sweeter than sugar, so a little is all you need.
Where to Find Monk Fruit Extract
This sweetener is at many health food stores, as well as online. Many of the monk fruit sweeteners do not only contain monk fruit. Some have additives and artificial sweeteners, so be careful to check the label. I trust the brands Thrive Market carries, so I order monk fruit extract through them. You can buy it in liquid form or as a dry powder. They are free of additives and extra ingredients.
Final Thoughts on Monk Fruit
Our Western diets drown us in sugar! While our kids may love our sugar-soaked society, it’s up to us to find a better way to nourish our bodies. Monk fruit extract is a great alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners. In fact, the only cereal my family eats is sweetened by (you guessed it) monk fruit.
Having read through the science and studies, I feel that monk fruit extract is a safe and healthy choice for my family.
Do you use any sugar alternatives? Have you tried monk fruit extract? Let us know your thoughts below!
- Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). Inflammation: A unifying theory of disease. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Inflammation_A_unifying_theory_of_disease
- Xu, Q., Chen, S., Deng, L., Feng, L., Huang, L., & Yu, R. (2013). Antioxidant effect of mogrosides against oxidative stress induced by palmitic acid in mouse insulinoma NIT-1 cells. Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research, 46(11), 949-955. doi:10.1590/1414-431×20133163 Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3854338/
- Suzuki, Y. A., Tomoda, M., Murata, Y., Inui, H., Sugiura, M., & Nakano, Y. (2007). Antidiabetic effect of long-term supplementation with Siraitia grosvenori on the spontaneously diabetic Goto–Kakizaki rat. British Journal of Nutrition, 97(4), 770-775. doi:10.1017/s0007114507381300 Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17349091
- Effects of mogroside extract on cellular immune functions in alloxan-induced diabetic rats. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://en.cnki.com.cn/Article_en/CJFDTOTAL-YYXX200603010.htm
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- Zhang, X., Song, Y., Ding, Y., Wang, W., Liao, L., Zhong, J., . . . Xie, W. (2018). Effects of mogrosides on high-fat-diet-induced obesity and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in mice. Molecules, 23(8). Retrieved from https://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/23/8/1894.