Monk fruit. Have you heard of it? No really, it’s a real thing. Cultivated for centuries by Buddhist monks, monk fruit has been gaining popularity in our food system as a natural non-nutritive sweetener, meaning it sweetens without calories. It could be a great sugar alternative for anyone focusing on wellness goals to reduce added sugars, calories or manage diabetes. If you aren’t familiar with monk fruit, here’s what you need to know:
What is Monk Fruit?
Traditionally named luo han guo, monk fruit is a small, green gourd-like melon grown in Southern China. It’s extract, or juice, is nearly 200 times sweeter than table sugar but contains zero calories, making monk fruit an ideal sugar alternative for baking and as an ingredient added into sugar-free food food and beverages.
What makes monk fruit so sweet? A little something called Mogroside V. Don’t be put off by the challenging name… mogrosides are naturally occurring antioxidant compounds. In processing, the monk fruit flesh is pulverized to produce mogroside-rich juice, which is then used as monk fruit extract for a sweetener.
On ingredient labels you’ll find it listed as monk fruit or by its traditional name, luo han guo. Typical products using monk fruit might include sweetened beverages, baked goods, yogurts, salad dresses or jams, and sweet desserts like ice cream, hard candies, or chocolates. They may be advertised as ‘sugar free’ products, but not all are always entirely sugar free.
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Benefits of Monk Fruit
For those seeking to manage diabetes, elevated blood sugars or reduce overall added sugar intake, monk fruit extract may be a good option. A 2009 in-vitro study of monk fruit’s key component, mogroside V, suggest it is a low-glycemic sweetener that stimulates insulin secretion – the hormone responsible for supporting blood sugar balance.
A 2013 study of the antioxidant effect of monk fruit’s active compound mogroside v, highlighed the powerful affect this compound may have reducing oxidative stress. Oxidative stress has been well-studied for its correlation to disease, so perhaps monk fruit extract has some disease prevention properties. More research is definitely needed in this area!
While monk fruit is advertised as a zero-calorie sweetener, it technically contains 2 calories per 1 tsp which the FDA approves as essentially zero. This can be helpful for reducing caloric intake (like sugar in your coffee) without sacrificing taste or pleasure.
Is Monk Fruit Extract Safe?
Yes! Monk fruit extract has been given GRAS designation (generally recognized as safe) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This deems it safe for use with most populations including children, pregnant and nursing mothers. New Zealand, Canadian, and Australian government health organizations also recognize monk fruit as safe for consumption.
Is Monk Fruit Extract Pure?
Look on the grocery store shelves and you’ll find a few different forms of monk fruit extract in powdered, granular, cubed or even liquid form. Are they all 100% monk fruit sweeteners? Not always. Some manufacturers blend monk fruit with dextrose, maltodextrin, molasses, or table sugar so the product is not 100% pure. The purpose of that is to make monk fruit taste more like table sugar.
How Do I Use Monk Fruit?
To sweeten beverages, baked goods, oatmeal, or anywhere else you might use sugar! Some brands have ‘tamed’ the sweetness of monk fruit and say you can use it as a 1:1 substitution for sugar – no pesky conversion charts to refer to!
The Bottom Line: Should You Use Monk Fruit?
Using monk fruit extract is generally deemed safe, offers no calories and and won’t spike your blood sugar. It could be a great alternative to sugar if you are looking to reduce overall caloric intake or reign in added sugar intake. Be aware that some products using monk fruit may also contain sugars, which will influence blood sugars.
Want to learn more about other sugar alternatives? Check out my blog post on Stevia!
If you are looking to try monk fruit, here are some options to try:
My Favorite Monk Fruit Products
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Monk Fruit in the Raw