Monk Fruit Sweetener: Good or Bad?

Many people are becoming more conscientious of their sugar intake.

With the prevalence of type 2 diabetes on the rise, health-conscious individuals are seeking out healthier alternatives.

With numerous sugar alternatives available, such as monk fruit sweetener, there are understandably some questions about the safety of these sugar alternatives.

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What is monk fruit sweetener?

Monk fruit sweetener, or monk fruit extract, is made from monk fruit native to China. While it’s relatively new to the rest of the world as a sweetener, it’s been used in Eastern medicine for centuries.

Monk fruit sweetener is made by removing the skin and seeds of the monk fruit crushing the fruit, and collecting the juice.

The compounds in monk fruit that gives it its sweetness are called mogrosides. Mogroside metabolism has been primarily studied in animals. These compounds aren’t digested by the gastrointestinal tract, making it a zero-calorie sweetener.

Monk fruit sweetener is 150-200 times sweeter than regular sugar. This classifies it as a “high-intensity sweetener,” according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Because of its extreme potency, very little monk fruit extract is needed to achieve the desired level of sweetness. Monk fruit extract is often mixed with other fillers to make it easier to measure, especially when compared to white sugar packets. Additives are also used when using non-nutritive sweeteners as a baking agent.

Monk fruit extract has been “generally regarded as safe” by the FDA since 2010. It’s found in products such as Nectresse, PureLo, Purefruit, Fruit-Sweetness, Monk Fruit in the Raw, and Lakanto golden.

Health benefits of monk fruit sweetener

Using monk fruit sweetener as a sugar substitute has both pros and cons.

Anti-diabetes properties

In terms of the benefits, because the body doesn’t absorb monk fruit sweetener, it doesn’t impact blood sugar levels or provides calories. This can be beneficial for weight loss or those on a keto diet.

High intake of added sugar has been linked with metabolic diseases such as diabetes, as well as cancer, heart disease, and fatty liver disease.

Choosing non-nutritive sweeteners over regular sugar to lower sugar intake may be helpful for those with diabetes or anyone wanting to reduce extra calories in the form of sugar.

However, according to the American Diabetes Association, “there [is] insufficient data to determine conclusively whether the use of [non-nutritive sweeteners] to displace caloric sweeteners in beverages and foods reduces added sugars or carbohydrate intakes, or benefits appetite, energy balance, body weight, or cardiometabolic risk factors.”

Antioxidant properties

Studies indicate that Monk fruit extract has a number of potential health benefits. This includes antitumor, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-diabetic properties (Kim 2015).

A study on diabetic mice demonstrated that Monk fruit extract’s antioxidant properties reduced the oxidative stress in the mice.

This is the same oxidative stress that is linked to the development of diabetic kidney disease (Song 2007). 77 Another study found that Monk fruit extract can also inhibit the growth of pancreatic cancer cells in lab mice (Lui 2016).

There have yet to be any similar studies conducted on humans. So while these results are promising they should not be taken as scientific fact.

Tolerate better than sugar alcohols

Monk fruit extract may be better tolerated than sugar alcohols, which are often used as a non-nutritive sweetener. Sugar alcohols, such as erythritol, xylitol, and sorbitol, are absorbed in about 50% of the rate of sugar. The unabsorbed sugar alcohols tend to cause diarrhea and other stomach upset if consumed in high amounts.

Drawbacks of monk fruit sweetener

More research is needed

While monk fruit sweetener is considered safe, the majority of the studies on the metabolism of it have been on animal subjects.

There are established “acceptable daily intake” (ADI) standards for many nonnutritive sweeteners.

Health authorities such as the World Health Organization have determined the maximum amount of certain artificial sweeteners that can be consumed by humans per day, which is known as the ADI. These numbers are generated based on the scientific studies available on the sweeteners.

Unfortunately, an ADI for monk fruit sweetener hasn’t been established. While it’s considered safe, research doesn’t clearly indicate how much a human can consume per day.

Taste

Similar to other sugar alternatives, some people may not prefer the taste of monk fruit sweetener. Preference for the taste and flavor of sugar alternatives is highly individualized. Monk fruit sweetener may also be more expensive than artificial sweeteners such as sucralose and aspartame.

How does monk fruit sweetener compare with other sweeteners?

As previously mentioned, monk fruit sweetener doesn’t have an established ADI, as many other sugar substitutes do. However, monk fruit sweetener is similar to other non-nutritive sweeteners in its sweetness.

Other sweeteners such as stevia, saccharin, aspartame, and acesulfame potassium have sweetness levels around 200 times greater than sugar. This is similar to monk fruit extract. Sucralose (Splenda) is much sweeter than monk fruit sweetener at 600 times sweeter than sugar.

Monk fruit sweetener is often considered a natural sugar alternative because it occurs in nature. There is no sugar in pure monk fruit extract, which means that consuming it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels.

Sugar substitutes, such as sucralose, are commonly referred to as artificial sweeteners as they’re not found in nature. Steviol glycosides, or stevia, is also considered a natural sugar substitute.

Is monk fruit sweetener a good alternative for people with diabetes?

The use of non-nutritive sweeteners, such as monk fruit sweetener, may help reduce overall added sugar intake. However, as research studies have shown, using non-nutritive sweeteners may not be enough on its own to show a marked improvement in blood sugar levels.

More research needs to be done to assess how helpful monk fruit extract might be for improving outcomes in those with diabetes.

Many people with diabetes prefer to use non-nutritive sweeteners instead of regular sugar. This is understandable and acceptable from a safety standpoint.

People with diabetes need to consider the total carbohydrate content of their foods. Baked goods with monk fruit sweeteners can still raise blood sugars. This is due to the carbohydrate content from the flour, fruit, etc.

Natural sugar alternatives such as monk fruit extract and steviol glycosides (stevia) are often preferred over artificial sweeteners.

Conclusion

The topic of which sweetener is “best” is a hot one and highly debated. There is no one right answer as to which one is best.

Monk fruit sweetener is a non-nutritive sweetener approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration. While it’s only been approved by the FDA since 2010, it’s been used in Eastern medicine for centuries.

Monk fruit sweetener doesn’t impact blood sugar levels, which makes it an attractive option for people with diabetes. However, some studies have found that people who consume non-nutritive sweeteners can have similar blood sugar levels as people who don’t. This is due to the higher overall caloric intake.

Therefore, it’s important to consider their overall dietary habits concerning their blood sugar levels. Monk fruit is a natural sweeter with no calories, and there may be additional health benefits. Therefore, it seems like a good alternative to table sugar.

Sources

  1. Song F1, Jia W, Yao Y, Hu Y, Lei L, Lin J, Sun X, Liu L.. (2007). Oxidative stress, antioxidant status and DNA damage in patients with impaired glucose regulation and newly diagnosed Type 2 diabetes.. Clinical Science. 112 (12), p599-606.
  2. Lohner S, Toews I, Meerpohl JJ. Health outcomes of non-nutritive sweeteners: analysis of the research landscape. Nutr J. 2017;16(1):55. Published 2017 Sep 8. doi:10.1186/s12937-017-0278-x
  3. Tey SL1, Salleh NB1, Henry J1,2, Forde CG1,3.. (2017). Effects of aspartame-, monk fruit-, stevia- and sucrose-sweetened beverages on postprandial glucose, insulin and energy intake.. International Journal of Obesity. 41 (3), p450-457.
  4. Liu C, Dai LH, Dou DQ, Ma LQ, Sun YX. A natural food sweetener with anti-pancreatic cancer properties. Oncogenesis. 2016 Apr 1;5(4):e217.
  5. Kim MJ, Yoo SH, Jung S, Park MK, Hong JH. Relative sweetness, sweetness quality, and temporal profile of xylooligosaccharides and luo han guo (Siraitia grosvenorii) extract. Food Science and Biotechnology. 2015 Jun 1;24(3):965-73.
  6. Liu DD, Ji XW, Li RW. Effects of Siraitia grosvenorii fruits extracts on physical fatigue in mice. Iranian journal of pharmaceutical research: IJPR. 2013;12(1):115.
  7. Zhou Y, Zheng Y, Ebersole J, Huang CF. Insulin secretion stimulating effects of mogroside V and fruit extract of luo han kuo (Siraitia grosvenori Swingle) fruit extract.. Yao xue xue bao= Acta pharmaceutica Sinica. 2009 Nov;44(11):1252-7
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Diana Gariglio-Clelland (RD)

Diana Gariglio-Clelland obtained her B.S. in Nutrition from the University of Idaho and is a Registered Dietitian with experience in the hospital, community and primary care health settings.

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