What is Monk Fruit?
Monk fruit is among the healthier sources of alternative sweeteners. As a sweetener, monk fruit is 100 to 250 times sweeter than refined sugar, but has zero calories. With its antioxidant properties and its uses in traditional medicine, monk fruit’s benefits definitely go beyond just satisfying our sweet tooth without the guilt.
Getting to Know Monk Fruit
Monk fruit is traditionally called Buddha fruit or luo han guo and is endemic to Southeast Asia. It is a small, round fruit that was first cultivated by monks – hence, the name – and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. As a sweetener, monk fruit has only been approved by the FDA in 2010 and deemed to be safe for everyone, including pregnant women and children.
As with other fruits, monk fruit contains fructose and glucose. But monk fruit sweetener is unique because its sweetness comes from its antioxidants, and not from its natural sugars.
Monk fruit sweetener is derived from monk fruit juice, which is dried into a powder concentrate. During processing, the fructose and glucose are removed so that the powder only contains the antioxidants, mogrosides, which are responsible for its intense sweetness. Monk fruit sweetener contains more than 30% mogrosides, giving it 100 to 250 times more sweetness than table sugar. To lessen the sweetness, monk fruit sweetener is often mixed with insulin, erythritol, or other similar natural ingredients.
Monk fruit sweetener is now readily available as a sugar substitute, and is also commonly used in many “sugar-free” products, including sweetener blends.
Weight Loss Benefits
With zero calories, and no fructose and glucose, monk fruit sweetener is a great sugar substitute for people who are on a low-calorie diet and/or who want to lose weight. Numerous studies have shown that low-calorie sweeteners can lead to modest weight loss.
People on low-calorie diets who consume healthy sugar substitutes have also been shown to have reduced intake of other empty calories, which further aids in weight loss. The increase in hunger levels often associated with low-calorie diets was reported to be absent in one study wherein stevia or aspartame was used to replace sugar, which suggests that sugar substitutes can adequately satisfy cravings without stimulating the hunger-promoting hormone, ghrelin – which refined sugars do.
Containing more than 30% mogrosides, which are a type of antioxidants, monk fruit sweetener may also deliver antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. More specifically, these antioxidants can help protect the body against damage done by free radicals. However, these benefits have yet to be confirmed by studies.
Blood Sugar Management
With zero calories and the absence of fructose and glucose, monk fruit sweetener does not cause an increase in blood sugar levels, making it a good option for diabetics. One study on mice even found that the sugar substitute may help lower blood sugar levels, which can be attributed to mogrosides’ ability to stimulate insulin cells.
It is not yet unclear, but preliminary research using animals and test-tube experiments has shown that the mogrosides in monk fruit extract may have the potential to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Mogrosides were observed to specifically act on leukemia cells and skin tumors.
Is Monk Fruit Safe?
Monk fruit has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years but its potential health benefits have only gotten the attention of scientists and been the subject of a number of studies recently.
Early research has shown that monk fruit, specifically the antioxidant mogroside it contains, may have health benefits. However, further studies are needed to understand the mechanisms that give rise to these potential positive health effects.
As an alternative sweetener, monk fruit is a relatively safe and even beneficial choice for those on a low-calorie diet, who are looking to lose weight, and/or limiting their sugar intake. You can substantially reduce your calorie intake by substituting table sugar with monk fruit sweetener. While it does not increase blood sugar levels and is generally safe for diabetics, you should consult your doctor regarding any sugar substitute, including monk fruit sweetener.
Depending on the manufacturer, however, some monk fruit sweeteners may be mixed with other sweeteners which can alter its nutritional profile. Always read the ingredients list before buying monk fruit sweetener. Some so-called low-sugar products that use monk fruit sweetener may still be high in calories from the other ingredients.
Monk Fruit – Not All About Sugar and Everything Nice
Monk fruit seems like a godsend, especially for individuals who are looking for the perfect sugar substitute. There is a big “but,” however. Monk fruit is practically impossible to find, unless you live in Southeast Asia or China.
Fresh monk fruit is rarely eaten, however, because it quickly becomes rancid after harvest. The fruit is usually dried first and used in teas and herbal remedies, but imported dried monk fruit is also hard to find even in Asian markets. This is because growing, harvesting, and drying the fruit is challenging.
Monk fruit sweetener is, therefore, on the pricey side. It is not readily available in supermarkets because importing and processing the fruit cost a lot, and the demand for monk fruit sweetener is not that high.
Monk Fruit – The Bottomline
Monk fruit sweetener is one of the best options for a sugar substitute for individuals who want or need to limit their sugar intake. The fruit has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, but its supposed health benefits have been looked into only recently; additional studies are still needed to fully understand how monk fruit benefits the body.