Nutrition, Health & Wellness

What Exactly Is Monk Fruit Sweetener? (+ 4 Monk Fruit Benefits!)

Several years ago, I was attending a dinner party at a friend’s house. It was an enjoyable evening and the food was absolutely delicious. At the end of the meal, my friend served everyone a slice of homemade pecan pie—and it was incredible! I was naturally curious, because my friend is very health conscious, and pecan pie isn’t exactly known for being a healthy dessert. So, I asked her how she made it. Her reply? “Oh, I substituted the less healthy ingredients with healthier alternatives—like monk fruit instead of sugar.”

I must have looked confused, as I’d never really heard of monk fruit sweetener. Agave, sure; maple syrup, of course! But monk fruit? That’s the night I learned about monk fruit and how it’s a great alternative for white sugar. So, I decided to look into it more and see what makes it unique. And what I discovered about monk fruit benefits surprised me: Not only is monk fruit a great substitute for sugar, but it’s even been shown to contain anti-tumor properties. Intrigued? Take a look at what all I’ve learned and see if monk fruit sweetener may be something you’d like to try!

 

What is Monk Fruit?

Monk fruit (Siraitia grosvenorii) is a small, round, green melon-like fruit native to southern China and northern Thailand. It’s also known as luo han guo.

It’s been used medicinally for centuries in Eastern medicine, and now it’s used as a sugar substitute worldwide. You can find packaged monk fruit at the supermarket in the baking aisle as monk fruit sweetener. Interestingly, it contains antioxidants called mogrosides that cause it to taste much sweeter than sugar. So, if you decide to use it, remember that a little goes a long way! You can use it in baked goods or add it to your beverages, yogurt, salad dressings, and sauces. Basically, you can use it as you would normally use sugar. [1, 2] This makes it a nice alternative to chemical sugar-free sweeteners used in recipes geared towards insulin resistant diabetics.

Monk fruit and monk fruit sweetener, or extract, are safe to eat. And while research is ongoing to better understand the nutritional properties and benefits of this humble little fruit, there are definitely some monk fruit benefits you’ll want to know about.

4 Monk Fruit Benefits

Monk fruit extract is relatively new to the sweetener “scene.” You may have read about a lot of pros and cons about monk fruit online or heard your friends in “keto” and “paleo” circles talking about it. The fact is, some of these rumors about the fruit are true, some are questionable, and some are just inaccurate. Because it’s important to me to share with you only the most trustworthy and useful information available, I have focused on four key monk fruit benefits I think you’ll be most interested in.

1. Contains zero sugar, calories, fat, and carbohydrates!

Monk fruit is a natural sugar substitute that doesn’t affect the glycemic index, making it a potential sugar alternative for people with diabetes. Meanwhile, many of the artificial sugar alternatives on the market are filled with chemicals known to cause cancer. So, in this respect, monk fruit is a fabulous replacement. With zero fat and zero carbs, it also can be a natural way to sweeten your food (in moderation!) without worrying about extra carbs and sugar content. [3, 4]

 

Monk fruit benefits - Dr. Pingel

 

2. Comes with side effects

To date researchers have not discovered any negative side effects from using monk fruit sweetener, which is a natural sugar substitute. On the contrary, some artificial sugar substitutes have been found to have negative side effects. Just as a side note, monk fruit is a member of the gourd family, so if you have allergies to pumpkin, squash, cucumber, and melons you may also be allergic to monk fruit. That being said, if you have monk fruit allergies or gourd allergies, don’t use a monk fruit sweetener.

3. Contains possible anti-cancer properties

Monk fruit compounds and extracts have been found to be nontoxic with no negative side effects. Lab and animal studies have also revealed that monk fruit may have some anti-tumor benefits, particularly in preventing and suppressing the growth of colorectal and throat cancer cells. While this study is promising, further research is needed. [5]

4. Contains anti-inflammatory properties

Finally, monk fruit has also been shown to help fight inflammation. In fact, according to a 2011 study, scientists believe that these anti-inflammatory actions may be responsible for the anti-tumor and anti-diabetic properties in monk fruit! [6]

Monk Fruit Vs. Other Natural Sugar Alternatives

Some of the other natural sugar alternatives available on the market include agave syrup, maple syrup, and stevia. While agave syrup is high in antioxidants and has a low impact on blood sugar levels, or glycemic index, it actually contains higher levels of fructose than plain sugar, which can lead to insulin resistance if consumed in large amounts and increased risk of heart disease. [7]

So, what about maple syrup? Although it contains high levels of antioxidants and research has shown that it may have anti-tumor benefits, it still contains high amounts of sugar. If you are diabetic or you are watching your sugar intake, maple syrup is probably not for you. [8]

Honey has been used over the centuries for many medicinal purposes and has many health benefits. That being said, honey is still a form of added sugar and it does contain carbs and calories. [9, 10]

Another natural substitute on the market is stevia. Stevia is made from the leaves of a plant that is in the same family as asters and chrysanthemums. It’s similar to monk fruit because it doesn’t contain sugar, carbs, or calories. That said, it’s much sweeter than sugar and some people don’t like the taste. [11]

3 Things to Keep in Mind

While there are some definite monk fruit benefits, there are also a few things to be aware of before you try it.

1. Don’t let a zero-calorie sweetener be a license to eat loads of desserts and baked goods! Even though you don’t have to worry about calories or carbs or sugar when you use a monk fruit sweetener, you don’t want to get carried away with eating lots of treats. Baked goods still contain carbs in the form of flour or gluten-free flour, plus other ingredients. I’m not saying you can’t enjoy a dessert now and then, but the best rule of thumb is to practice moderation.

2. More research is needed. Even though researchers have discovered a lot of monk fruit benefits, there are still a lot of unknowns. For example, researchers don’t know for sure how monk fruit may impact gut microbiota. Again, as with most things it’s best to take a balanced approach. [12, 13]

3. You may have to adjust to the taste. Some say monk fruit has an unpleasant aftertaste, so experiment with the amounts so that you fight the right ratio for you.

 

Key Takeaways

  • Monk fruit sweetener is a natural sugar substitute derived from monk fruit.
  • Monk fruit benefits include zero sugar, carbs, fat, or calories, no side effects, potential anti-tumor properties, and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • It’s best to use monk fruit sweetener or extract in moderation.

 

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