what is a monk fruit extract?
Monk fruit sweeteners are a popular alternative to sugar, but are they actually healthy? In this article, we’ll give you the facts on monk fruit sweeteners, including the pros and cons, so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not they’re right for you.
What is monk fruit?
Hailing from Southeast Asia, monk fruit, also known as luo han guo, gets its name from Buddhist monks who were the first to cultivate it back in the 13th century. This melon-like fruit, which is oddly closely related to its cousin the cucumber, is picky about where it grows, so it may be why you don’t see it in your local produce aisle.
The health benefits of monk fruit have long been well-known in traditional Chinese medicine, but its popularity has been growing in the U.S.
Today, it is popular as a natural sweetener and can often be found in the baking aisle, sitting next to bags of sugar and other natural and artificial sweeteners. According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), monk fruit extract can taste up to 200 times sweeter than table sugar—thanks to chemical compounds called mogrosides, which give the fruit its characteristic sweetness.
What are the benefits of monk fruit?
Effect on weight management
Monk fruit sweetener has been claimed to aid weight loss.
Since it contains zero calories, many people suggest that it can reduce your total calorie intake. Nevertheless, it’s relatively new to the market, and no studies have assessed its effects on weight.
However, studies on other low-calorie sweeteners indicate that they may lead to modest reductions in body weight.
Studies report that replacing regular-calorie sweeteners with low-calorie versions can result in modest weight loss of less than 2 pounds (0.9 kg).
One review found that people who consumed low-calorie sweeteners and drinks also tended to consume less added fat, sugar, alcohol, and other sources of empty calories.
In another study, people who used stevia or aspartame rather than sucrose ate fewer calories without reporting any differences in hunger levels.
Mogroside extracts have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, as they inhibit certain harmful molecules and help prevent damage to your DNA.
That said, no human studies have confirmed these benefits.
Animal and test-tube research suggest that monk fruit extract inhibits cancer cell growth. Still, the mechanisms are unclear.
One study found that the mogrosides suppressed leukemia cell growth. Another noted powerful inhibitory effect on skin tumors in mice.
Since monk fruit sweetener has zero calories or carbs, it will not raise blood sugar levels. Therefore, it may be a good option for people with diabetes.
Studies in mice with diabetes suggest that monk fruit extract may even reduce blood sugar levels. Mice given the extract experienced lower oxidative stress and blood sugar levels, as well as increased HDL (good) cholesterol.
Some of these benefits may be explained by the Moorside’s ability to stimulate insulin secretion in insulin cells.
However, as this extract is often mixed with other sweeteners, you should carefully examine product labels before making a purchase.
What are the disadvantages of monk fruit?
Along with the many benefits, there are some drawbacks too, which include:
Raw monk fruit is hard to find
It’s almost impossible to find unless you live in a region in which it is grown.
Some monk fruit sweeteners are processed
“Monk fruit is often combined with other sweeteners, such as added sugars and molasses, making them no longer calorie-free,” Amaral said. “It can also be combined with another popular sugar alcohol known as erythritol, which has been known to cause some people GI distress.”
Sweetening food and drinks can encourage sugar cravings
There is some research that suggests that sweetened food and drinks can intensify sugar cravings.
Avoid if you have a gourd allergy
As mentioned earlier, monk fruit is closely related to cucumbers, which are a part of the gourd family. Your risk of a monk fruit allergy is higher if you are already allergic to other gourds like pumpkin, squash, or melon.
Are monk fruit sweeteners safe?
Monk fruit received the “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It also has no reported side effects.
But use monk fruit — or any sweetener — in moderate amounts. Just because it’s GRAS doesn’t mean you should consume lots of it every day, notes Dr. Liberatore.
“Monk fruit is a good option for lowering sugar intake,” he says. “But instead of consuming lots of zero-calorie sweeteners, focus on eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods have vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients you need for good health.”
And read the ingredients list on the label before buying monk fruit sweeteners. Many products combine other sweeteners with monk fruit extract — even if the product is called “pure monk fruit.” Some contain erythritol, a sugar alcohol that can cause bloating or stomach upset in some people.
How to use monk fruit extract？
You can use monk fruit sweeteners to sweeten almost anything, including:
- hot tea, iced tea, or lemonade
- salad dressings
- oatmeal or other hot cereals
Monk fruit recipes
Monk fruit sweeteners are heat-stable and safe to use in baked goods. Some brands, like Monk Fruit In The Raw Bakers Bag, also contain dextrose to cut the sweetness. These blends can be substituted for sugar, cup for cup in recipes. You may need to experiment to see if you need more or less to satisfy your taste buds. Here are a few recipes to get you started.
Carrot orange bread
If you’re a fan of carrot cake, you’ll love this healthy and delicious quick bread comprised of almond flour, monk fruit sweetener, shredded carrots, spices, and fresh orange juice. Get the recipe.
Monk fruit chocolate brownies
This is as close to healthy as a decadent brownie is likely to get. The chocolate base is sweetened with monk fruit and the frosting is filled with surprising ingredients like avocado, dates, and yogurt. Get the recipe.
Sugar-free caramelized almonds
Like the combination of sweet and salty? Make these smoky, salted almonds coated with a blend of monk fruit sweetener, cinnamon, and vanilla. Get the recipe.
Cream cheese frosting
This updated recipe offers a fresh spin on a classic. It’s great for cupcakes, cakes, quick bread, or even as a yummy fruit dip. Combine monk fruit sweetener, cream cheese, butter, and vanilla for a sweet treat. Get the recipe.
More research is needed to explore the full health impacts of monk fruit. Still, it seems to be a good choice for those with diabetes and anyone who wants to limit dietary sugar.
There are many claims about the fruit’s ability to heal cancer and other diseases, but research is not yet in place to back them up. Recent researchTrusted Source reveals that many nonnutritive sweeteners impact gut bacteria and the lining of the intestines.