Sugar is almost unavoidable in our modern society, but it has a huge impact on our health. That’s why many look for sugar alternatives. However, many zero-calorie and artificial sweeteners aren’t any better than sugar itself.
Monk fruit extract is an alternative sweetener. It’s low in calories and may be a good choice for those avoiding sugar and artificial sweeteners (in moderation, of course.)
What Is Monk Fruit?
Monk fruit (Siraitia grosvenorii), also known as luo han guo fruit, is native to southeast Asia—primarily Thailand and southern China.
This small Asian orange fruit with sweet pulp got its name because it was mainly cultivated by Buddhist Monks as early as the 13th century A.D.
Currently, China exclusively makes monk fruit extract. There has been a ban on exporting the whole fruit since 2004. Because of this, and the fact that monk fruit degrades too quickly to be stored, Americans are unlikely to taste it fresh.
Is Monk Fruit Extract Safe?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes monk fruit extract as generally safe (GRAS.) There has been no research pointing to concern.
However, the research is in its infancy. Asians have used monk fruit for centuries, but monk fruit extract is relatively new. We don’t know any long-term side effects yet.
In small amounts, this sweetener is probably fine. Nevertheless, I would be cautious of using it to replace sugar in the amount many Americans would.
Is Monk Fruit Healthy?
Our taste buds love monk fruit extract because it is 250 times sweeter than sugar. Our waistlines love it because it’s low in calories, carbs, and sugars.
Compounds, including antioxidants, like mogroside v, create a sweet taste without sugars. Mogrosides metabolize differently than simple sugars and do not absorb them during digestion.
Monk fruit extract is a concentrated natural sweetener containing these compounds. It can be very low in calories or completely calorie-free (depending on how processed it is and what it’s combined with.)
No wonder so many people enjoy this healthy alternative sweetener.
Monk Fruit Health Benefits
Being a low-calorie natural sweetener is not the only benefit of monk fruit extract. Studies are beginning to find many other reasons to use it.
Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory
Research shows inflammation causes many illnesses today. The diseases include diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Monk fruit has compounds that act as antioxidants, fighting inflammation, and potentially protecting against these diseases. This makes sense because many fruits and vegetables are a good source of antioxidants.
But monk fruit has unique antioxidants that other fruits don’t (the mogrosides mentioned above). Research published in the Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research found that the mogrosides in monk fruit can help reduce the oxidative stress associated with diabetes.
Supports Healthy Weight & Weight Loss
It seems obvious that a no-calorie sweetener could help with weight issues, but that’s not always true. For example, artificial sweeteners spike blood sugar and may also increase weight gain.
Monk fruit extract, however, may help keep weight in check. When obese mice were fed mogrosides from monk fruit, they had weight loss than control mice. Researchers believe this happened because of enhanced fat metabolism and antioxidative defenses.
Protects Against Diabetes
There is a lot of research that shows monk fruit can help keep blood sugar levels healthy. This is because it is a low glycemic sweetener.
In traditional Chinese Medicine, monk fruit has been used for centuries to treat diabetes. Modern science supports this use.
A study in the British Journal of Medicine found that monk fruit extract can help reduce the symptoms and the pathological response of those with diabetes. Rats had improved insulin response and reduced blood sugar levels. It even helped support kidney function!
Additionally, some research suggests that mogrosides from monk fruit can help improve the immune function of people with diabetes. One Chinese study, published in 2006, found that in mice, consuming mogrosides protected against diabetes-induced immune dysfunction.
May Protect Against Cancer
Cancer is a disease that is strongly associated with oxidative stress. Since monk fruit is a good source of antioxidants that help reduce oxidative stress, it makes sense that monk fruit extract may also help fight against cancer.
In addition, research supports this theory as well:
- A study in Life Sciences claims monk fruit has a protein that possesses anti-cancer properties.
- A study on mice with cancer found that monk fruit extract helped inhibit the growth of cancer cells (colorectal and throat.) It also curbed tumor growth.
- A study on two breast cancer cell lines found that one compound in monk fruit has anti-cancer properties. This compound inhibited breast cancer cells by promoting cell turnover.
While we need more research, these findings are very promising.
Read this post to learn more about the link between sugar and cancer.
According to a study published in the Journal of Asian Natural Product Research, this sweetener is also antimicrobial. So it may be beneficial for those suffering from bacterial or yeast overgrowth in the gut. It’s definitely better than regular table sugar.
What Does Monk Fruit Extract Taste Like?
It can taste different depending on how processed the extract is. As a general rule, the more processed it is, the sweeter and blander it becomes.
Some describe this sweetener as having a mild, fruity taste. Some think it has a strong aftertaste, while others feel the aftertaste is less noticeable than that of Splenda or stevia. Of course, personal preferences vary widely. (If you want no aftertaste, I recommend allulose as a sweetener.)
If you use too much, it becomes bitter, but in a different flavor profile than stevia does.
How to Use Monk Fruit Extract
Monk fruit extract comes in multiple forms, so always double-check the recipe you are using for which form you have. Many of the labels just say “monk fruit sweetener” on the front. You’ll need to read the backside for ingredients. Here are the three primary forms:
Monk Fruit Extract Powder
If you have any digestive problems or an autoimmune disease, I highly recommend trying Monk Fruit Extract Powder in some of your AIP recipes. The main thing you need to know though is that you only need a pinch of this. It is so incredibly sweet that more than that will ruin a dish.
Monk Fruit White Sugar Replacement
If you’re just starting out with reducing your and your family’s sugar intake, you’ll love using monk fruit combined with erythritol. (I get it from Thrive Market.) In most recipes, it swaps out for white sugar at a 1:1 ratio, making it easy to use.
However, erythritol comes from corn so if you have any issues with corn or are on elimination diet, this form may not be the best choice for you.
You can use this extract in the same way you would use sugar (baking, cooking, etc.). Be careful to read the directions for the correct amount to use.
Liquid Monk Fruit
Another way to use monk fruit is using it in liquid form. This can also work well in AIP recipes. I like to use it most in teas, especially bitter ones like chasteberry. I rotate it with stevia since I try not to consume anything every day. (Rotation is key to great health.)
You can find monk fruit extract at many health food stores, as well as online. Many of the monk fruit sweeteners do not only contain monk fruit. Some have additives and artificial sweeteners, so be careful to check the label.
Final Thoughts on Monk Fruit
Our Western diets drown us in added sugar! While our kids may love our sugar-soaked society, it’s up to us to find a better way to nourish our bodies. Monk fruit extract is a great alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners for your health. In fact, the only cereal my family eats is sweetened by (you guessed it) monk fruit!
Having read through the science and studies, I feel that monk fruit extract is a safe and healthy choice for my family.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Ann Shippy, who is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and a certified Functional Medicine physician with a thriving practice in Austin, Texas. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Do you use any sugar alternatives? Have you tried monk fruit extract? Let us know your thoughts below!