Monk Fruit: The Buzziest (and Sweetest!) New Sugar Alternative

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Another trendy sugar alternative? We get it, there seems to be a new replacement for the white sparkly stuff every month. But trust us on this one, monk fruit is a sugar replacement that is here to stay.

As you know by now, refined and processed sugar sucks. Sugar, plus all its evil clones (high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, etc.), is linked to obesity and weight gain, heart disease, dental disease and cavities, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and a poor functioning liver, insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, hormone irregularity, and depressed mood and anxiety. Not to mention, sugar is seriously addictive.

Along with being terrible for your wellbeing and waistline, sugar is an empty calorie food that boasts no nutritional benefits. Here’s where our fav sugar replacements step up the sweet game. Alt sugars like dates, honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, and monk fruit sweeteners are all still sugar (so moderation, please), but they deliver nutritious perks along with their sweet taste.

The new kid on the block, monk fruit, may be our favorite sweet thang yet. Also called Buddha fruit, longevity fruit, or traditionally in Chinese, luo han guo, monk fruit is a natural sweetener that has 100-250 times the sweetness of white sugar, but with no calories, carbohydrates, and no negative effects on blood sugar. Sound too good to be true? Read on to learn how monk fruit is serious alternative sugar superstar.

Monk Fruit History

Originating from Southeast Asia, this small round fruit has been used in China and Thailand for centuries as a medicinal remedy and as a sweetener in foods and beverages. The first records of the fruit are found in 1938 and describe monk fruit as an ingredient in cooling drinks within Traditional Chinese Medicine. These drinks were prescribed for a variety of diseases in order to cure fever, digestive issues, constipation, and inflammation.

The Western world has caught on to the sweet wonders of monk fruit within the last twenty years. Governments in the United States, Canada, China, Japan, and Singapore have given monk fruit sweeteners the green light for consumption, including children, diabetics, and women who are pregnant or nursing. In 2009 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deemed monk fruit sweeteners to be Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) after a comprehensive research review.

What’s So Sweet About Monk Fruit?

Most fruits contain natural sugars (fructose and glucose) that give the fruit its sweet taste. Monk fruit, on the other hand, is quite different. Although it also contains natural sugars, in very small amounts, these are not the compounds that give the fruit its sweet taste.

According to Dr. Josh Axe, “monk fruit contains unique antioxidants called mogrosides, which are metabolized differently within the body than natural sugars. This means that, despite their sweet taste, monk fruit contains no calories and has no effect on blood sugar.”

These antioxidant compounds may even exhibit cancer preventive effects. A 2015 study found that mogrosides suppressed leukemia cell growth, while another study showed that the antioxidants aided  in reducing skin tumors on mice.

Monk Fruit Health Benefits

The antioxidant compound mogrosides exhibit “anti-inflammatory effects and help to reduce harmful free radical damage within the body.” Mogrosides may also aid in the prevention of cancer and complications of diabetes.

As monk fruit contains zero calories and zero carbohydrates, it has no effect on blood sugar levels. This means that the sweetener may be ideal for those with blood sugar regulation problems and diabetes, according to Dr. Axe.

Several studies looking at diabetic mice found that instead of spiking blood sugar, monk fruit sweetener actually reduced blood sugar levels. Even more, a 2013 study showed that “diabetic mice who were given the sweetener exhibited lower levels of oxidative stress (thanks to all those antioxidants), reduced blood sugar, and an increase in beneficial HDL cholesterol.”

Other studies have shown monk fruit sweetener to inhibit the growth of oral bacteria that cause tooth decay, fight fatigue (hence the name, longevity fruit), and work as a natural histamine to fight allergic reactions. Basically, it kicks white sugar’s butt in the health department.

Purchasing and Using Monk Fruit Sweetener

As ripe monk fruit rots quickly, the only way to eat it fresh would be to travel to Southeast Asia and pluck one off the vine. To enjoy monk fruit stateside, you can find it in its dried form, as a sweetener, or extract. Packages of dried monk fruit can be found in Asian markets to be eaten or used in teas.

Monk fruit sweetener can be found in the raw online or in your grocery store’s sugar aisle. When using monk fruit sweetener in recipes, it can be substituted with white sugar at an easy ratio: one cup of white sugar is equal to one cup of monk fruit sweetener in the raw. Numerous products contain monk fruit including Primal Kitchen’s dark chocolate almond bars (yum) and Koochikoo sugar-free cookies.

Despite numerous beneficial research and no reported cases of negative side effects, there is no long-term studies available on monk fruit. For this reason, and with all things, monk fruit sweetener should be consumed in moderation.

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