What Is Monk Fruit?

By Shelby Hummel, MS, LN
May 21, 2019

monkfruit.jpg“Sweetened with monk fruit!” jumped out to a client of mine recently as she was reaching for a cold tea at the store. This led her to email me asking, “So, what exactly is monk fruit and how does it work?” First off, monk fruit is not actually new; it has been used for hundreds of years in Asia, but is relatively new to consumers here in the US. Monk fruit extract, (sometimes labeled Luo Han Guo), is a sweetener derived from a vine-ripened fruit from the gourd family, and although it is rarely eaten raw, it is becoming a trendy sweetener. Once ripe, the monk fruit is dehydrated and made into a zero calorie sweetener as a syrup, a concentrated liquid sweetener, or a granulated powder. Because of the variations in processing, the end product is somewhere between 150-400 times sweeter than table sugar.

My client was mostly interested in how monk fruit would affect her blood sugar and weight loss goals; essentially asking, is monk fruit too good to be true? So here’s what we know. So far preliminary research on monk fruit extracts is positive, showing minimal effect on blood sugar levels after consuming a beverage sweetened with monk fruit extract. Most human trials are comparing monk fruit to stevia, sucralose, and table sugar on the basis of glycemic index and blood sugar control.

Glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly a substance increases blood glucose levels, meaning the higher the value on the GI the faster a substance increases blood sugars, which isn’t a good thing because that increases our risk of diabetes, creates more triglycerides (think belly fat), and causes damage to our nerves. Monk fruit is rated a zero on the glycemic index. For comparison, table sugar is rated as a 65; commercial honey (think the squeezable honey bear) is between 45-64; and pure maple syrup is rated at 54.

In short, I shared with my client, and now you, that the long-term effects on human health are yet to be determined since it’s still considered a new food product. Though monk fruit is naturally occurring in our environment (like stevia), we still need to beware of the other ingredients used in processing these two sweeteners. To be specific, avoid added sweeteners like dextrose, sugar alcohols (like erythritol), or sucralose; these blended sweeteners may not have the same effect on blood sugar as pure stevia extracts and the pure monk fruit extracts cited in the research studies above.

Curious to try monk fruit extract? I’ve seen it on many online retailers and in natural food stores, including on our product shelves in the Fruits & Greens Blackberry Tangerine powder that’s delicious in smoothies or water for a cool drink for hot days ahead.

Resources

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2007.09.014

About the author

Shelby grew up in the kitchen, surrounded by her mother's good food and a love for feeding others. After finding out she was gluten sensitive in her early 20's and paired with the stress and anxiety of college, Shelby was motivated to learn about nutrition. After feeding her body with real foods not only did her wavering moods and low energy improve, but her hormonal acne and rashes cleared up as well. Shelby is a licensed nutritionist through the Minnesota Board of Nutrition and Dietetics. She received her B.S. in Kinesiology & Health, specializing in exercise science from Iowa State University. Most recently she completed her M.S. in Applied Clinical Nutrition from New York Chiropractic College.

View all posts by Shelby Hummel, MS, LN

Comments

Janet Leone
This made me think of gum and breath mints,whether they be sugared or sugar free. I've always wondered if these things had an effect on the gut, especially those with what sound like alcohol sugars. (I'm not sure what alcohol sugars are, but it's probably not good!)
Any thoughts? Thanks!
May 29, 2019 at 11:09 am

admin

Sugar free gum and breath mints are usually filled with artificial sweeteners like sucralose, acsulfame potassium, and aspartame. You’re better off with a sugared gum (as long as you’re not chewing it all the time) or one sweetened with stevia. Sugar alcohols often end in –itol, for many people they cause digestive symptoms like gas, bloating, or diarrhea. If they don’t seem to negatively affect you then you could also choose a gum sweetened with just xylitol.

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