What Is Monk Fruit?
By Shelby Olson, MS, LN
May 21, 2019
“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.
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