Monk Fruit Sweetener Has Zero Calories, Good for Diabetes and Weight Loss?

monk fruit sweetener

For all of you who are looking for a natural, zero or low-calorie alternative to artificial sweeteners, monk fruit may be the answer. Is this relatively new addition to the sugar substitute market good for those with diabetes or who want to lose weight?

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Monk fruit is native to southern China and northern Thailand. Centuries ago, Buddhist monks in China cultivated monk fruit (Siraitia grosvernorii; also known as luo han guo) for medicinal purposes, and it is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat diabetes and obesity as well as inflammatory conditions, colds, and sore throat.

In its pure form, extracts of monk fruit, which is about the size of a lemon, are about 300 times sweeter than sugar. This sweetness is mainly attributed to antioxidant compounds called mogrosides, which are obtained from the crushed fruit using hot water.

A patent for a monk fruit extract sweetener was obtained in 1995 by Procter & Gamble, but it was not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) until fifteen years later. Several companies make a monk fruit extract no-calorie sweetener, including Health Garden Monk Fruit Sweetener, Lakanto Monk Fruit Sweetener, Monk Fruit In the Raw, and Skinnygirl Monk Fruit Extract Liquid Sweetener.

Monk fruit sweetener pros and cons
On the upside, monk fruit extract provides no calories, and mogrosides have antioxidant properties as well as potential anti-cancer and anti-diabetes abilities. So far the research in these areas has been limited to animals.

For example, one study found that monk fruit extract had the ability to inhibit hyperglycemia in mice. The investigators, who published their findings in Nutrition Research, reported that the extract “may be helpful in the prevention of diabetic complications associated with oxidative stress and hyperlipidemia” and that monk fruit extract “should be evaluated as a candidate for future studies on diabetes mellitus.”

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Thus far, no side effects have been associated with use of monk fruit extract. However, testing thus far has been limited, so it is premature to say this natural sweetener is completely safe. Future research should give us a better idea.
As for identifying how much monk fruit extract is safe to consume, the estimated daily intake (EDI) has been established as 6.8 mg per kilogram of body weight.

On the downside, monk fruit is cultivated only in the southern areas of China, and the Chinese want to keep it that way since they have laws prohibiting it to be grown anywhere else. In addition, extracting mogrosides is time-consuming and complex, which makes it expensive to produce and thus pricey in the marketplace.

No-calorie monk fruit extract sweetener products are available in stores and online. The Centers for Science in the Public Interest notes that “monk fruit extract is natural and may well be safe,” but it also “recommends caution because it has been poorly tested in animals.”

When compared with artificial sweeteners, which have been shown to cause cancer and other health problems in animals as well as people, a natural product such as monk fruit extract could be a safe, welcome alternative for individuals with diabetes and for those trying to lose weight. Before trying monk fruit extract, you may want to discuss your choice with a knowledgeable healthcare provider…and keep your eyes open for any new research.

Also read: Advantame sweetener, friend or foe?
Why choose mangoes for diabetes?
Do pomegranates have a role in type 2 diabetes?
What your doctor may not tell you about diabetes

Sources
Centers for Science in the Public Interest
DiabetesSelfManagement.com Sugar substitutes, monk fruit extract
Qi XY et al. Mogrosides extract from Siraitia grosvenori scavenges free radicals in vitro and lowers oxidative stress, serum glucose, and lipid levels in alloxan-induced diabetic mice. Nutrition Research 2008 Apr; 28(4): 278-84

Image: Wikimedia

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