What Is Monk Fruit and Is It Healthy? We Asked a Registered Dietician to Find Out
Here's how monk fruit sweetener stacks up against sugar.
Good news, guys: everyone is trying to cut back on their sugar intake. But any pivotal, widespread change in culinary habits—particularly those that involve dietary restrictions—brings a laundry list of ingredient replacements. Some questionable, others promising.
Monk fruit sweetener is one such example of the latter. It's been rising in the ranks of popularity right alongside the reduced-sugar, low-carb movement (and the keto diet craze). Like other sweeteners, monk fruit extract can be added to foods or drinks to enhance sweetness without excess calories. It's often seen on the ingredient list in reduced-sugar beverages, baked goods, ice creams, and yogurts, though you can buy monk fruit extract as-is and add it to food and drinks on your own, as well.
But what is monk fruit, exactly? And is it a healthy sugar alternative? We consulted with nutrition expert Abby Rapaport, MS, RD, CDN and owner of Abigail Nutrition LLC to get her expert take on monk fruit sweetener.
What is monk fruit?
Monk fruit is an all-natural sweetener derived from the monk fruit plant. It’s a small, round fruit grown in Southeast Asia that's been used for centuries in traditional Eastern medicine. Monk fruit has zero calories, zero carbs, and does not impact blood sugar. It also contains antioxidants and has been said to reduce inflammation. Because it's 150-200 times sweeter than sugar, you need very little monk fruit extract to get a sweet taste. Like Stevia, monk fruit has a glycemic index of zero.
What potential health benefits does monk fruit offer?
One advantage of using monk fruit is that it doesn’t contain any of the same drawbacks that sugar or other alternative sweeteners do. "For example, sugar alcohols contain fewer calories than sugar because they are not well absorbed or metabolized by our bodies—which is why they also cause stomach upset, gas, bloating and sometimes diarrhea," says Rapaport. "In fact, if you have IBS or sensitivity to FODMAPS, you may want to avoid sugar alcohols completely." Why? Because artificial sweeteners are just that: synthetic sugar substitutes. Artificial sweeteners can distort your natural sense of taste and therefore cause more sugar cravings. They can disrupt your hormones and can also damage your beneficial gut microbiome—all which can lead to a domino effect of weight gain," she adds.
Because monk fruit is a natural plant extract—i.e. it isn't an artificial sweetener—you avoid these drawbacks.
Anything to be concerned about?
The Food and Drug Administration recognizes monk fruit “GRAS or Generally Recognized As Safe” for everyone, including pregnant women and children. However, since monk fruit is relatively new to the market there, there are few scientific studies on the effects of long-term use.
Where should I try monk fruit?
If you're looking for an easy, delicious way to sample monk fruit sweetener, look for Swoon Simple Syrup. The zero-calorie sweetener is about as versatile as they come, and the flavor is silky and smooth without the aftertaste that many sugar replacements are known for. Add a dash to your iced tea, cold brew, or cocktails—because it's a liquid, you don't have to furiously stir to get any granules to dissolve.