Nowadays, more and more people are moving away from using refined sugar in their food and drinks since sugar is known to increase a person’s risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other health problems. This led to the increasing popularity of opting for natural sweeteners as healthier sugar alternatives especially for people on a low carb and low sugar diet, or just wanting to transition to healthier eating habits for personal or medical reasons.
We need sugar and natural sweeteners to provide our bodies with calories that are either used as energy or stored as fat. Natural sweeteners are considered healthier than conventional sugar because these usually contain more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and contain low to zero calories.
Monk fruit and Stevia are two of the most popular natural alternatives to refined sugar. They give foods and drinks a sweet taste while adding little to no calories to a person’s diet.
In this article, let’s take a closer look at what they are made from, their benefits, side effects and see what would be the best and healthier option for you.
What is Monk Fruit?
Monk fruit, also known as Luo Han Guo, is a small, green gourd-like fruit native to parts of China and Thailand. It has been used for centuries in traditional medicine as a natural sweetener and herbal remedy.
Monk fruit extract is derived from the fruit and is known for its intense sweetness, often described as being much sweeter than sugar. The sweetness of monk fruit comes from natural compounds called mogrosides, which are highly concentrated in the fruit. Monk fruit extract is used as a zero-calorie sweetener in various food and beverage products, as well as in dietary supplements and other health products. Monk fruit sweeteners are free of calories, carbohydrates, and sugars.
Monk fruit extract is available in various forms, including powdered extract, liquid extract, and granulated forms, and can be used as a substitute for sugar in recipes and beverages. It is also commonly used in combination with other natural sweeteners such as erythritol or stevia to create sugar-free or low-sugar products.
What do Monk Fruit sweeteners consist of?
Monk fruit, scientifically known as Siraitia grosvenorii, is composed of various natural compounds, with the key components being mogrosides, which are responsible for the fruit's intense sweetness. Mogrosides are a group of chemical compounds known as triterpene glycosides, and there are several different types of mogrosides found in monk fruit, including mogroside V, mogroside IV, and mogroside III.
Mogroside V is the most abundant and commonly used mogroside in monk fruit extract, and it is estimated to be about 250-400 times sweeter than sugar. Other mogrosides, such as mogroside IV and mogroside III, are also sweet but less commonly used in commercial monk fruit extracts due to their lower sweetness levels.
In addition to mogrosides, monk fruit also contains other natural compounds, including flavonoids, triterpenoids, and polysaccharides, which are believed to contribute to its potential health benefits, such as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. However, further research is needed to fully understand the properties and potential health benefits of these compounds.
It's worth noting that monk fruit sweeteners are typically highly concentrated, and only a small amount is needed to achieve the desired sweetness, as they are much sweeter than sugar.
What are the benefits of Monk Fruit sweeteners?
Monk fruit sweeteners are associated with several potential benefits, including:
1. Zero or Low-Calorie Sweetness: Monk fruit sweeteners are virtually calorie-free or low in calories compared to sugar. This makes them an attractive option for individuals who are looking to reduce their calorie intake or manage their weight.
2. No Impact on Blood Sugar: Monk fruit sweeteners do not raise blood sugar levels, as they do not contain any carbohydrates that can be broken down and metabolized by the body. This makes them a suitable sweetener option for people with diabetes or those who are following a low-sugar or low-carb diet.
3. Intense Sweetness: Monk fruit sweeteners are much sweeter than sugar, often estimated to be 200-400 times sweeter, which means that only small amounts are needed to achieve the desired level of sweetness. This can help reduce the overall sugar content in recipes or food products.
4. Natural Origin: Monk fruit sweeteners are derived from the natural fruit extract of monk fruit, which is a small, green gourd-like fruit native to parts of China and Thailand. They are considered a natural sweetener option without the need for extensive processing or chemical additives.
5. Potential Health Benefits: Monk fruit contains natural compounds, such as mogrosides, which are believed to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. However, more research is needed to fully understand the potential health benefits of monk fruit sweeteners, and they should not be considered a substitute for a healthy and balanced diet.
6. Suitable for Special Diets: Monk fruit sweeteners are often used in products that cater to specific dietary needs, such as low-sugar, low-carb, or keto diets. They can be used in a wide range of food and beverage applications, including baked goods, beverages, condiments, and more.
7. Pleasant Taste Profile: Many people find that monk fruit sweeteners have a pleasant taste profile with no bitter or metallic aftertaste, which can be an appealing attribute for those seeking an alternative to other sweeteners.
What are the side effects of Monk Fruit sweeteners?
Monk fruit sweeteners are generally considered safe for most people when consumed in moderate amounts as part of a healthy and balanced diet. However, like any food or ingredient, monk fruit sweeteners may have potential side effects or considerations to be aware of, including:
- Allergies or Sensitivities: Some individuals may have an allergic reaction or sensitivity to monk fruit or other ingredients used in monk fruit sweeteners. Symptoms may include rash, itching, swelling, difficulty breathing, or other signs of an allergic reaction. If you experience any unusual symptoms after consuming monk fruit sweeteners, discontinue use and seek medical attention.
- Gastrointestinal Issues With High Consumption of monk fruit sweeteners, especially in large amounts or when consumed in concentrated forms, may cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, or upset stomach in some individuals, especially those with pre-existing digestive issues or sensitivities.
- Potential for Interactions with Medications: Monk fruit sweeteners, like other natural products, may interact with certain medications. If you are taking any medications or have concerns about potential interactions, consult with a healthcare professional before using monk fruit sweeteners or any other dietary supplements.
- Other Ingredients in Monk Fruit Sweeteners: Commercially available monk fruit sweeteners may contain other ingredients, such as erythritol or other natural sweeteners, as fillers or bulking agents. These additional ingredients may have their own potential side effects or considerations, and it's important to review the ingredient list and consider your individual dietary needs and preferences.
What is Stevia?
Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant, which is native to South America. It is often used as a sugar substitute due to its intensely sweet taste without adding calories or carbohydrates. It has zero calories, carbohydrates and zero sugars.
Stevia has gained popularity as a natural alternative to traditional sugar and artificial sweeteners, and it is commercially available in various forms, including liquid drops, powdered extracts, and granulated forms.
What is the composition of Stevia?
Stevia is composed of several natural compounds called steviol glycosides, with the two most common and abundant ones being stevioside and rebaudioside A. These steviol glycosides are responsible for the sweet taste of stevia, which can be 30 to 150 times sweeter than sugar, depending on the concentration and form. It's worth noting that stevia sweeteners are typically highly concentrated, and only a small amount is needed to achieve the desired sweetness, as they are much sweeter than sugar.
What are the health benefits of Stevia?
Stevia has several potential benefits, including:
1. Zero-Calorie or Low-Calorie Sweetness: Stevia is virtually calorie-free or low in calories, making it an attractive option for individuals who are looking to reduce their calorie intake or maintain a healthy weight.
2. No Impact on Blood Sugar: Stevia does not raise blood sugar levels, as it does not contain any carbohydrates that can be broken down and metabolized by the body. This makes it a suitable sweetener option for people with diabetes or those who are following a low-sugar or low-carb diet.
3. Natural Origin: Stevia is derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant, making it a natural sweetener option without the need for extensive processing or chemical additives.
4. Suitable for Special Diets: Stevia is often used in products that cater to specific dietary needs, such as low-sugar, low-carb, or keto diets. It can be used in a wide range of food and beverage applications, including baked goods, beverages, condiments, and more.
5. Potential Health Benefits: Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as potential benefits for weight management, blood sugar control, and oral health. However, more research is needed to fully understand the extent of these potential benefits.
6. Dental Health: Stevia is considered tooth-friendly as it does not promote tooth decay or cavities, unlike sugar which can contribute to dental problems.
7. Suitable for Diabetic and Weight Management: Stevia is often used as a sweetener option for individuals with diabetes or those who are watching their weight due to its low-calorie and zero-glycemic impact properties.
What are the side effects of Stevia?
Stevia is generally considered safe for most people when consumed in moderate amounts as part of a healthy and balanced diet. Some side effects include:
- Gastrointestinal Issues: Some individuals may experience gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, gas, or diarrhea after consuming stevia, especially in large amounts or when consuming highly concentrated forms. This can vary from person to person, and some individuals may be more sensitive to stevia than others.
- Allergies or Sensitivities: While rare, some individuals may have an allergic reaction or sensitivity to stevia or other ingredients used in stevia-based products. Symptoms may include rash, itching, swelling, difficulty breathing, or other signs of an allergic reaction. If you experience any unusual symptoms after consuming stevia, discontinue use and seek medical attention.
- Aftertaste: Stevia has a characteristic taste that some people may find bitter or have an aftertaste. This can vary depending on the brand or form of stevia used, and individual taste preferences may differ.
- Potential for Interactions with Medications: Stevia, like other natural products, may interact with certain medications. If you are taking any medications or have concerns about potential interactions, consult with a healthcare professional before using stevia or any other dietary supplements.
Monk fruit and Stevia sweeteners are both considered plant-based, natural alternatives to other sugars. Both have zero calories, zero carbohydrates and zero sugars and are commercially available in various forms which you can easily get and add to your diet. Also, both have been approved as a safe sweetener by regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other health organizations.
Taking a closer look at each one, we can see that they have many similarities, especially when it comes to their forms, benefits, side effects, and nutrient profile. If you need to choose one, the important factors that you’ll need to consider are:
- Potential Side Effects
There are some differences in taste and cost that may influence individual preferences. One sweetener may work better in your tea and coffee, while the other may be better for cooking and baking. Additionally, some people may experience side effects or have personal sensitivities to one or the other. And these natural sweeteners are generally more expensive and less widely available than sugar.
Trying both and determining which one suits your budget and tastes better can be a helpful approach in making a decision. Additionally, it's always important to consider your individual preferences, health concerns and pre-existing medical conditions when choosing a sweetener that works best for you.
As with any food or dietary ingredient, moderation and individual awareness of your own body's response are key. If you have any concerns about Monk Fruit or Stevia sweeteners or their potential side effects, it's best to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice before buying and taking either one.
However with the better taste, health benefits and minimal side effects, Monk Fruit sweeteners may be a better choice. Also, Monk Fruit has been used for centuries as a natural sweetener and herbal remedy from Asia where it originated from, proving its safety for long-term consumption and positive health effects.
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