Have you ever had monk fruit? Many people in the west have not, but it’s well-known in eastern medicine for several reasons. Don’t feel bad if you overlooked this humble fellow in the produce aisle. While it doesn’t look like much, it has the potential to benefit your health.
One of the primary uses of this Asian fruit is in sweetener alternatives to sugar. With rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes on the rise, millions want to control their caloric intake and manage their blood glucose levels. You might wonder, though — is monk fruit safe?
What Is Monk Fruit?
Monk fruit is a member of the gourd family, along with pumpkins, squash and melons. However, it’s much more diminutive than many of its kin. It grows exclusively in a small area of southeast Asia, mainly southern China and northern Thailand. The fruit gets its name from the Buddhist monks who once consumed it.
Monk fruit is exceptionally challenging to cultivate and grow, which is one reason why it comes with a high price tag — if you can find it at all. Another problem is that it turns rancid soon after harvest. Therefore, the chances that you will find raw monk fruit in even specialty markets are slim to none. However, you can find the dried flakes at some Asian markets, and you can find a limited number of artificial sweeteners that use the juice.
Nutritional Benefits of Monk Fruit
Since you won’t likely eat monk fruit in the raw unless you tour an Asian orchard, you’ll derive most of the benefits from the juice in the form of sweeteners. However, it’s been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for years, and some evidence indicates that it has anti-inflammatory properties.
In TCM, practitioners make a hot drink from the juice as a remedy for sore throats and phlegm. One study found that the mogrosides in monk fruit regulated the expression of inflammatory genes, including interleukin-6 (IL-6). IL-6 is an inflammatory marker often seen in individuals who have chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease.
Additionally, monk fruit may help regulate blood sugar. It derives its sweetness from the mogrosides, which your upper intestinal tract does not absorb, rendering it a calorie-free food. While the human body doesn’t add to its daily calorie count, your intestinal bacteria can feed on the substance. However, no evidence exists to evaluate what, if any, effect the stuff has on your microbiome, the system of beneficial bacteria inhabiting your intestines that aid in digestion and immune response.
Limited verified medical research exists on monk fruit to date. However, some studies indicate that the gourd may do anything from helping reduce your cancer risk to improving allergies and the common cold. It may also protect your liver and reduce fatigue.
All About Monk Fruit Sweeteners
Sweeteners made from monk fruit have several advantages over sugar or lab-created substitutes. However, they may set you back a pretty penny. Because it poses challenges during both cultivation and transport, it can cost more than products made from stevia — made from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant — or chemicals.
Like stevia, products made from monk fruit are considered safe by the FDA. However, you need to read the ingredient labels before you buy. Some less expensive formulations contain artificial chemicals like xylitol. While the FDA does consider xylitol to be safe, some individuals experience intestinal upset after consuming it. In powder formulations, some manufacturers mix in other sugars like maltodextrin or dextrose to improve texture. However, this addition changes the nutritional profile and may be unsafe for some.
Can Children and Pregnant Women Use Monk Fruit?
Yes, monk fruit sweeteners are safe for children and pregnant women. The FDA classifies these extracts as generally recognized as safe (GRAS). However, like any food, some individuals may suffer an allergy. Keep alert for signs like a rash, swelling of the mouth or tongue and asthma-like symptoms after consumption, especially if you have difficulty tolerating cucumbers or other gourd vegetables.
Can Monk Fruit Help Diabetes and Obesity?
Some evidence suggests that monk fruit may reduce obesity and help people with diabetes manage their blood sugar. When it comes to weight loss, replacing sugar with a low-calorie substitute resulted in a modest weight loss of around two pounds. Some evidence also suggests, though, that these products might trigger the reward center in your brain to crave more sweet treats, resulting in a gain. The bottom line when it comes to managing your weight is to see if it works for you.
In terms of controlling diabetes, monk fruit extracts will not spike your blood sugar the way the real deal does. Some research suggests that it may help you lower it. One study claims that it may do so by stimulating insulin secretion, which reduces levels of glucose in the blood.
The Bottom Line — Is Monk Fruit Safe?
Comparatively speaking, monk fruit extracts offer a safe alternative to table sugar when it comes to sweetening your morning cuppa or baked goods. It may also convey significant health benefits and help you manage your weight and blood sugar.