To cut back on sugar, many health-conscious people turn instead to other types of natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, and fruit juices or nectars. One such natural sweetener, monk fruit, may not be as popular in the U.S. as other sugar replacements, but it’s started to gain attention in recent years because of its many health benefits.
While natural sweeteners like monk fruit are still forms of sugar and should still be consumed in moderation, they do sometimes have extra health benefits compared to refined sugars, including a lower (or even zero) calorie count. Natural sweeteners also tend to taste sweeter than refined sugar, so you won’t need to add as much to enjoy the same level of sweetness.
Read on to learn more about potential monk fruit benefits and its usefulness as a sugar substitute.
What Is Monk Fruit?
As the fruit’s name implies, monk fruit was first recognized as a healthy diet option by Buddhist monks who used monk fruit as a healing component of herbal tea and medicines. But what is it, exactly?
Monk fruit is native to southern China and is classified as a gourd, though it looks like a small, round melon. Monk fruit sweeteners are made by crushing the fruit and extracting the sweetest components, called mogrosides, from the juice.
The extracted sweeteners can come in liquid, granular, or powder form. They’re intensely sweet — monk fruit extract is 150–200 times sweeter than table sugar (without the 150–200x calories). Monk fruit extract does have a distinctively fruity flavor, but it’s still a viable option as a sugar substitute.
One downside to monk fruit for many consumers is that it simply isn’t as well known or as abundantly available as other sugar substitutes just yet, especially in the western hemisphere. The monk fruit plant is difficult to grow, and importing the fruit is expensive. Still, monk fruit benefits are slowly gaining more widespread popularity and recognition.
Monk Fruit Benefits
Since monk fruit is still rather new to U.S. markets, there isn’t a lot of research into all of the possible monk fruit benefits at this time. However, studies do suggest a number of potential benefits:
- Safe for diabetics: Since monk fruit sweeteners contain zero calories and don’t appear to affect blood sugar levels, they’re recognized as a safe option for diabetics to consume instead of sugar.
- Antioxidant: The mogrosides that make up monk fruit sweeteners have been shown to exhibit antioxidant properties that may even fight against certain types of diabetes.
- Anti-inflammatory: Monk fruit has traditionally been used to relieve sore throats and fight off the common cold, and has recently been shown to help reduce inflammation.
- May prevent cancer: Studies suggest that monk fruit’s mogrosides, particularly mogroside IVe, may help fight against certain types of cancer.
No known side effects: While research on monk fruit benefits and effects is still ongoing, no harmful side effects have yet been identified.
There is one caveat to these monk fruit benefits: sometimes, sweeteners made with monk fruit have other processed or artificial ingredients added. When you purchase a monk fruit sweetener, be sure to read the label carefully to ensure it only contains monk fruit.
Ways to Enjoy Monk Fruit
Like other sweeteners, you can use monk fruit in a variety of ways. While the fruit on its own isn’t all that appealing — or easy to find, especially fresh — sweeteners made from monk fruit extract can be added to almost anything you would normally sweeten with sugar and can be found in both liquid and powder forms.
Here are a few ideas:
- Stir it into your coffee or tea
- Sprinkle it over unsweetened foods
- Bake with it (but keep in mind you may need to adjust the amount you’ll use compared to sugar)
- Purchase snacks like ModBalls that are sweetened with monk fruit instead of refined sugar
Is Monk Fruit the Sugar Substitute You’ve Been Looking For?
As you explore these and other monk fruit benefits and uses, don’t forget to account for monk fruit’s unique flavor. You might want to try a tiny bit of monk fruit sweetener first before you go wild adding it to everything. Once you get the hang of it, though, monk fruit sweetener is a relatively easy substitute for sugar.
Many ancient remedies still hold up under modern lenses. Whether you’re looking to cut back just a little on the amount of sugar you consume or to go almost entirely sugar-free, the many potential monk fruit benefits make this natural sweetener an option well worth considering.
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