For people looking to create a healthier lifestyle, monk fruit and stevia are popular alternatives to sugar. Both monk fruit and stevia come from plants and are commonly used to sweeten food and drinks. One of the benefits of these sweeteners is that they add very few calories to your meal.
What Are Monk Fruit and Stevia?
Monk fruit, also known as swingle fruit or lo han guo, is a small gourd that grows on vines. It comes from parts of Southeast Asia, including China and Thailand. Monk fruit was named for its first cultivators — Buddhist monks in the 13th century. Because fresh monk fruit spoils quickly, it’s typically used in dried form.
As a sweetener, monk fruit comes in many forms, including a sugar-like powder and liquid extract. Because it provides an intensely sweet flavor 100 to 250 times sweeter than sugar, monk fruit is often mixed with other ingredients for balance.
Stevia is a sweetener that comes from the Stevia rebaudiana plant of South America. The leaves yield chemicals called steviol glycosides that provide a highly concentrated sweet flavor. It is 200 to 400 times more potent than table sugar.
While raw stevia is not approved by the FDA for consumption, pure extracts are regarded as safe. Like monk fruit, stevia is available in liquid extract and granular forms.
Benefits of Monk Fruit
As an alternative to sugar, monk fruit can provide you with several benefits, including:
A low-calorie option. As a non-nutritive sweetener, monk fruit extracts contain no calories, carbohydrates, or sugar. For people who are looking to limit their calorie, carbohydrate, or sugar intake as a part of a healthy diet, monk fruit sweeteners provide an effective option.
Using monk fruit as an alternative to sugar in your drinks, cooking, and baking can help minimize the risk of obesity as a part of a responsible weight management plan.
No side effects. Studies show that monk fruit has no known side effects when eaten in reasonable amounts.
No impact on blood sugar. Research shows that monk fruit sweeteners don’t affect blood sugar levels the way that table sugar does. Because of this, monk fruit may be a healthy option for people with diabetes who must carefully monitor their blood sugar levels.
Antioxidant properties. Some studies show that substances present in monk fruit have strong antioxidant properties. Research suggests that foods with antioxidants may help reduce your risk of conditions like heart disease and cancer.
Cons of Monk Fruit
Though monk fruit offers its fair share of benefits, it is not for everyone. Some people may not choose monk fruit as an alternative sweetener for several reasons, including:
High cost. Monk fruit is expensive to grow and export. Because of this, monk fruit is significantly more costly than standard sugar.
Inconvenience. Monk fruit is less common than sugar and can be more difficult to find when grocery shopping. Some people don’t like the process of learning how to bake or cook with monk fruit extract in place of sugar.
Different taste. Though monk fruit provides a sweetness similar to sugar, it does taste different. You may not enjoy the taste, texture, or aftertaste of monk fruit compared to sugar.
Pros and Cons of Stevia
Much like monk fruit, stevia is a non-nutritive sweetener. It contains no calories, carbohydrates, or sugar. If you’re following a low-calorie or ketogenic diet, stevia can be a good substitute for sugar.
As a part of a healthy weight management program, stevia may help you lose weight and lower your risk of developing obesity and related health conditions.
However, stevia comes with some disadvantages. Studies show that stevia may affect the healthy bacteria in your stomach. This can cause intestinal upset such as gas and bloating.
While few allergic reactions have been recorded, the FDA does not approve raw stevia for consumption — unlike monk fruit, which is approved in all forms. However, much like monk fruit, you may not enjoy the taste and texture of stevia, as it is very distinct from table sugar.
What to Consider When Choosing Between Monk Fruit and Stevia
While both monk fruit and stevia provide a healthy alternative to sugar, there are several factors to consider when choosing a sweetener. As with any food, you should always consult with your doctor before making changes to your diet.
To choose between monk fruit and stevia, consider what you hope to use the sweetener for. One may work better as an addition to your coffee, while the other may be best for baking. Ultimately, choosing between stevia and monk fruit is a matter of taste.