20 min read
Monk Fruit vs. Stevia: Comparing Natural Sweeteners
Having a sweet tooth used to mean that you had to lean on high-calorie ingredients like sugar or high fructose corn syrup to tame your craving. With time, we have discovered zero-calorie sweeteners (both natural and artificial) that don’t load our bodies with calories but provide the same amount of sweetness. (Actually, they tend to be on the order of hundreds of times sweeter than sugar.)
There are benefits of using zero-calorie—also called “non-nutritive”—sweeteners. Most notably, when used in place of added sugars, they can help you cut back on your added sugar intake and lower the total number of calories in your diet. However, some of these zero-calorie options are linked to some not-so-great side effects if they are eaten in large quantities.
Most of the negative side effects of zero-calorie sweeteners have been linked to artificial sweeteners. Those are sweeteners, like aspartame and acesulfame potassium, that are synthetically made in a lab. Thankfully, we now have many natural zero-calorie sweeteners at our disposal that have fewer side effects.
Two popular choices now in many of our favorite sweet treats are stevia and monk fruit. Both are delicious, natural, and won’t raise your blood sugars the way regular table sugar can. Although they have a lot in common, there are some distinct differences between them. If you are wondering what the difference is between monk fruit vs. stevia, you’ve come to the right place!
What is a natural sweetener?
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the term “natural” refers to a product that contains nothing artificial or synthetic. In other words, the food cannot contain anything that would not naturally be expected in the food item.
Natural sweeteners can be types of sugars or zero-calorie sweeteners. Examples of natural sugars include cane sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey, maple syrup, and fruit juice. Examples of natural zero-calorie sweeteners include stevia and monk fruit extract.
Although it contains the word “natural”, natural sweeteners aren’t exactly directly plucked from nature. They can still be—and oftentimes are—highly processed, such as regular table sugar, which is derived from a sugar cane plant but heavily refined to become the product.
An easy way to remember what a natural sweetener is is by remembering that natural = found in nature. What’s the difference between natural sweeteners and artificial sweeteners?
Both natural and artificial sweeteners give your baked goods, drinks, and candies the sweet taste we all know and love. But the way these products are produced and, in some cases, the way they act in our bodies can differ.
Artificial sweeteners, like aspartame and acesulfame potassium, are man-made. All artificial sweeteners provide little to no nutritional value due to their little to no calories, and are often used as a sugar substitute in lower-calorie products.
Natural sweeteners, on the other hand, are found in nature and may contain some calories and other nutrients (like antioxidants). As mentioned earlier, popular natural sweeteners include honey, maple syrup, and sugar. In addition to having calories, natural sweeteners may raise your blood sugar as they are a source of glucose.
Some natural sweeteners can be considered “zero calories'' because they are so sweet the amount consumed doesn’t contribute a significant amount of energy to the body. Stevia and monk fruit are examples of these. They are found in nature and therefore, fall under the non nutritive, natural sweetener umbrella.
What is monk fruit?
Monk fruit, or lo han guo, is a melon that is cultivated in Southern China. It has been grown for centuries and is thought to be named after the Buddhist monks who first cultivated the fruit 800 years ago -- hence the name monk fruit.
Recently, monk fruit extract (which you may also see on nutrition labels as “Luo Han Guo Extract”) has become a popular choice as a zero calorie sugar alternative. Monk Fruit contains a substance called mogrosides, which makes it 100-250 times sweeter than regular table sugar. Monk fruit is considered Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the FDA.
What are the benefits of monk fruit?
There are many reasons why monk fruit has become a popular sweetener:
- It does not provide a significant amount of calories, making it a great option for someone who is looking to decrease their calorie intake.
- It does not spike blood pressure, meaning people with diabetes may also consider using monk fruit as their sweetener of choice. In one study published in the International Journal of Obesity, researchers demonstrated that people who drank beverages sweetened with non-nutritive sweeteners, like monk fruit, experienced minimal effects on after-meal glucose and insulin levels compared with those who drank sugar-sweetened beverages (like soda).
Other potential benefits linked to using monk fruit are that it offers a high antioxidant activity. This means it may help protect cells from oxidative stress caused by things like air pollution, and stress.
What are the disadvantages of monk fruit?
Although monk fruit is a wonder for the blood sugar control crowd, it does come with some (albeit very little) downside. Although it is sweet, monk fruit does not taste exactly the same way that regular sugar does. Plus, this sweetener requires a specific climate and can be costly for food companies to use. Otherwise, consuming monk fruit appears to be safe and well-tolerated.
What is stevia?
Stevia is a popular non-nutritive sweetener that is produced from the Stevia rebaudiana plant. It can be anywhere from 180-400 times sweeter than regular table sugar. Although it does contain some calories, it is considered to be a “zero-calorie” food because the calories per serving is so low.
What are the benefits of stevia?
The obvious benefit of stevia is its amazingly sweet taste with very few calories (virtually none). Plus, it is an ingredient that can easily be added to many food products and dishes.
Along with the flavor profile benefit, choosing stevia as your sweetener-of-choice comes with similar health benefits to monk fruit extract, including the ability to assist with blood sugar control and to weight management goals.
What are the disadvantages of stevia?
Stevia has GRAS status, meaning that it is generally regarded as safe by the FDA. However, similar to how some people are when they eat monk fruit, the flavor may not agree with all people’s preferences.
How to choose the right sweetener for you
If you are looking to cut calories or better control your blood sugar while having a sweet treat, alternative sweeteners may be a smart addition to your diet. Choosing the right sweetener for you is ultimately a personal choice that takes flavor, health risks, tolerance, and nutritional priorities into account.
For a person who wants to stick with natural remedies and ingredients, natural alternative sweeteners like monk fruit and stevia will be your best bet. Both offer a unique taste without adding calories to dishes and products. Of course, every person’s body and taste preferences are unique, so with a little trial and error, you will be able to figure out which is best for you.
Are there other natural sweeteners?
Natural sweeteners are any item that adds a sweet taste to food that is found in nature. While some do not provide calories or nutrition, others can be quite caloric. Some may contain trace amounts of vitamins, minerals, prebiotics, and antioxidants, while others provide no nutrition at all.
What they all have in common is that they are not made in a lab and they all taste sweet.
Examples of natural sweeteners that provide calories include:
- cane sugar
- maple syrup
- agave syrup
- fruit juice
- date syrup
Some natural sweeteners, like high fructose corn syrup, are linked to some unsavory outcomes, like obesity and tooth decay. Unfortunately, this type of sweetener is found in many traditional sodas and candies.
Thankfully, monk fruit and stevia are available as natural sweeteners that do not fuel the body with sugar and calories. Cassava root syrup is another natural sugar that comes from the cassava root and is a fructose-free, natural alternative to cane sugar.
What natural sweeteners are in OLIPOP?
OLIPOP is a unique drink that has an amazingly sweet taste, but doesn’t contain artificial sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup. Instead, it contains natural stevia leaf extract and cassava root syrup, giving it an amazing taste without artificial ingredients. Plus, these bubbly and satisfying drinks contain some real fruit juice, giving them some extra sweetness and fun flavors without the need for adding artificial colors.
Monk fruit and stevia are two natural sweeteners that do not provide the body with significant calories and come with little risk when including them in an overall healthy diet. Choosing foods made with these sweeteners can help support health goals, including weight management, blood sugar control, and more. However, keep in mind that just because a food is made with these sweeteners does not mean it is inherently healthy. Stevia- and monk-fruit-extract-sweetened foods should still be consumed with a well-balanced diet in order to reap their benefits.
Specifically, stevia and monk fruit extract are added to popular food items to add a sweet flavor without adding calories. Stevia, in particular, blends well into recipes and is an economical choice that is super-beneficial.
So, whether you are adding stevia extract or monk fruit extract to your morning coffee, choosing a soda sweetened with stevia (like OLIPOP), or swapping out refined sugar with any non nutritive and natural sweetener, taking small steps to reduce your exposure to artificial sweeteners and high-calorie sweeteners is one small change you can make that can have a big impact on your overall health.
- SL Tey et al. “Effects of aspartame-, monk fruit-, stevia- and sucrose-sweetened beverages on postprandial glucose, insulin and energy intake.” Int J Obes (Lond). Vol 41, no 3, 2017, pp. 450-457. doi:10.1038/ijo.2016.225
- Ban Q, Liu Z, Yu C, Sun X, Jiang Y, Cheng J, Guo M. “Physiochemical, rheological, microstructural, and antioxidant properties of yogurt using monk fruit extract as a sweetener.” Journal of Dairy Science. 2018.
- Saurabh Sharma, Swati Walia, Bikram Singh. “Comprehensive review on agro technologies of low-calorie natural sweetener stevia (Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni): a boon to diabetic patients.” J Sci Food Agric. Vol 96, no 6, 2016, pp. 1867-79. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.7500
- According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the term “natural” refers to a product that contains nothing artificial or synthetic.
- Artificial sweeteners, like aspartame and acesulfame potassium, are man-made. All artificial sweeteners provide little to no nutritional value due to their little to no calories, and are often used as a sugar substitute in lower-calorie products.
- Natural sweeteners, on the other hand, are found in nature and may contain some calories and other nutrients (like antioxidants)
- Monk Fruit is a popular sweetener that does not spike blood pressure and may have antioxidant activity.
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