What is Monk Fruit?
Monk fruit is a small melon-like fruit, grown almost exclusively in Southeast Asia. It’s not particularly delicious, and not typically eaten like other fruit. Beyond that, this weird little green orb doesn’t store well, unlike squash or other melons. It’s more used for traditional medicines or teas, after being processed and dried. It’s gained some traction outside of Asia, however, because of the remarkable fact that extracts of the fruit are about 100-200x sweeter than sugar but have no carbs, sugar, or calories. It’s honestly a fantastic sweetener for those pursuing a lower carb, ketogenic, or diabetic meal plan.
Though the US FDA doesn’t have a ton of data on it (classifying it as generally recognized as safe), it’s been cultivated and used in China since the 13th century, which should indicate it’s fine. Various companies in the United States have sold it as a sugar-alternative sweetener since 1995, and it’s becoming more prevalent as cultivation increases. That said, however, it’s still not exceptionally common to find in stores, at least in its pure form, and more often is mixed with dextrose or some other sweetener.
Advantages with Monk Fruit
Monk fruit is a wonderful alternative to insulin-raising, calorie-laden sugar. Even when compared to other keto sweeteners, monk fruit stands out for a handful of reasons:
- Monk fruit extract does not impact blood sugar levels. This is important as some sugar alternatives will still raise blood sugar, which then creates a corresponding rise in insulin levels, and no matter what, this is something you likely want to avoid on keto
- It’s a zero calorie sweetener, which is ideal for any kind of diet, but particularly so for a ketogenic way of eating. With no calories means there’s no carbs, and no raise in blood sugar to interrupt ketosis
- Some older, artificial sweeteners have been potentially linked to disease (like aspartame). Monk fruit is both natural and there’s nothing in current or past research that indicates it might be unhealthy.
- The mogrosides that make up the monk fruit extract and give its characteristic sweetness are also antioxidants. Antioxidants are great for minimizing free-radical damage to our bodies, and that’s a pretty sweet bit of information!
- Because of the fact that the extract is dried, it is very versatile, coming in liquid, granule, and powder forms with no loss of sweetness or efficacy.
Disadvantages with Monk Fruit
While the pros of using monk fruit are pretty good reasons to utilize it as a part of your low carb diet, there are some disadvantages to using it as a sugar substitute.
- Monk fruit has been reported as having an unpleasant, overly “fruity” aftertaste. While a lot of sugar substitutes have a bitter aftertaste, that can often be masked. Monk fruit kind of stands out and if you don’t like the aftertaste, you might no ever like it.
- Again, as we said before, it’s difficult to find in its pure form. More often than not, what you find in the store is mixed with some less desirable sweetener, like dextrose or maltitol.
- It can be cost-prohibitive since it’s difficult to grow and must be imported. This makes even blends somewhat expensive.
- Though monk fruit is a natural alternative to sugar, it’s still not been scientifically studied very much. While it’s likely safe, there’s just not very much conclusive evidence one way or the other
- There is some evidence that though there are no calories in monk fruit extract, the mogrosides that gives its sweetness can stimulate insulin production. Though the effect is minor, and it’s considered a low glycemic food, it’s still worth noting if you’re diabetic.
What is Stevia?
Stevia, as a sweetener, is a refined version of the leaves of the stevia plant, which is an herb. It has a long and sordid history with the Food and Drug Administration, which has yet to approve whole-leaf stevia as a food additive. The FDA cites the leaf or grossly refined (meaning just barely processed) extracts as unsafe, stating they could affect blood sugar and potentially harm various organ systems.
The FDA has approved the use of a very specific stevia extract called Reb A as a sweetener. Despite the fact that stevia leaf has been used in teas and as a sweetener for hundreds of years, there is still this opposition, and it’s worth considering when you are investigating a sugar substitute. It’s also worth noting that any sweetener you buy that calls itself “stevia” isn’t actually pure stevia but that Reb A extract. It may sound like splitting hairs, but to the FDA, it’s a world of difference.
Advantages with Stevia
Because stevia is a sugar-free, calorie-free alternative to sugar or other traditional sweeteners, that’s a great place to start when discussing its advantages. Other pros include:
- Stevia is 200-300x sweeter than sugar, so a little goes a long way.
- Stevia extracts, as long as they’re not mixed with actual sugar, don’t raise blood sugar levels. There’s also evidence that they have a therapeutic effect on your body’s insulin response.
- Stevia has been used for so long that it’s been perfected in liquid, powder, and granule forms, though each has its own uses and levels of sweetness. Each form works best in certain applications and less effectively outside of those applications, so it can be trial-and-error to figure it out for yourself.
Disadvantage with Stevia
Unfortunately, nothing is perfect, and even “natural” sweeteners can have their downsides. Stevia has its share of disadvantages, including the following:
- Stevia has a sort of licorice taste that can get removed when it’s refined, but sometimes it still persists. That odd taste, coupled with the fact that is does have a bitter aftertaste, can be a turn-off for some people. This is also why it’s often blended with sugar or another keto sweetener, to cut this bitterness.
- It can definitely have a negative gastrointestinal impact for some people, including stomach discomfort, nausea, gas, bloating, and bowel issues.
- Natural, pure stevia extract can be expensive. Again, if you’re not observant, a lot of what’s available in commercial grocery stores is blended with other sweeteners or a lesser amount of sugar. Read labels carefully!
- One strange side-effect is that people who are allergic to plants in the same family as stevia are likely to have allergic reactions from even the refined stevia sweeteners. Plants in this family include ragweed, daisies, and sunflowers, among others.
Which is Sweetener is Right for You?
Determining which sweetener is right for you is almost entirely trial-and-error. Assuming you’re not allergic to stevia, it’s going to be more widely available than monk fruit, which is certainly a benefit. Monk fruit vs stevia is a good place to start with finding your perfect sweetener because both are natural and calorie-free, and both have largely the same disadvantages.
For instance, with baking, monk fruit sweetens better but can add that fruity aftertaste that might not be appreciated if you’re making a vanilla cupcake or something else decidedly not fruit. Stevia is better for things like your morning coffee, where the bitter aftertaste is going to be negated by the bitterness of the drink itself.
Then again, you might not mind the aftertaste of either, and that’s when things like purity, availability, and price come into the monk fruit vs stevia debate. You’re more likely to find stevia than monk fruit in stores, but it’s also more likely to be mixed with some other sweetener, and in some cases, actually mixed with literal sugar. Sure, this will have less carbs and calories than pure sugar, but you still likely want to avoid that on the keto diet. See our low carb blackberry fruit pancake recipe
Admittedly, there are other sweeteners to consider outside of the monk fruit vs stevia debate. They all have their own pros and cons, and it’s up to you to decide which makes the most sense in your low carb lifestyle.
- Splenda (sorbitol) – this is a common, older generation commercial sweetener, made by binding real sugar to other molecules. It tastes like sugar, though it’s sweeter, but it still has calories and carbs, about half of pure sugar
- Erythritol – this is an extract from fruit rind. It’s very sweet, and while it’s calorie free, it’s very bitter and can cause heartburn when it’s used on its own. Often you’ll find this blended with stevia, where it’s perfectly delicious. Products like Swerve create this kind of blend
- Mannitol, malitol, and the rest – there are a lot of sugar-derived sweeteners, or like mannitol, ones that are derived from corn. These are ok in a pinch and definitely less caloric than sugar, but they will increase blood sugar and potentially put you out of ketosis, so should be avoided unless you otherwise cannot
Alternative sweeteners are incredibly important to get people to stop overloading their bodies with sugar. You will need to give each a try and find the one that works best for your tastes, but stevia vs monk fruit comes down to a handful of things like availability, aftertaste, and whether you can get it in its pure form. The healthiest sweetener is likely to be one of these two, so either one can be hugely beneficial in your transition to a healthier, lower carb diet.
Related: Check out all our low carb recipes