I recently bought a pack of organic, naturally sweetened keto diet-friendly power bars. As I typically do, I studied the ingredients portion of the packaging and noticed that the bars were naturally sweetened with something called monk fruit. Honestly, I had no idea what monk fruit was or if it was nutritionally sound and nutrient-dense. So, I did my research and discovered that monk fruit happens to be one of the best, low-sugar, naturally sweet, plant-based ingredients available!
Unfortunately, many artificial sweeteners are filled with harmful chemicals, — such as aspartame, which has been linked to cancer — and others which have been linked to a higher risk of glucose intolerance and negative changes in gut bacteria, are filled with empty calories, and provide little to no nutrient value.
This is where some natural sweeteners truly shine!
With that said, they are not all created equal. Natural sweeteners such as maple syrup, agave nectar, and raw sugar provide some nutritional value, are oftentimes antioxidants, and may even be beneficial for your gut flora. Yet, they are oftentimes high in calories and, when it comes down to it, they are still sugar. Plus, some brands will promote their “natural sweeteners,” while also using a bit of high-fructose corn syrup along with those natural sweeteners.
Monk fruit, on the other hand, is a wonderful, nutrient-dense, low-sugar content alternative! When extracted, monk fruit sweetener is 300 to 400 times sweeter than sugar cane, yet has no effect on blood sugar, one of the biggest concerns of consuming sugary foods. Monk fruit is also referred to as the “longevity fruit” due to a high level of cancer and age-fighting antioxidants.
What is Monk Fruit?
Monk fruit sweetener — also called lo han guo — is derived from the monk fruit (Siraitia grosvenorii) which is native to Southeast Asia. This fruit was discovered to the Western world by Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor, the former president of the National Geographic Society (NGS), on an expedition in the 1930s. The sweetener is derived from the juice, which is extracted after the seed and skin are removed.
Monk fruit’s claim to fame stems from the fact that it has zero calories and almost no actual sugar content and yet it’s still naturally sweet. How does this fruit extract accomplish this feat? It’s all about the source of sweetness. Instead of being derived from natural sugar, as most sugar usually is, the sweet flavor comes from “powerful antioxidants called mogrosides, which are metabolized differently by the body than natural sugars.” With that said, there are varying levels of natural sweet flavoring ranging from mogroside I to mogroside V, which is the “highest and with the most additional health benefits.”
Nutritional Value of Monk Fruit Sweetener
There are many different ways to choose a sweetener that is great for you. Is it all natural? Is it plant-based? Is it low on the glycemic index? While there are incredibly important questions, one that should be high on your list is how much nutritional value the sweetener provides. When it comes to monk fruit, you won’t be disappointed!
Due to the process of harvesting monk fruit, “they typically are counted as a zero-calorie food … with the trace amounts of fructose, glucose and other components are considered insignificant.” When consumed in its natural and fresh form, monk fruit offers “25 percent to 38 percent various carbohydrates, as well as vitamin C.” Yet, the main nutrient content that should spike your interest is antioxidants. In particular, monk fruit has an antioxidant called mogroside, which provides this sweetener with its sweet flavor. Due to this unique nutritional blend, monk fruit has been linked to reduced oxidative stress, lower risk of obesity and diabetes, reduced inflammation, treatment for fatigue, and has even been shown to work as a natural antihistamine.
As mentioned, monk fruit sweetener is derived from crushing the meat of the monk fruit for the juices inside. You may be asking why, with all those wonderful nutrients, monk fruit isn’t one of the most popular fruits in the grocery store. This is due to the incredibly short shelf life of the fresh fruit. Once harvested, the fruit rapidly begins to degrade and will taste like rot very quickly. Therefore, all over the world, monk fruit is mostly used as an extract for natural sweeteners or “dried and used to make medicinal teas.”
Monk fruit sweetener can be bought in powder or granule form — such as this Lakanto Monkfruit 2:1 Powder Sugar Substitute or this Julian Bakery Pure Monk (Monk Fruit) Powder — as a syrup — like this NOW Foods Organic Liquid Monk Fruit — or even as a potent extract — such as this Smart138 100% Monkfruit Liquid Sweetener Monk Drops.
By now we know that monk fruit is sweet, in fact, in the most potent extract form, it’s “300–400 times the sweetness of cane sugar.” Therefore, it’s best to use monk fruit in the right dosage to not overdo it. Experimentation is a great way to find out how much you personally enjoy it, yet it can get pricey very quickly. So, how do you go about using this natural, nutrient-dense sweetener? The best way is to substitute monk fruit for another sweetener that is just as powerful. One of the closest natural sweeteners to monk fruit is plant-based stevia. Here are a few plant-based naturally sweetened recipes where you can substitute monk fruit for stevia.
When it comes to sweetening a recipe, baked goods are a great place to start. Right off the bat, here’s a recipe that actually uses monk fruit! These Healthier Macaroons are incredibly easy to make with only six ingredients and six steps making them a wonderful monk fruit beginners recipe. This particular recipe calls for a half of a cup of monk fruit sweetener. While this is a good place to start, you try experimenting if it’s too sweet or not sweet enough. Different forms of monk fruit sweetener — powder versus syrup versus extract — will provide varying potencies. Make a couple of batches of these delicious and healthy macaroons to find your monk fruit sweet spot and implement this measurement in all of your favorite baked good recipes such as these stevia-based desserts: Peanut Butter Pumpkin Cookies, Black Forest Mini Cake, or this Espresso Biscuit and Pistachio Ice Cream Sandwiches.
Monk fruit is excellent to use in your favorite smoothie, shake, or caffeinated beverage! Not only will you get a dose of nutrients and antioxidants, but it won’t add any unwanted calories or jack up your glucose levels. Rich, thick smoothies and shakes are an excellent option for the powdered form of monk fruit sweeteners such as this Beta Carotene Sipper, this Min Citrus Smoothie, these Two Amazing Cherry Smoothies, this Super Weed Green Smoothie, or this adaptogenic Nearly Raw Chocolate Milk Shake. If you love a bit of a sweet kick in your morning coffee try substituting liquid extract or syrup monk fruit sweetener in this one of a kind Iced Dandelion Latte!
Nutrient-dense, plant-based ingredient-rich bowls are all the rage! And for good reason. By using a bowl over a plate, you’re generally consuming a less amount of food, while tricking your brain into believing you’re actually consuming more food. Plus, a bowl is easy to whip up and pre-package for work. When it comes to using monk fruit, try substituting any form for stevia in sweeter bowls. For example, instead of a dropper full of stevia use a dropper full of monk fruit in this Raw Papaya Apple Smoothie bowl. In this Superfood Smoothie for Lasting Energy bowl recipe, halve the number of dried figs, which are high in sugar, and substitute a little monk fruit.
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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