Monk fruit has rapidly become one of the most popular baking ingredients in the keto and low-carb community.
In this article, you’ll learn what research exists on monk fruit and whether the sugar substitute can live up to the hype without side effects.
What is Monk Fruit Sweetener?
Monk fruit is also known as Lo Han Guo or Siraitia grosvenorii. It’s a green gourd grown in Southeast Asia, particularly China and Thailand.
For this reason, it belongs to the gourd family called Cucurbitaceae.
Far Eastern medicine traditionally used it as a cold and digestive remedy (Jiang et al. 20131).
Lo Han Guo grew on steep mountains in small Asian family gardens for hundreds of years. Moreover, the gourd is named after the Buddhist monks who first harvested it about 800 years ago.
After drying, they used the Lo Han Guo as a low-calorie sweetener and, in some cases, a medicine (Gong et al. 20192).
However, it did not find its way to the West until the early 20th century.
In our country, monk fruit has recently become known for its extremely sweet taste. It contains so-called mogrosides. These are chemical compounds in cucurbits 250 to 400 times sweeter than sugar (Turner et al. 20203).
Therefore, it is increasingly finding its way into the grocery stores of the Western world. Moreover, monk fruit extract is incredibly trendy among low-carb and keto enthusiasts.
Although there are different ways of producing it, monk fruit is usually harvested, boiled in hot water, and dried. As a result, you get a powdered extract that looks like stevia.
Monk Fruit Benefits
Monk fruit sugar is a popular alternative to low-calorie sweeteners like stevia because it tastes sweeter and has no aftertaste.
Plus, it’s currently being touted as healthy at every turn, especially since it has a background as a healing remedy.
Although it has been little studied, there is individual research that suggests potential health benefits of monk fruit:
- Antibacterial: Monk fruit has properties that may inhibit oral bacteria and yeast fungi growth and help against sore throats and coughs (Zheng et al. 20094).
- Antioxidant: Initial studies suggest that monk fruit mogrosides may reduce free radicals in cells, although this has not been fully confirmed (Chen et al. 20135).
- Anti-inflammatory: Studies show that monk fruit may have anti-inflammatory properties and thus prevent chronic diseases (Di et al. 20116).
Besides these health benefits, monk fruit may also have side effects, which we will examine later.
Moreover, facts tend to fall by the wayside in the current hype about supposedly natural sweeteners.
Although it is made from a gourd, monk fruit extract is a highly processed, industrially-produced sweetener. That’s why some experts consider it more of an artificial sweetener.
Like conventional sugar derived from sugar beet, monk fruit is a plant-based sweetener.
Unlike table sugar, however, monk fruit sugar is calorie-free.
Is Monk Fruit Keto?
At first glance, Luo Han Guo is a suitable option for the ketogenic diet. The sweetener is sugar-free and contains zero carbohydrates.
Therefore, monk fruit sweeteners should not be able to increase blood sugar. Although this conclusion should be logical, researchers have different opinions.
While animal studies claim monk fruit does not affect blood glucose levels, a study on humans says the sweetener can raise glucose levels like conventional sugar (Gong et al. 20197; Tey et al. 20178).
But does ketosis only depend on blood glucose?
Monk Fruit Spikes Insulin
Most experts oversee that in ketogenic diets, it is not only blood sugar that matters but also its effect on insulin secretion.
In addition to weight gain and loss, the storage hormone also regulates the metabolic state of ketosis.
Especially since insulin prevents body fat from being broken down for energy, it is the true showstopper of weight loss and ketosis (Meijssen et al. 20019).
Therefore, to determine if monk fruit is keto-friendly and can help with weight loss, we need to study its effects on insulin levels.
Finally, researchers can predict 75% of gain and loss in overweight individuals by examining insulin levels (Kong et al. 201310).
With this in mind, researchers could not detect significant differences in glucose and insulin levels over three hours after monk fruit and sugar ingestion (Tey et al. 201711).
But it goes even more clearly. One study found that monk fruit extract stimulates insulin production in pancreatic beta cells.
In doing so, the researchers showed that isolated mogroside V significantly increased insulin secretion. Thus, they concluded that mogrosides are probably the leading cause of the insulin-producing effect (Zhou et al. 200912).
Consequently, the evidence is clearly against monk fruit extract. Accordingly, it inhibits weight loss and can also throw you out of ketosis.
Monk Fruit May Promote Cravings
More and more studies suggest that non-nutritive sweeteners cannot activate food reward pathways like sugar.
In short, the lack of calories generally means the reward component is missing.
While functional magnetic resonance imaging showed that glucose ingestion caused prolonged signal depression in the hypothalamus, results for zero-calorie sweeteners differed (Yang 201013).
Consequently, non-nutritive monk fruit sweeteners may promote cravings, especially since they make the brain crave more glucose.
In light of this, one study concluded that consuming intense zero-calorie sweeteners leads to overeating and weight gain due to increased appetite (Bellisle et al. 200714).
Monk fruit vs. Sugar on Keto
Unlike the white crystal, monk fruit does not provide carbohydrates and may still provide tiny health benefits.
Also, monk fruit extract may not spike blood sugar as abruptly as sugar.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that the natural sweetener does not affect blood sugar and insulin levels.
Compared to sugar, glucose and insulin levels reached a similar average level in humans (Tey et al. 201715).
These facts do not make monk fruit an intensively sweet miracle food that cannot throw you out of ketosis.
In contrast, monk fruit extract remains what it is, a sugar substitute that you may occasionally use for baking.
If you base your diet on desserts and sweeteners, you simply cannot succeed in losing weight, even with the help of monk fruit.
Monk fruit vs. Erythritol on Keto
Erythritol, like monk fruit, is sold as a natural sugar substitute. Nonetheless, it is produced from carbohydrates in industrial processes.
Sugar alcohols differ significantly from monk fruit mogrosides because they are usually not calorie-free. Instead, they are dietary fibers, which are also labeled as such on the packaging.
Since the human body cannot properly digest these antinutrients, most of them are excreted. However, intestinal bacteria can consume them to a small extent.
For this reason, when you consume erythritol, about 90% of the sweetener leaves the body again unchanged (Noda et al. 199418).
Although erythritol is not non-nutritive, scientists have not yet observed significant increases in glucose and insulin levels after ingestion (Bornet et al. 199619).
For this reason, erythritol is, at first sight, the better choice in terms of insulin response.
Nevertheless, due to the enormous lack of studies, it is rather unlikely that erythritol does not influence insulin production at all.
Accordingly, I wouldn’t put my hand in the fire that erythritol could be the keto-friendly sweetener.
Monk Fruit vs. Stevia on Keto
Monk fruit has a similar effect to stevia. However, the extract of the green leaves, that of monk fruit, is extremely sweet and adds about 250 times the sweetness to foods compared to sugar.
The natural sweeteners also performed similarly in a recent study.
After consuming beverages sweetened with stevia and monk fruit, researchers found no significant difference in blood glucose and insulin levels (Tey et al. 201720).
Similarly, these zero-calorie sweeteners can cause cravings due to their extreme sweetness (Yang 201021).
In addition, steviol glycosides, like monk fruit mogrosides, can stimulate insulin secretion directly in the pancreas (Jeppesen et al. 200022).
Therefore, stevia is no more ideal for weight loss and ketosis than monk fruit.
What distinguishes stevia from monk fruit are several studies that have evaluated this natural sweetener for potential health benefits and side effects.
While stevia extract is said to have similar antioxidant, antimicrobial, or anti-inflammatory effects, side effects have been better studied (Momtazi-Borojeni et al. 201723).
- Reduction of fertility in women
- Impairment of reproductive organs in men
- Alteration of the gut microbiome
- Promotion of weight gain, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes
Even though hardly anyone talks about it, natural non-nutritive sweeteners also have downsides.
Monk Fruit Side Effects
Although the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) generally considers monk fruit safe, there are good reasons to doubt this (FDA 201828).
For example, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) commissioned a study to investigate the safety of monk fruit extract as a food additive.
Based on this research, the EFSA panel had to conclude that the existing data on monk fruit extract’s potential toxicity was insufficient to approve it as a food additive (FAF 201929).
And this is precisely the problem with monk fruit – it is largely unresearched. No meaningful human studies exist, nor have the effects on children or pregnancy been reviewed.
Moreover, the few studies commissioned by monk fruit extract manufacturers have documented hardly any side effects, which is no great surprise.
As with most plant foods, there is a possibility of allergy to monk fruit.
Since monk fruit belongs to the cucurbit family, people who are allergic to cucurbits should be cautious.
For example, this includes melons, zucchinis, or cucumbers. These foods contain high levels of lectins, especially in their seeds.
Digestion, Metabolism, and Gut Health
Many studies suggest that non-nutritive sweeteners, including natural variants such as monk fruit, can affect metabolism and the gut microbiome (Itkin et al. 201632).
In this context, researchers identified the following effects (Pepino et al. 201533):
- Calorie-free sweeteners interfere with learned responses that regulate glucose and energy homeostasis.
- Natural sweeteners also alter the gut microbiome and induce glucose intolerance.
- Noncaloric sweeteners stimulate sweet taste receptors that affect the digestive system’s glucose absorption and insulin secretion.
- In addition to sweet taste receptors, very intense sweeteners such as monk fruit can stimulate bitter taste receptors affecting appetite.
Both the taste receptors and the sweetener may interact with the gut microbiome. With this in mind, researchers explain the contribution of intense sweeteners to obesity and metabolic disorders (Turner et al. 202034).
Insulin Resistance and Diabetes
So, contrary to all expectations, there is, after all, circumstantial evidence that intense natural sweeteners can affect glucose metabolism.
These facts are neither beneficial for weight loss nor metabolic diseases, whose main symptoms include obesity.
In particular, these include insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. These metabolic disorders share a common cause: excessively high insulin levels or hyperinsulinemia.
Accordingly, 2011 Banting Medalist Barbara Corkey, M.D., of Boston University’s School of Medicine, even called her lesson “Hyperinsulinemia is the cause of insulin resistance, obesity, and diabetes (Corkey 201237)”.
Therefore, direct stimulation of insulin production in the pancreas by mogrosides is an issue that should raise healthy skepticism (Zhou et al. 200938).
For example, more than 50% of the U.S. population already struggles with excessive insulin levels and pre-diabetes (Menke et al. 201539).
While monk fruit is prematurely celebrated in advertising as diabetic-friendly, in the long run, it is much more likely to contribute to the development and exacerbation of type 2 diabetes.
Although monk fruit in rough amounts could cause digestive problems, it is unlikely to cause diarrhea.
Like stevia, monk fruit products often contain other sweeteners like sugar alcohols, which are known to cause digestive problems.
In fact, after being cheaper to produce, most monk fruit sweeteners consist primarily of the sugar alcohol erythritol.
For this reason, you’ll usually find it first on the list of ingredients. So if you get diarrhea from a monk fruit product, it’s most likely due to erythritol.
Monk Fruit’s Insulin Response May Kick You Out of Ketosis
Compared to sugar, monk fruit may be a better alternative. Moreover, unlike other intense sweeteners, only a few side effects of monk fruit have been reported.
However, this is mainly because this relatively new sweetener has hardly been studied.
The most significant disadvantage of monk fruit is the stimulation of insulin secretion. High insulin levels can kick you out of ketosis, inhibit weight loss, and promote the development of insulin resistance.
For this reason, monk fruit extract is unsuitable for intermittent fasting.
Especially since monk fruit extract may be justifiable in dessert on special occasions, it is not a zero-calorie keto miracle food. Accordingly, monk fruit does have a metabolic impact on our bodies (Pepino et al. 201540).
Therefore, if you want to lose weight sustainably, it is better to make the natural sweetener the exception than the rule.
Monk Fruit Keto Insulin Response FAQ
Can monk fruit kick you out of ketosis?
Mogrosides in monk fruit directly stimulate insulin secretion in the pancreas. Therefore, monk fruit sweeteners can kick you out of ketosis.
Does monk fruit spike insulin?
The mogrosides in monk fruit directly stimulate insulin production in the pancreas. So, as a result, monk fruit does spike insulin. But compared to sugar, the effect is minor.
What are the side effects of monk fruit?
Monk fruit stimulates insulin production, may support cravings, and alter the gut microbiome.
What is better stevia or monk fruit?
Due to a lack of evidence regarding monk fruit, more side effects are known for stevia. For this reason, monk fruit might be better than stevia. However, both natural non-nutritive sweeteners showed similar results on blood sugar and insulin levels.
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