I am not carbophobic (afraid of carbs). However, I do try to avoid consuming too much sugar especially, white sugar. While I have never eaten artificial sweeteners, in the past, I have sampled various “natural” low carb sweeteners: erythritol, xylitol, and stevia.
Personally, I no longer use – nor favor – erythritol, and xylitol for mainly two reasons: 1) any substance which causes such digestive upset as these two can’t be that great and 2) while they come from natural sources, they are both highly processed. Yet, I admit they are better options than any artificial sweetener.
I do like stevia in small doses. Hubby loathes it for its bitter aftertaste. I have tried to sneak it in some recipes, to no avail. He is a stevia hound.
My preferred low carb natural sweetener is monk fruit.
For the curious, my favorite natural sweeteners – aside from monk fruit – are raw honey, pure maple syrup, coconut sugar, and raw sugar. The fact I favor clean and natural does not mean I never eat white sugar. You will find me on occasion at Frost Gelato partaking in my favorite flavors. Ice cream is my dessert weakness. Cookies would be a close second. Ice cream and a cookie together are a little piece of heaven, add some caramel topping and whipped cream and you can ask me just about anything.
My Past Experience with Monk Fruit
Though I seldom used it, I first became acquainted with monk fruit almost two decades ago.
I was quite disappointed to discover the brand of monk fruit I had been using was not “clean” despite the “all natural” labeling. Sadly, the term “natural” does not mean the same thing to everyone.
The term can be a marketing ploy for individuals like me – can you say stooge? – who favor natural and clean choices, Vaseline could be labeled as “natural” because the raw material comes from the ground.
Under this loose definition, poop is also natural.
This type of labeling is the reason why, if you favor wholesome products and pay more for these products I might add, you should become a savvy consumer and read the labels.
You cannot blindly trust anything which says natural or makes any other such claims. Only products which are “certified” have gone through a rigorous testing process to earn the label.
I always get cranky when I realize I have been had and I could have saved a few bucks buying some junky brand which made no fancy claim.
I have seen products labeled as “gluten-free” which are intrinsically gluten free…like…broccoli. No, I kid you not. You can buy gluten-free broccoli. Imagine! All these years, I purchased regular broccoli.
Yeah, it is this type of labeling which preys on us…the consumers.
I won’t lie I get excited when I see products labeled as “all natural” or “healthy.” The use of savvy “code words” works and smart companies are well aware of the fact. They study us and know what makes us tick or shall I say buy? Nevertheless, intelligent and honest are not necessarily the same thing.
Then again, as with anything, there is plenty of room for debate. Some say erythritol is natural (and in some ways it is), others state emphatically that it is junk food (and in a way it is). There is no end to the confusion.
In the end, you get to call the shots.
My Monk Fruit Brand
All this to say, my “natural” monk fruit was now persona non grata* because I no longer viewed it as healthy.
*It’s my fancy Latin showing up again. Trust me, after suffering through one year of this dead language
- I want to use it as often as I can because it makes me feel a bit better about wasting a few months of my life studying it.
- I understand why it is a dead language, or mostly gone, since lawyers and some other professions (as well as apparently yours truly), like to use it here and there. Don’t mind us; it’s a crutch, it makes us feel smarter.
Persona non grata = an unacceptable or unwelcome person
What Is Monk Fruit?
Monk fruit – also known as siraitia grosvenorii (Latin again), lo han kuo, or luo han guo – is a gourd which grows on 3 to 5-feet long vines and which is native to Southern China and Northern Thailand.
Buddhist monks cultivated it in the 13th century. Their texts first mentioned the fruit hence the name MONK fruit.
Monk fruit is 100 to 300 times sweeter than sugar (depending on the literature you read) and it has traditionally been used both as a sweetener as well as in Chinese medicine.
The plant is not easy to find in the wild. For this reason, lo han kuo has been cultivated for hundreds of years. It is still a difficult plant to grow and import (which explains its price).
Habitually, mature fruits are cut open and the seeds removed. The green fruits are then dried and turn brown during this process. Many Chinese herbal stores sell it in that form.
I discovered on Wikipedia (sometimes, you got to love the Internet) that the manufacturing process for monk fruit was patented in “1995 by Procter & Gamble. The patent states that natural luo han guo has many interfering flavors, which renders it useless for general applications, and describes a process to remove them. The offending compounds are sulfur-containing volatile substances such as hydrogen disulfide, methional, methionol, dimethylsulfide, and methylmercaptan, which are formed from amino acids that contain sulfur, such as methionine, S-methylmethionine, cystine, and cysteine.” (1)
In traditional medicine, the Chinese used monk fruit to treat coughs and sore throats. Furthermore, the Chinese believe that lo han guo is a longevity aid. (1)
In modern days, many studies have been done to study the medicinal properties of monk fruit.
The continuous use of a compound made of lo han guo showed some promise as an antihistamine (in mice) and could prove useful in the treatment of allergies. (2)
Good for Diabetics
Lo han guo extract is a low glycemic index sweetener with a beneficial role in insulin production and on diabetics. (3) (4) (5) (6) (9) Furthermore, it has some antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. (7) (9) (14) (15) (16) (17)
In mice, monk fruit had a beneficial effect on sports performance: “the data showed that SGFE can extend the swimming time of the mice, as well as increasing the liver and muscle glycogen contents, but it decreases the blood lactic acid and serum urea nitrogen levels. These results indicated that SGFE had significant anti-fatigue effects on mice and these effects were dose-dependent.” (8)
If this was not enough, mogrosides** in monk fruit have been shown to contain antiviral and antibacterial properties (9) (10) (13) and cucurbitacins** showed some promise in inhibiting the growth of cancer cells. (11) (12)
**Note: biochemical compounds found in monk fruit as well as some other plants.
The Problem with Monk Fruit
As I already mentioned above, monk fruit is hard to grow. Moreover, it must be imported. For these reasons, it doesn’t come cheap.
In my experience, most of the products sold as “monk fruit” contain some fillers:
- Dextrose is a form of glucose derived from starches (most often corn, as in GMO corn). It is widely used in pre-packaged foods because it is plentiful and therefore affordable. It is high glycemic.
- Maltodextrin inulin is a polysaccharide (a carb) made from starch (sounds familiar). It is most often a derivative of GMO corn, potatoes, rice, or wheat. It is regularly used as a food additive because it is cheap. For further information on the dangers of maltodextrin, Dr. Axe has a great article.
- Calcium silicate is an anticaking agent. It is not a benign product despite the fact we are told that it is too small an amount to be of concern! I would suggest you do your own research.
- Erythritol is a sugar alcohol which many use daily (I used to be one such person). Even though I have heard that erythritol is the mildest of all sugar alcohol, I know many whom cannot tolerate it because it causes digestive upset from mild to severe (this happened to me). Erythritol is highly processed usually from corn although you can find some made from birch. If you are interested here is an article from Dr. Axe.
Pure Monk Fruit Powder
Needless to say, I was very excited upon discovering a genuinely pure monk fruit powder. It is made by Julian’s Bakery and is named Pure Monk Fruit (simple and easy).
I won’t lie it is pricey (around $30 for a container). However, despite the fact I use pure monk fruit daily (mostly in my tea), my container lasts over five months. I use very little, and each serving costs around .30 cents.
I wholeheartedly recommend this product.
Pros of using Pure Monk Fruit
- It doesn’t impact blood sugar levels. It is truly low glycemic.
- It is minimally processed and is a natural food with a robust track record over many centuries.
- It appears to have beneficial medicinal properties
- It is considered a zero calorie sweetener.
- There are no known side effects.
- It is safe for children as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Cons of using Pure Monk Fruit
- The price.
- It is not readily available in all stores, and most often it will need to be purchased online.
Where Can You Buy Pure Monk Fruit?
I have not been able to find pure monk fruit in the grocery stores I frequent…yet.
Since I am an Amazon Prime Member and I get free shipping, I have purchased it from Amazon.
Sources for Pure Monk Fruit:
- (1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siraitia_grosvenorii
- (2) Effect of Lo Han Kuo (Siraitia grosvenori Swingle) on nasal rubbing and scratching behavior in ICR mice.
- (3) Insulin secretion stimulating effects of mogroside V and fruit extract of luo han kuo (Siraitia grosvenori Swingle) fruit extract.
- (4) Antidiabetic effect of long-term supplementation with Siraitia grosvenori on the spontaneously diabetic Goto-Kakizaki rat.
- (5) Effect of a Siraitia grosvenori extract containing mogrosides on the cellular immune system of type 1 diabetes mellitus mice.
- (6) Triterpene glycosides of Siraitia grosvenori inhibit rat intestinal maltase and suppress the rise in blood glucose level after a single oral administration of maltose in rats.
- (7) Antioxidant effect of mogrosides against oxidative stress induced by palmitic acid in mouse insulinoma NIT-1 cells.
- (8) Effects of Siraitia grosvenorii Fruits Extracts on Physical Fatigue in Mice.
- (9) Biotransformation of Mogrosides from Siraitia grosvenorii Swingle by Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
- (10) A new antibacterial compound from Luo Han Kuo fruit extract (Siraitia grosvenori).
- (11) Growth inhibitory effect of Cucurbitacin E on breast cancer cells.
- (12) Anticarcinogenic activity of natural sweeteners, cucurbitane glycosides, from Momordica grosvenori.
- (13) Inhibitory Effects of Cucurbitane Glycosides and Other Triterpenoids from the Fruit of Momordica grosvenori on Epstein−Barr Virus Early Antigen Induced by Tumor Promoter 12-O-Tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate.
- (14) Anti-inflammatory effect of Momordica grosvenori Swingle extract through suppressed LPS-induced upregulation of iNOS and COX-2 in murine macrophages.
- (15) Anti-inflammatory activities of mogrosides from Momordica grosvenori in murine macrophages and a murine ear edema model.
- (16) Antioxidant effect of mogrosides against oxidative stress induced by palmitic acid in mouse insulinoma NIT-1 cells.
- (17) The antioxidant activities of natural sweeteners, mogrosides, from fruits of Siraitia grosvenori.