As a supermarket dietitian, I am frequently asked questions about food and healthy eating. I have decided to share some with you, along with my response. Enjoy-
Q. I just saw a monk fruit sweetener next to the stevia I usually purchase. What is it and is it a safe sugar alternative?
A. Like stevia, monk fruit sweeteners are derived from natural, plant sources. Monk fruit recently made its debut in the US appearing in a range of products from granola to cocktails. Monk fruit is a small, dark-green melon containing mogroside, an intensely sweet compound which is the star ingredient in this new generation sweetener. Mogroside, in its pure form is 300 time sweeter than sugar.
The fruit is crushed, mixed with hot water, filtered, and dried to form a sweet, zero-calorie powder. There are several brands of monk fruit-based sweeteners available. One of the most common brands is Nectresse, which is a blend of monk fruit, erythritol, sugar and molasses. It contributes 1-2 calories per packet and is a great, natural option for people looking for a natural sugar alternative.
According to the Nectresse website, monk fruit extract is heat stable, so you can bake and cook with it. It is perfect for sweetening savory sauces like tomato sauce, entrees like chili, homemade jams and jellies and desserts like rice pudding. It is important to note, however, that Nectresse is more concentrated than sugar. Use ¼ teaspoon Nectresse to replace 1 teaspoon of sugar. When substituting in baked goods, it is recommended to start out substituting a small amount of Nectresse for sugar to test the outcome and adjust as needed.
As for its safety, people in Asia have enjoyed monk fruit for centuries with no observed negative health outcomes. It gained its name from the Buddhist monks who cultivated it and provided folk remedies for numerous ailments such as coughing, constipation and sunstroke. The scientific research on the fruit’s potential benefits is still very new. In 2010, the FDA granted monk fruit GRAS status (Generally Recognized as Safe) for use as a sweetener and flavor enhancer. One specific study from 2009 found that mogroside might have potential benefits for diabetes, in that it has a low glycemic index and may stimulate insulin secretion. However, much more research needs to take place before recommendations can be made concerning monk fruit’s potential health benefits.