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Is Monk Fruit Safe to Use as a Sweetener?

Monk Fruit July 1, 2016

We know that excess sugar is bad for you, and some artificial sweeteners may be just as harmful. But what about monk fruit, the sweet Southeast Asian melon also known by its scientific name Siraitia grosvenorii and its Chinese name luo han guo? Is it safe to use monk fruit extract to sweeten your foods and tea? Or should you be concerned about some nasty side effects and adverse reactions after consuming foods or drinks that contain it? Let's find out.

Long History of Use

Monk fruit has a long history of use in China where this sub-tropical melon is celebrated for its many health benefits and sweet flavor. The fruit gets its unique sweet flavor from non-nutritive compounds called mogrosides, and monk fruit extracts have been reported to be 100 to 250 times sweeter than sugar (1).

Monk fruit, also known as luo han guo in China, is said to have been cultivated in southern Chinese mountains as early as the 13th century. Today, it is widely used to enhance the flavor and/or medicinal properties of green tea and soups in China. A beverage that contains boiled monk fruit and dried longan fruit is also a popular herbal drink. (2) What's more, monk fruit has been included in the Pharmacopoeia of China since 1977, and it is officially considered both a food and a medicinal plant by China's Ministry of Health (3)

Monk Fruit Extracts Are "Generally Recognized as Safe" by the FDA

Following centuries of use in China, monk fruit is now gaining popularity in the US, not least because it can be used to make high-intensity sweeteners that are virtually calorie-free. With obesity rates skyrocketing in the US and people looking for more natural sweeteners, it is easy to see why Americans are showing interest in the prospect of using monk fruit as a weight loss aid.

However, before sugar-free sweeteners that don't have a long history of use in the U.S. can be added to foods, their safety has to be assessed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If deemed safe for use, the agency grants the sweetener under review GRAS status (GRAS stands for "Generally Recognized as Safe").

Since 2010, the FDA has received, and not questioned, several GRAS notices provided by various companies for extracts obtained from monk fruit (4). The agency does note, though, that although these high-intensity sweeteners are considered safe for their intended uses, any food substance is capable of causing an adverse reaction in an individual who is sensitive to it. To be on the safe side, it also adds that consumers should share any concerns they have about a negative food reaction with their health care provider. (5)

Consider the Side Effects Associated with Additives Used in Popular Monk Fruit Based Sweeteners

When it comes to high-intensity sweeteners, a little goes a long way, which is why monk fruit extract is often mixed with fillers such as erythritol, dextrose, molasses or inulin fiber. Therefore, when doing research on the safety and possible side effects of a monk fruit based sweetener, you should also check if the sweetener contains ingredients other than monk fruit extract, and check whether those ingredients have been associated with any side effects or adverse reactions. Or, avoid the extra work by getting pure, additive-free monk fruit powder that is 100% derived from monk fruit.

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