Ahhh the battle of the sweeteners.
Monk fruit and stevia are amongst the top two natural sweeteners, but there are key differences between the two.
BONUS: We also talk about the absolute WORST sweeteners that you should eliminate from your diet.
Let's see if you're team Monk Fruit, Stevia, or both.
- Monk fruit and Stevia are all-natural, plant-based sweeteners.
- Studies show that Stevia, when used in exorbitant amounts, has potential drawbacks.
- Monk fruit has zero known side effects.
- Monk fruit has a milder sweetness when compared to stevia.
- Artificial sweeteners may lead to weight gain and other potential health issues.
Buuuuuut....before we get into it, if you're already triggered at the thought of "natural sweeteners" because you should "just eat a fruit, it's healthier for you"...
Well, no shit Sherlock.
But in this day and age, natural sweeteners are commonly used - you might as well learn a little more about them and learn A LOT about the artificial sweeteners you should stay away from!
Now, let's really get into it!
MONK FRUIT AND STEVIA ARE NATURAL SWEETENERS, BUT WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
Natural equals natural...capiche?
All kidding aside, natural sweeteners are made from a variety of trees, plants, and fruits.
Here's a list of natural sweeteners to save for later:
- Honey = High Calorie, High Carb
- Dates = High Calorie, High Carb
- Coconut Sugar = High Calorie, High Carb
- Stevia = 0 Calories, 0 Sugar, 0 Carbs
- Monk Fruit = 0 Calories, 0 Sugar, 0 Carbs
Some natural sweeteners — such as honey and dates — are rich in carbohydrates and calories, while others, like monk fruit and stevia, are virtually calorie-free.
Stevia and monk fruit are called nonnutritive sweeteners because they give foods a sweet taste without adding calories, sugar, or carbohydrates.
While the two share similar properties, they have a few key differences.
Below, we’ll dive into the nitty gritty details of each to determine which option is better.
ALL ABOUT STEVIA
Stevia in Powder Form
Here’s the low down on stevia, including its benefits, potential drawbacks, and why some people are skipping out on it.
WHAT IT IS...
- Natural sugar substitute
- From the Stevia rebaudiana plant
- Stevia glycosides have GRAS status
Stevia is a natural sugar substitute derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant, which is native to South America and belongs to the Asteraceae family.
Stevia is 200 to 400 times sweeter than table sugar yet free of calories, carbohydrates, and sugar.
Back in 2008, the FDA granted Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status to highly purified steviol glycosides, the sweet compounds found in the stevia plant. Basically, this means that it is safe to use as a sweetener in reduced-calorie foods and beverages in the United States.
There are several types of steviol glycosides, including Rebaudioside A (Reb A), Stevioside, and Rebaudioside D.
Manufacturers usually do not specify the specific type of steviol glycosides used on the label. Instead, you'll typically just see words like "stevia leaf extract," "stevia powder," or "stevia liquid."
- Stevia sweeteners can add sweetness to food and beverages without extra calories.
- They are heat stable and can be used in a variety of foods and beverages, including coffee, tea, baked goods, and other dishes.
- Stevia generally does not raise blood sugar levels, making it a good option for those with diabetes.
- Some research suggests stevia extracts may have anti-obesity, antioxidant, anti-hypertensive, anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial effects.
- They’re vegan-friendly.
Just like anything, when taken in HIGH amounts, Stevia does have a few drawbacks.
What does "high amounts" look like?
One study revealed that 1.8mg per pound of body weight was acceptable for daily consumption. Let's say you weigh 150 lbs - your upper limit for stevia would be 270mg per day. Consistently consuming more than your upper limit could result in potential drawbacks.
These drawbacks include:
- High amounts of stevia may add a bitter/unpleasant taste.
- Stevia, from sugar alcohols, can cause gut irritations in some individuals.
- Stevia may affect the endocrine system and could potentially disrupt the gut microbiome.
- Stevia may cause allergic reactions.
- Stevia can interact with certain medications.
SO, WHAT'S ALL THE FUSS ABOUT?
Many people avoid stevia simply because it tends to leave a bitter aftertaste in their mouth. This is because stevia contains chemical compounds known to interact with both the sweet and bitter taste receptors.
Additionally, the majority of stevia products undergo significant processing and are blended with other sweeteners, such as sugar alcohols. While considered safe, sugar alcohols may cause bloating, abdominal discomfort, and diarrhea.
To avoid this...READ THE LABEL! Make sure the product you are consuming only lists stevia and ZERO sugar alcohols.
Furthermore, some studies suggest that stevia may act as an endocrine disruptor and interfere with hormones, as well as negatively influence the gut microbiome.
One 2016 study found that human sperm cells exposed to steviol experienced an increase in progesterone production.
A 2022 review of 14 studies found that four indicated harmful effects on the gut microbiota, while the other studies found a positive or neutral effect.
More research is needed to determine the impact of stevia on gut health as well as its potential to act as an endocrine disruptor.
Although rare, stevia may cause allergic reactions in people allergic to plants from the Asteraceae family, such as ragweed, daisies, and sunflowers.
ALL ABOUT MONK FRUIT
Monk Fruit in Powder Form
Now that we've covered stevia, let’s explore what monk fruit is, along with its pros and cons.
WHAT IT IS...
Monk fruit, also known as luo han guo or “Buddha fruit,” is a small, round fruit native to Southern China.
While the fruit has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, monk fruit sweeteners did not earn GRAS status in the United States until 2010.
Monk fruit sweeteners are made by removing the seeds and skin of fresh monk fruit, crushing it, and then extracting its sweet portions into liquid and powdered forms.
Unlike most fruits that get their sweetness from glucose and fructose, monk fruit’s sweetness primarily comes from antioxidants called mogrosides.
During processing, mogrosides are extracted, producing a sweetener free of fructose and glucose.
MONK FRUIT PROS
- Monk fruit has zero calories, carbohydrates, and sugar, making it a great option for those trying to lose weight and avoid excess sugar.
- Monk fruit sweeteners generally do not cause an increase in blood sugar levels.
- Research suggests it may have health benefits, including anti-tumor, anti-diabetic, and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Many people find monk fruit sweeteners to have a fruity taste and describe it as less bitter than stevia.
- Monk fruit extracts are versatile and can be used to sweeten beverages, baked goods, smoothies, and coffee.
- They’re vegan-friendly.
MONK FRUIT CONS
As of right now, there aren’t any studies available showing the risks of monk fruit extract. It's worth noting, however, that research on monk fruit extract is still limited due to it being a relatively new sweetener.
Furthermore, the sweetener does have a few non-health-related drawbacks
- Monk fruit sweeteners tend to be pricier than many other types of sweeteners.
- Some monk fruit sweeteners contain additives, like dextrose and sugar alcohols, which degrade the quality. Make sure to read the labels and opt for products that use pure monk fruit extract and zero additives.
Although rare, individuals allergic to pumpkin, squash, cucumbers, melon, or other members of the Cucurbitaceae family may react to monk fruit.
THE VERDICT: MONK FRUIT OR STEVIA?
While both are good alternatives to artificial sweeteners, monk fruit is often considered the superior choice due to its mild flavor and lack of studies indicating any potential side effects.
However, using stevia in moderation is perfectly fine, especially if you don't have any sensitivity to it.
NOW, THE WORST SWEETENERS TO AVOID IN SUPPLEMENTS
Here’s a list of a few so-called "healthy" sugar substitutes that have the potential to do more harm than good.
- ACE K
Sucralose is a zero-calorie artificial sweetener that generally comes in a yellow packet. It is made from sugar through a multistep chemical process that substitutes 3 chloride atoms for 3 hydroxyl groups on the sucrose molecule.
Sucralose is 600 TIMES sweeter than table sugar and is commonly used in protein powders, diet sodas, chewing gum, baked goods, and more.
In addition, sucralose can disintegrate when cooking or baking at high temperatures, generating potentially toxic compounds.
It is important to note that we need additional human studies to confirm the long-term health risks of sucralose consumption.
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener made from the amino acids phenylalanine and aspartic acid. It is around 200 times sweeter than table sugar and comes in a blue packet.
When aspartame is consumed, your body breaks part of it down into methanol which further breaks down into formaldehyde, a known neurotoxin and carcinogen.
However, authorities have stated that the formaldehyde and methanol produced from ingesting aspartame consumption is not a safety concern. It is also considered safe by the FDA, with over 100 studies supporting its effectiveness.
The sweetener hasn’t been conclusively linked with any serious health problems other than for people with phenylketonuria (PKU). Still, it understandably has faced controversy over the past few years.
- Insulin resistance
- Gut microbiota changes
- Premature birth
- Early first menstruation in young girls
- Mood disorders
- Certain types of cancer
However, some studies have shown no correlation between aspartame and many of the mentioned health conditions.
Given the inconsistency in current studies, additional well-designed human studies are needed to confirm these findings.
Ace-K, also known as Acesulfame-K or Acesulfame potassium, is a synthetic zero-calorie sweetener that is around 200 times sweeter than table sugar. It's made by combining potassium and acetoacetic acid and is often blended in with sucralose or aspartame.
Ace-K is found in many sugar-free products, including soft drinks, ice cream, milk products, breakfast cereals, and more.
Despite being considered safe by the FDA since 1988, many researchers believe the sweetener may be harmful.
Saccharin is a low-calorie artificial sweetener 300-400 times sweeter than sugar. As one of the cheapest sugar substitutes, saccharin is often present in baked goods, canned fruit, dessert toppings, chewing gum, and vitamin and mineral supplements.
Sodium saccharin is commonly found in artificial sweeteners, although many people find it to have a bitter, metallic aftertaste.
Recent rodent studies have shown that long-term saccharin consumption may increase the risk of obesity and diabetes, as well as liver and kidney impairment.
There is also evidence that saccharin may negatively impact the bacterial balance in the human gut.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol naturally present in many fruits and vegetables. It can also be commercially produced from corn cob and birch bark.
Xylitol is commonly found in sugar-free chewing gum, candies, mints, and oral-care products.
While xylitol is FDA-approved for use as a sweetener and food additive, it can produce unwanted side effects. These include stomach cramps, irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, and kidney stones when consumed in high amounts.
- Zero calorie
- Bitter aftertaste (when used in high amounts)
- May cause GI issues in some individuals (when used in high amounts)
- Zero calorie
- Slightly more expensive
- Neutral flavor
- No known side effects
Both stevia and monk fruit are zero-calorie natural sweeteners that can be used as a substitute for sugar and artificial sweeteners. While both share similar properties, stevia can leave a bitter aftertaste and may cause digestive symptoms.
There’s also limited evidence that stevia may interfere with the endocrine system and gut microbiome. However, studies are limited, and we need more human studies before drawing definitive conclusions.
Monk fruit has a slight advantage over stevia as it has a more neutral taste and no reported side effects. However, it is pricier and not as readily available.
Ultimately, it comes down to taste and tolerance. Choose the natural sweetener that best fits your taste preferences and dietary requirements.