Fact-checked by Dr. Anthony Gustin, DC, MS.
Written by Lorenz Mac
Sugar is one of the worst things you can put in your body.
Eating added sugars can lead to life-threatening lifestyle diseases including:
Clear evidence shows diets high in added sugar promote the development of metabolic disease both directly — by dysregulating lipid and carbohydrate metabolism — and indirectly — by inducing body weight and fat gain[*].
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), you should not be consuming more than 25–36 grams of sugar a day — and that’s just a limit, not a recommendation[*].
In reality, the average American consumes 2.5 times that amount — 88 grams of sugar daily, or 22.2 teaspoons[*].
This rapid hike in sugar consumption comes thanks to how available sugar-laden foods are everywhere now[*].
So what can you use to substitute this damaging ingredient and banish it from your keto diet and life for good?
While you could use stevia, there’s another keto-friendly sweetener that won’t leave the same aftertaste: Monk fruit.
In this guide, you’ll learn:
Monk fruit is a green gourd grown in Southeast Asia. Also known as Lo Han Guo, it has long been used in Eastern medicine as a common cold and digestive remedy[*].
Monk fruit recently found its way to food markets across the U.S. as a zero-carb sweetener.
It contains compounds that are 250 times sweeter than sugar, without the calories or negative effects on blood glucose levels[*]. This makes monk fruit a sweet substitute for table sugar.
The History of Monk Fruit
Monk fruit has grown on steep, forested mountains in tiny family orchards for hundreds of years. Once harvested, the fruit would be dried before being distributed all throughout Asian communities where it was used as a low calorie sweetener and remedy.
It’s named after the Buddhist monks who first cultivated it nearly 800 years ago.
Monk Fruit as a Modern, Zero-Calorie Sweetener
Monk fruit was brought to North America in the early 20th century by a group from the National Geographic Society. Today, consumers enjoy the zero-calorie sweetener in baking, while manufacturers use it to make products more palatable.
Monk fruit extract is manufactured in a few different ways. The most common involves harvesting the fresh fruit, boiling it in hot water then drying it afterwards. This creates a powdered extract that looks like stevia.
Today, it’s a popular alternative over low calorie sweeteners like stevia because of its sweeter taste, virtually no after-taste, and potential antioxidant effects[*].
Monk fruit is packed with health benefits — most of which extend beyond the waist line. Here are seven incredible ways monk fruit impacts your health:
#1: It Helps Fight Infection
Monk fruit has anti-infection properties that inhibit the growth of bacteria, helping to prevent a sore throat and cough[*]. Studies have shown that monk fruit has the ability to fend off some symptoms of candida such as oral thrush (fungal infection)[*].
#2: It May Decrease Your Risk of Diabetes
Monk fruit was used as an anti-diabetic medication long before it was known as a low calorie sweetener. In-vitro studies show monk fruit might help lower glucose levels and increase secrete insulin secretion[*]. This effect can increase insulin sensitivity, which both diabetic and healthy people need for a normal metabolism.
#3: It Has Anti-Cancer Properties
The antioxidants in monk fruit show promising cancer-preventing properties. One study found that a particular mogroside, mogroside V, has the ability to inhibit the progression of pancreatic cancer cells in mice[*]. Another study showed that monk fruit had anticancer effects in colorectal and throat cancer[*].
#4: It Helps Reduce Inflammation
Chronic Inflammation is a silent killer. It prevents your body from functioning and healing correctly, making all your health goals more difficult to accomplish. Studies demonstrate that monk fruit contains anti-inflammatory effects, contributing to disease prevention[*].
#5: Might Helps Fight Fatigue
One study done on mice concluded that monk fruit extract may help decrease fatigue. The study showed that mice given monk fruit extract were able to exercise for longer periods of time compared to mice who weren’t consuming monk fruit[*].
#6: It Aids Weight Loss
The increase in consumption of grains and sugars over the last hundreds of years resulted in a worldwide obesity epidemic. Americans now consume up to 13 times more sugar than their ancestors in the 1800s. In 2017, America became the most obese nation in the OECD, followed by Mexico and New Zealand[*].
Using monk fruit as a zero calorie sweetener instead of sugar can help overweight people decrease their total caloric intake while simultaneously battling sugar cravings[*].
#7: It May Relieve Allergy Symptoms
When you experience an allergic reaction, your body releases different chemicals into your system, one being histamine. Histamine is responsible for allergy symptoms like coughing, itching, and inflammation. In one study conducted in mice, monk fruit extract was able to reduce histamine and asthmatic reactions[*].
If you’re low carb, you’ve probably tried other alternatives to sugar like stevia and sugar alcohols. Monk fruit provides additional advantages that may be worth the switch.
Here’s how monk fruit stacks up against other alternative sweeteners.
Comparing Safe Consumption: Monk Fruit vs. Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose are extremely harmful to your health.
One study showed that sucralose was responsible for damaging the gut microbiome and inducing liver inflammation in mice[*].
Meanwhile, aspartame consumption, even in small doses, may[*]…
- Disrupt the oxidant and antioxidant balance
- Induce oxidative stress
- Damage cell membrane integrity
- Deregulate cellular function
- Cause systemic inflammation
Monk fruit sweetener is an extract from a protective plant and it’s free from these side effects.
Comparing Carbs: Monk Fruit vs. Agave or Maple Syrup
Unlike other “healthy sweeteners,” monk fruit sweetener contains zero carbohydrates. Therefore, it won’t negatively impact your blood sugar levels. Agave, honey, and maple syrup contain sugar and carbohydrates that spike your blood sugar levels and kick you out of ketosis.
One tablespoon of maple syrup contains over 50 calories and 13 grams of carbs — 12 of which are sugar[*].
One teaspoon of monk fruit sweetener has only 0.4 grams of carbohydrates. It would take up to 80 teaspoons of monk fruit sweetener just to consume 30 grams of carbs (a common daily allotment on keto).
Comparing Side Effects: Monk Fruit vs. Stevia
The sweetener most similar to monk fruit is stevia. Both options contain zero calories, carbs, and sugar. Both come from a natural source (the stevia leaf and whole monk fruit). Both are suitable for low-sugar baking because they are heat stable.
Monk fruit wins out over stevia due to its fewer side effects.
Stevia has been known to cause gastrointestinal discomfort in some people, including gas, nausea, and bloating, although evidence is limited[*]. This may be due to chemical processing, where stevia is mixed with sugar alcohols.
Monk fruit is available in liquid, granule, and powdered forms. You can also purchase dried monk fruit at Chinese markets (which can be enjoyed in hot tea).
Make sure to pick a brand that contains only monk fruit sweetener and isn’t mixed with other sweeteners that could spike your blood sugar.
Because it’s harder to grow than cane sugar or the stevia plant, it’s more expensive to import than other sweeteners and you might see a higher price tag.
However, if you want to sweeten your foods without worrying about carbs, a stevia aftertaste, or GI distress, the investment is worth it.
When shopping for keto-friendly products, if you find monk fruit as the only sweetener on the label, that’s a good sign.
Satisfy Your Cravings Without the Extra Calories
Looking for a low calorie sweetener that’s almost too good to be true? Monk fruit might be it.
Compared to other sugar substitutes like maple syrup, honey, and agave, monk fruit is completely keto-friendly.
Stacked against other zero-calorie options like artificial sweeteners and stevia, monk fruit has the least amount of negative side effects associated with it.
Monk fruit has been around for centuries and is considered one of the healthiest zero calorie sweeteners on the market. Not only does it make your keto food and drinks sweeter, it contains antioxidants like mogrosides and preliminary studies show it may be able to fight inflammation, infections, and fatigue.