Non-nutritive sweetener alternatives are a great option if you want to cut calories and manage your weight to achieve a healthier lifestyle.
Natural sweeteners are the best alternatives because they come from plants that are much sweeter and much healthier than sugar cane. Monk fruit and stevia are two different non-nutritive, natural sweeteners.
Both are so sweet that they require only a very tiny amount to sweeten something, such as your morning cup of coffee. But if both are so effective as natural sweeteners, which one is better to use, and, more importantly, which one is more beneficial for your health?
Here, Able walks you through each of these non-nutritive sweeteners to help you decide which is better for your health and your lifestyle.
Our country’s dietary guidelines recommend that you limit your added sugar intake, which includes limiting the number of sweeteners you incorporate into your diet.
A non-nutritive sweetener is a good way to reduce your added sugar intake because it derives its sweetness from sources other than sugar, such as sucrose, agave nectar, or honey.
Manufacturers deem these sweeteners alternatives as “non-nutritive” because they do not have any calories or nutrients, which can be helpful if you are calorie counting.
It might be hard to imagine something as ‘calorie-free.’ However, these natural alternatives are so sweet that the amount you need to add is so trivial it hardly adds any nutrition.
There are eight FDA-approved non-nutritive sweeteners, and manufacturers use them to sweeten products such as toothpaste or medicine in addition to food and beverages.
Stevia is a non-nutritive sweetener that comes from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant, an herb native to South America and part of the chrysanthemum family.
Stevia sweetener is not its most natural form because whole leaf stevia extracts are not FDA-approved. There is a possibility that whole-leaf stevia extracts may affect important health factors such as blood sugar and reproductive or cardiovascular systems.
Thus, the stevia sweetener you buy in stores is refined with a glycoside called Rebaudioside A (Reb A). Reb A is a highly purified extract that not only allows stevia its incredible sweetness but also allows this product to sell in stores with a “generally regarded as safe” FDA-approved label.
One stevia sweetener packet is 200 to 300 times sweeter than conventional sugar, which means that a tiny amount equates to the same sweetness of two or three teaspoons of sugar.
You can purchase stevia in liquid, granule, or powder form; all forms are calorie, fat, and carbohydrate-free.
Because stevia is calorie, fat, and carbohydrate-free, it is a great option to help achieve weight loss goals and lower your risk for obesity. Stevia also does not affect insulin and blood sugar levels, so it is a great option if you have diabetes. Stevia may also help lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk for pancreatic cancer.
A huge con for stevia is that it has a licorice flavor and a bitter aftertaste. This means that manufacturers often refine it further, blending it with higher calorie or higher glycemic sweeteners such as agave or turbinado sugar to mitigate the bitterness.
If you consume large stevia quantities, you may experience bloating, an upset stomach, nausea, or gas. However, this is more likely to happen if you eat desserts with stevia as a flair additive because the amount you add to beverages is usually too small to have any effect.
Monk fruit, or Luo han guo, is a non-nutritive sweetener that comes from a small, green gourd. Also known as Siraitia grosvennorii, this plant is herbaceous, perennial, and native to Southern China. In fact, while monk fruit is a relatively new sweetener option in this country, China has used it as a sweetener for almost a thousand years.
You can attribute monk fruit’s sweetening capabilities to an antioxidant known as mogrosides. Manufacturers remove the fruit’s skin and seeds, crush its flesh, and filter out its sweet parts. Unlike stevia, monk fruit is FDA-approved in its purest extracted form and does not require additional refining to hold a “generally regarded as safe” label.
Monk fruit extract is 150 to 200 times sweeter than sugar. Just like stevia, a very tiny amount achieves a far greater sweetness level than even a much larger quantity of sugar could accomplish. You can purchase monk fruit in liquid, granular, or powder form; all forms have no calories, fat, or net carbohydrates.
Because monk fruit is calorie, fat, and carbohydrate-free, it is also a great option to help achieve weight loss goals and to lower your risk for obesity. Additionally, it may be beneficial if you have diabetes because it can stimulate insulin secretion and has a low glycemic index.
Moreover, the mogrosides that give monk fruit its sweetness have anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, and anti-tumor effects.
The more sugar you eat, the greater the opportunity you afford cancer cells to grow. However, when you eat monk fruit instead, you help starve cancer cells by depriving them of their preferred meal.
Manufacturers often blend monk fruit with dextrose or erythritol to mitigate its slightly bitter aftertaste, and these additions could affect nutritional and caloric value. While side effects are very rare, monk fruit can cause headaches, nausea, upset stomach, or bloating.
However, this usually only happens if you consume large amounts of the fruit extract, which is unlikely to happen if you merely add it to beverages.
As monk fruit can help stimulate insulin secretion, it might not be a good option if your body also overproduces insulin. Monk fruit is furthermore more greatly limited in supply when compared to Stevia; the plant is not readily or as easily available to cultivate.
There is no absolute answer regarding whether one non-nutritive sweetener is 100% better than the other. However, monk fruit extract is generally less refined than stevia, tastes less bitter, and has milder potential side effects.
Even though monk fruit is not as refined as stevia, it still often has other additives to mitigate bitterness, so you should read labels and look for options that do not have additional ingredients like dextrose or erythritol.
Stevia and monk fruit extract are non-nutritive natural sweeteners that are good options for weight loss. Monk fruit may be a slightly better option when you compare its pros and cons to those of stevia, especially when it comes to refinement, aftertaste, and side effects.
However, remember that losing weight involves many different factors, and the journey is unique to each person.
Making a single change is just one step in the way towards altering your lifestyle to reflect a healthier approach to wellness. Additional habits, such as eating healthy, staying active, and getting adequate sleep, are also essential when striving for weight loss.
Able can help you along your wellness journey; sign up now to learn more about the six pillars of wellness, and to get access to live chats with a personal dietitian, nutrient tracking, and fitness and self-care challenges for a happier, healthier you.