Which is the Better Choice?
Monk fruit and stevia are both plant-based non-sugar sweeteners that can be used as a substitute for sugar without the calories and health complications associated with excessive sugar intake (1).
Monk fruit is a perennial herb indigenous to China and Indonesia, which can be dried and used as an artificial sweetener (2). Stevia is a semi-humid subtropical perennial plant native to Paraguay, but most commonly cultivated in India (3).
With the battle against sugar continuing to be a nutritional focus (particularly in regions fighting obesity), zero-calorie sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit are a welcome alternative (4).
However, labeling and facts are vital, and there is some confusion over what these substances are, whether they are safe and healthy (don’t worry, both have been deemed safe by the FDA), and which is better (5).
To understand a summary of the pros and cons neatly, see the following chart (6):
|Stevia Pros||Stevia Cons||Monk Fruit Pros||Monk Fruit Cons|
|Zero calories||Expensive to purchase (compared to table sugar)||Zero calories||Difficult to grow, and expensive to export|
|Doesn’t affect blood sugar levels||Side-effects of nausea, bloating, and gas reported||Doesn’t affect blood sugar levels||Can be difficult to find|
|Available as a liquid, granule, or powder||Licorice flavor and bitter aftertaste||No reported side effects, and a number of health benefits reported.||Strange aftertaste reported.|
Health effects of monk fruit and stevia
Stevia and monk fruit have positive effects on blood sugar and insulin levels
When we eat sugar-laden foods, our blood glucose levels spike, then come back down. As blood sugar levels rise, insulin is released to counteract the effect, allowing sugars to enter the cells, providing us with energy.
In a clinical trial, stevia and monk fruit were both found to be an improvement over high-sugar meals, in terms of not resulting in a blood glucose spike post-meal. This means these alternatives are beneficial for reducing sugar-related spikes in our blood after a meal, which is bad for our health, and causes diabetes (7).
Stevia and monk fruit contain a variety of amino acids and micronutrients
Monk fruit contains several of the amino acids required for healthy living, including aspartic acid, threonine, and serine (10). Stevia contains seventeen amino acids for health, including leucine, valine, lysine, and tryptophan (11), all of which are required by our bodies for muscle and tissue maintenance, and health.
Monk fruit could reduce your risk of certain cancers (12)
A clinical study showed that some compounds in monk fruit reduce the risk of tumor development for colorectal and throat cancers (13).
Biologically active phytochemicals in monk fruit makes this sugar replacement more attractive than stevia, which does not offer these compounds.
Monk fruit has antifatigue and antiobesity effects
Monk fruit administered to mice increased glycogen levels (which give us our long-lasting energy during physical activity), improving their physical endurance and reducing fatigue (14).
Replacement of dietary sugars with monk fruit can also reduce obesity and may have effects beyond simple reduction of calories (15). These effects are still under investigation.
Stevia can reduce blood pressure and hypertension, and has antiandrogenic activity
In studies with rats, stevia extracts contained many antioxidants that have several health benefits (16). The rats had lower blood pressure and fewer cases of hypertension.
They also had less androgenic development (17), which is essentially the development of male characteristics from a combination of testosterone and natural steroids. Elevated androgen levels cause many health problems, particularly for women, including metabolic and ovarian problems.
The many potential health benefits of stevia
Stevia has been credited with cancer prevention, tumor prevention, bactericidal and fungicidal properties, reduction of inflammation, and promotion of cardiovascular health (18). Many of these tests have been done in cells or animal models, but have yet to proceed to human clinical trials.
The future of research on stevia plant biological properties may yet yield some interesting results in terms of what this plant could do for human health.
An agricultural and economic perspective
A benefit of stevia is that it can be grown and shipped almost anywhere (19). Stevia historically has been grown in warm climates, but these are extremely diverse and many. In contrast, monk fruit is very selective, and comes mostly from China (20). This means export costs are higher for monk fruit than they are for stevia.
There are some clear differences between stevia and monk fruit. Neither is bad for your health, but should be consumed in moderation. Stevia is cheaper and easier to access for many of us, while monk fruit must be exported from Asia, making it more expensive and difficult to find.
However, both substances are natural and have many health benefits that are still being explored. When it comes to artificial sweeteners monk fruit and stevia are excellent options for weight control and caloric reduction, while also safe for consumption.