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Luo Han Guo (Monk’s Fruit)

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September 25, 2012

PART IV

The Skinny On The Latest ‘No Calorie’ Sweetener

Monk Fruit, Siraitia grosvenorii, literally is “arhat fruit” also called luo-han-guo, and has been used as a sweetener in some rural areas of China for ages. It is what the Buddhist Monks use for their food and extend their lives in Guilin Provence over a thousand years ago. Mogroside V is the fruit’s main sweetening compound and in concentrated form is 300 times sweeter than sucrose, but has more of a tantalizing, lingering taste, and unlike Stevia, no after taste and little other health benefits. Johnson & Johnson sub-division, McNeil Nutritionals, has released their trademarked version of monk fruit, Nectresse™.  Marketed as a no-calorie, natural sweetener, Nectresse™ appears to be Johnson & Johnson’s entry into the plant-based non-nutritive sweetener market.

Monk fruit, also called luo han kuo in Chinese, is a fruit native to China. This is popular in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and highly regarded as a longevity fruit. The fruit is touted for promoting a balanced heat built up by expelling excess heat from one’s body. It is also well known for its ability to combat chronic cough & throat inflammation as well as constipation. It is also an excellent thirst quencher and used to alleviate the symptoms of heat stroke and thirst.  It’s a small, round fruit that is similar in shape, but slightly smaller than an apple and its coloring is similar to a green pear.  The fruit was named after the monks of Guilin in southern China, who first began to consume it in the 13th century. In addition to a sugar substitute, it has also been used as an herb and is available as a medicinal tea.

In addition to Nectresse™, monk fruit is currently used in several brands of cereals, non-dairy milks and desserts.  While you can find other brands of monk fruit, Nectresse™ is the first monk fruit brand to be distributed on a mass scale. So how does Nectresse™ compare to other non-caloric sweeteners?  Per a 1 packet (2.4g) serving, Nectresse™ contains 0 calories and 2g of carbohydrates in the form of Erythritol (a sugar alcohol).  Like other sugar substitutes (aspartame/NutraSweet/ Equal, acesulfame potassium/Sunett/Sweet One, sucralose/Splenda, saccharin/Sweet N’ Low, neotame and Stevia), Nectresse™ appears to be ‘tooth-friendly’ and are considered suitable for those with diabetes and others who need a low carb diet. But  Nectresse™ is not sugar-free and/or calorie-free.  Nectresse™ contains erythritol, (0.213 calories per 1 gram).  Since 1 packet of Nectresse™ contains 2 grams of erythritol, it technically has 0.426 calories. The FDA considers a food to be ‘calorie-free’ if it has less than 5 calories PER SERVING. If you put 2 packets of Nectresse™ in your coffee, you’re getting 8.5 calories.  Also Nectresse™ contains both table sugar and molasses, so technically it is NOT sugar-free.

On the plus side, erythritol does not appear to have some of the gastrointestinal side effects (flatulence, bloating, diarrhea, etc.) that may come with consuming other sugar alcohols. As with other sugar substitutes, chronic use causes increases in sugar cravings, and ultimately weight gain. Although, this certainly is healthier than other sweet choices, home grow or on-line purchased leaves of Stevia are far healthier.

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