Erythritol is a sugar alcohol created by fermenting wheat or corn starch, says Jamie Nadeau, RDN, a registered dietitian. It’s naturally found in fruits like grapes and peaches, mushrooms and fermented foods like beer, soy sauce, and cheese. You’ll find erythritol in “zero-calorie” or “diet” gum, candy, chocolate, and sweeteners (including some that also contain monk fruit).
Pros of erythritol
1. Doesn’t impact blood sugar
Erythritol provides no calories.
It’s excreted into the urine and doesn’t impact your blood glucose and insulin levels.
2. Not “too” sweet
Sugar alcohols are less sweet than other sugar substitutes, ranging from 25% to 100% of sugar’s sweetness. Erythritol is about 60% to 80% as sweet as sugar.
3. Doesn’t promote tooth decay
Unlike sugar and other sweeteners that contain carbs, erythritol won’t lead to cavities or tooth decay.
4. No aftertaste
Unlike many other zero-calorie sweeteners, erythritol is thought not to leave a funny taste in your mouth. And, it’s sometimes mixed with more intense sweeteners to hide or reduce their aftertaste.
Cons of erythritol
5. It can cause GI issues.
“Sugar alcohols like erythritol are notorious for causing GI distress such as gas, bloating, as well as causing a laxative effect,” says Nadeau.
Too much can cause diarrhea, but most healthy adults can tolerate erythritol in moderation, she says. Start with a small amount to avoid stomach upset.
6. Not a “whole food”
In order to extract the sweet components, Kreutzer explains that erythritol needs to be heavily processed.
What Is Monk Fruit?
“Monk fruit extract has been used in south China for centuries but is relatively new to the rest of the world,” explains Nadeau.
Also known as luo han guo, monk fruit is used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Monk fruit is in the same plant family as gourds, pumpkins, and squash.
Pros of monk fruit
1. Contains zero calories
Like erythritol, monk fruit is a non-nutritive sweetener, says Cary Kreutzer, EdD, MPH, RDN, FAND, an associate clinical professor at the University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and USC Keck School of Medicine. That means it doesn’t provide any carbs, fat, or protein — it only delivers a sweet taste.
2. Contains no carbs
Monk fruit is appropriate for those on low-carb diets (including the ketogenic diet).
3. Sweeter than sugar
Monk fruit is 100 to 250 times sweeter than granulated sugar, so you can use less of it to achieve the same level of sweetness.
Cons of monk fruit
4. Not a “whole food”
Monk fruit sweetener needs to be processed in a laboratory to isolate the sweet components, explains Kreutzer.
5. May have an aftertaste
Monk fruit may have a “funny” taste to some.
However, one study found that it’s not as strong as other alternative sweeteners. A 2018 study in the Journal of Dairy Science found that of five reduced-sugar blends in vanilla protein shakes, the one with the most monk fruit (and 25% stevia) tasted the closest to sugar.
Monk fruit vs erythritol in baking
While monk fruit is exponentially sweeter than sugar, erythritol is somewhat less sweet than the glucose that forms its base. Both sweeteners can cause a slight “cooling” sensation if used a lot in a dessert recipe.
Erythritol is easier to find on the shelf than monk fruit sweetener, although both are relatively easy to find online. Many common brands of erythritol include Swerve, Sukrin, Truvia, So Nourished and more. One thing you’ll want to be aware of is that many products combine sweeteners, so make sure that you’re either buying 100% pure erythritol or monk fruit sweetener (or a combination of the two!), or you may end up with a product mostly full of dextrose! Always check the nutrition label before buying new products.
You can purchase 100% pure erythritol or a monk fruit-erythritol blend that is just as sweet as sugar!
Some consumers have stated that they can detect a slight, fruity aftertaste when using pure monk fruit as a sweetener, while others have mentioned an aftertaste from erythritol that they describe as “super sweet.” Both sweeteners are approved by the FDA for consumption without restrictions, meaning it’s safe for children, pregnant, and nursing women.
The most significant problem encountered when using sweeteners is how they affect baking. Unfortunately, neither of these sweeteners completely mimic the effects of sugar in baking; although the sweetness can be replicated, many bakers have experienced flatter, denser products that don’t rise as well. Experimenting with different combinations of sweeteners and additional rising agents (e.g., yeast, baking soda) in your favorite recipes is the best way to go. Erythritol also doesn’t dissolve in liquid as well as sugar and may therefore leave a bit of a gritty texture. You’ll want to experiment as you use it to see where it’s best used.
Stevia vs. Monk fruit: Which is Better for You? An RD's Take
If you’re wondering what the differences are between stevia and monk fruit, there are distinct reasons you might want to choose one over the other.
Monk Fruit Has Powerful Antioxidants
This round fruit, also known as lo han guo or Swingle fruit, is native to southern China and has been used as medicine to treat colds, flu, and digestive conditions for many centuries. Now, it is also utilized as a sweetener for foods and beverages. In order to create monk fruit sweeteners, the seeds and skin of the fruit are removed and the juice is collected.
Unlike cane sugar, monk fruit sweetener contains zero calories per serving and is 150 to 200 times sweeter. Many claim that there is a slight aftertaste, but it’s not as bitter as some other sweeteners. Monk fruit can also be an ideal substitute for sugar in baked goods due to its ability to remain stable at high temperatures. The only difference you may notice is the structure and texture of the foods you’re baking so try it out first before serving a big important cake or dinner party creation.
Monk fruit contains compounds called mogrosides, which give it its sweet taste but are also powerful antioxidants that are shown to reduce inflammation and even inhibit cancer growth in lab animals, in preliminary studies. This molecule isn’t absorbed in our gastrointestinal tract, which is why it winds up not contributing any calories to your dish. A 2020 study found that mogrosides' antioxidant properties reduce inflammatory markers and reduce oxidative stress, while another study in 2017 showed it has an ability to halt the proliferation of tumor cells, specifically pancreatic cancer growth, although researchers warn this needs more study. Yet another study published in Nutrients in 2016 found that mogrosides may prevent colon and laryngeal (voice box) cancer by inhibiting cancer-specific cells and having an anticancer effect on tumors in mice. Further human research needs to be conducted.
Pros and Cons of monk fruit
Some pros of monk fruit include:
Zero calories, carbs, and sugar
No evidence of harmful side effects
Can be purchased as a granule, powder, and liquid
May potentially benefit health
Little to no bitter aftertaste
Monk fruit comes with some cons as well, however. First, some manufacturers may combine monk fruit extract with sugar or other sweeteners which wind up offsetting its potential health benefits. It can also be a bit more costly than other sweeteners since it is difficult to grow and expensive to export.
Stevia Has Zero Calories but Has an Aftertaste
Instead of fruit, stevia comes from the Stevia rebaudiana plant, which is found in certain parts of South America. Stevia leaves contain eight different glycosides (which are basically molecules of sugar) that are isolated and purified to create the sweetener. Out of all eight, there are two that are more plentiful and commonly used and researched. They include stevioside and rebaudioside A (reb A).
Similar to monk fruit, stevia doesn’t contain any calories and is about 200 to 400 times sweeter than white sugar. Some opinions state that the aftertaste of stevia is unpleasant and bitter or metallic. Because of this, some manufacturers may add other sweeteners to stevia to offset the flavor, including agave, turbinado sugar, or sugar alcohols.
Stevia has been linked with various health benefits.
A 2020 review published in the International Journal of Clinical Research & Trials found beneficial data that shows stevia's ability to lower hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), hypertension (high blood pressure), and inflammation. A 2019 study in Nutrients also states that stevia could help individuals who are diabetic or looking to lose weight since replacing cane sugar with stevia lowers calories, blood sugar and keeps insulin from spiking. The study found that participants had lower appetite sensation, no further increased food intake, and low postprandial (after meal) blood sugar levels after receiving a preload of stevia (one gram).
Although steviol glycosides are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA, the whole stevia leaf and crude stevia extracts are not. This may turn people away from using stevia since it is more refined and processed than other natural sweeteners.
Those who are allergic to plants that come from the Asteraceae family should avoid stevia altogether. This includes daisies, ragweed, chrysanthemums, and sunflowers.
Pros and Cons of Stevia
Stevia has comparable pros to monk fruit, but a few more cons. The pros include:
Zero calories, carbs, and sugar
Can be purchased in many forms
Has potential health benefits
When it comes to the disadvantages of stevia, they include:
Potential gastrointestinal side effects, such as gas and bloating (if combined with sugar alcohols)
Could cause allergic reactions in some individuals
Mixed with other sweeteners
Bottom Line: Both stevia and monk fruit are natural alternatives to cane sugar or artificial sweeteners. Since neither is better or worse than the other, the only thing you have to consider when choosing between the two is which flavor you prefer.
Despite the fact that the body does not break down this artificial sweetener, it can still produce a number of unpleasant side effects. Erythritol side effects typically include digestive problems and diarrhea. It may also cause bloating, cramps, and gas. Additionally, erythritol and other sugar alcohols frequently result in more water in the intestines, causing diarrhea. Nausea and headaches may occur as well. The latter symptom is often a result of excessive diarrhea because the body is dehydrated.
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