If you’re looking to cut back on your sugar intake (and let’s face it, most of us are or should be), you may find yourself turning to an artificial or alternative sweetener to get your sweet fix. Right now, there are more options than ever at the store, including Splenda (also known as sucralose), stevia, agave, raw sugar, Sweet’n Low (saccharin), Nutrasweet (aspartame), sugar alcohols (xylitol), etc.
Even with the plethora of options available, I feel that we have yet to find the “perfect” artificial sweetener, meaning one that a.) tastes like sugar and b.) is undoubtedly safe to consume. While it is true that aspartame, Splenda, sugar alcohols, and other artificial sweeteners are approved by the FDA as “generally recognized as safe” to consume, many still have their doubts. For instance, Sweet’n Low is made with sodium cyclamate instead of saccharin, because saccharin (which is allowed in US foods) has not been allowed as a food additive in Canada since the 1970s. In addition to this, there has been other research performed on artificial sweeteners throughout the world that suggest a potentially carcinogenic or toxic effect in laboratory animals. While this may not translate directly into meaning artificial sweeteners are unsafe for humans, the thought can be frightening. Finally, most researchers agree that we don’t have a lot of data concerning long term usage of these sweeteners, thus it is impossible to know for sure that there aren’t any safety issues.
Due to the growing skepticism of the safety of these sweeteners, many food manufacturers are turning to nature to find a more natural solution. Consider the mass marketing and selling of stevia, which comes from an ancient plant grown and used as a sweetener in South America for centuries. Stevia is undeniably popular and more products are being made using stevia, such as sodas and candies. However, not everyone is impressed by stevia, even if it does claim to be more “natural” due to its sometimes bitter aftertaste. Furthermore, there have also been studies linking stevia to having a mutagenic effect inside the body, which caused it to be banned in the early 1990’s in the US.
But now there is a new artificial sweetener in town, and so far, things are looking promising. Monk fruit is small gourd-like fruit that has been cultivated and used in traditional Chinese medicine for years as both a sweetener and a medicine. To get a sweet tasting sugar alternative, food manufacturers can obtain a concentrate from its juice and mix it in with a sugar alcohol to get a powder form that ends up being much sweeter than regular sugar.
One of the first major brands to do this is Nectresse, which comes from the makers of Splenda. Nectresse is made from the monk fruit extract blended with other natural sweeteners (erythritol, sugar and molasses). Currently, you can buy Nectresse in packet or canister form.
But is Nectresse really a no calorie sweetener? How can that be? According to the company, “Like other no-calorie sweeteners, NECTRESSE™ Sweetener contains a small amount of carbohydrate (1-2 grams per serving) from other food ingredients to provide needed volume and texture. These food ingredients, which include small amounts of erythritol, sugar, and molasses, contribute so few calories per serving that NECTRESSE™ Natural No Calorie Sweetener Products meet the FDA’s criteria for no-calorie foods (<5 calories/serving)”.
When I was scanning the aisles at Walmart a couple of weeks ago, I came across the Nectresse packets and was curious, so I bought some. I have given a few out to coworkers, who have said that they like the taste more than Splenda or stevia due to the absence of an aftertaste. Although I have only used Nectresse a couple times since its purchase, it seems to work fine for me and I can’t detect an aftertaste or off-putting taste either. Another bonus for Nectresse? According to their website, you can also cook with it, meaning that its heat stable. And if you’ve ever tried baking with stevia, you’ll know what I mean when I say that I’m excited to be able to use monk fruit extract instead.
But great taste aside – is monk fruit extract safe and better to consume than sugar? I tried doing a little research myself and came up with a whole lot of nothing. Even a Google of monk fruit pops up only a few websites, most of which are for the food manufacturers of monk fruit, therefore their information is obviously going to be biased. And as for long term usage, we are only going off the fact that monk fruit is safe since it’s been used in Asian medicine for years. Which is somewhat reassuring, but still not enough for me to throw my weight behind it and declare it “the perfect sweetener”.
So will I be using Nectresse or another monk fruit sweetener in the future? Sure, but like my usage with stevia, I want to keep it to a minimum. If research does prove us to be wrong about these substances, I want to feel less worried knowing that I didn’t consume these in excess.
So what artificial or alternative sweetener do YOU use? And does anyone have any more info about monk fruit that I don’t? I’m curious to see what research might find in the future…
P.S. I have some guest posts in the works – pretty excited!
And if I can be shameless and self promoting for a minute, I was quoted in an article for Yahoo Shine, which is a section of their website devoted to healthy living news. Check it out at http://shine.yahoo.com/healthy-living/7-tips-help-child-live-healthier-211200369.html