Even if you’re already familiar with alternative sweeteners such as stevia, sucralose, and aspartame, monk fruit extract is a relatively new sweetener. Its name alone catches some folks off guard, since you may not even suspect that monk fruit is a sweetener at first glance.
Since monk fruit extract is relatively new to the sweetener scene, what do we really know about its health and safety, especially for pregnant women?
According to the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), monk fruit extract is generally recognized as safe and this goes for pregnancy as well. Do keep in mind that monk fruit is a relatively new sweetener and so there is not much research on this sweetener yet.
In this article, I will break down monk fruit extract’s safety as a sweetener, its effects on blood sugar, and even how it compares to some other sweetener options. If you are interested in a full safety profile for other alternative sweeteners, check out our articles on aspartame, erythritol, and sucralose.
Is Monk Fruit Sweetener Safe for Pregnant Women?
First of all, what is monk fruit? Monk fruit, also known as luo han guo is a pod-like fruit native to China and Thailand, where it has been used as a sweetener for hundreds of years.
Granulated or powdered monk fruit sweetener is made by extracting the fruits’ juices, which contain a non-caloric carbohydrate that is 100-250 times sweeter than table sugar (source: Cleveland Clinic, FDA).
Monk fruit is increasing in popularity as an extract, sweetener, and sugar alternative. Many folks reach for monk fruit alongside stevia as they feel it is a more “natural” option compared to traditional no/low-calorie sweeteners.
Overall, the FDA recognizes monk fruit sweetener as safe, including its use during pregnancy (source: FDA).
The biggest caveat with this relatively new sweeter is just that: it is still new to the market. Because monk fruit has not been a mainstream sweeter for very long, there is limited research on any long-term effects. The same goes for studies in pregnant individuals.
Are There Benefits of Monk Fruit During Pregnancy?
Not all alternative sweeteners are created equal (no pun intended) and many women wonder whether monk fruit is any “better” for them than other sweeter choices.
Unfortunately, since monk fruit extract is relatively new there is no scientific evidence that using monk fruit as your sweetener of choice provides any special health benefits.
One benefit that does matter? If you like the taste! All sweeteners, calorie-containing or otherwise, have slightly different flavors. If you are looking for the best sweetener, what matters most is that you enjoy the taste (and that it is still safe during pregnancy, of course).
For women with diabetes, whether gestational or otherwise, keeping blood sugar levels in check during pregnancy is important for baby’s growth and development. Because the sweet-tasting carbohydrate in monk fruit is not absorbed in the intestines, it also does not impact blood sugar levels (source: Food Insight).
If you are trying to manage your blood sugar levels while still enjoying all of the foods you love and crave, monk fruit is both a safe and effective sweeter when it comes to reducing blood sugar spikes.
Typical Monk Fruit Products and Pregnancy Safety
While monk fruit is sold on its own as powder, granules, and liquid, it is also found in a wide variety of foods and drinks. Most often you will find monk fruit in low or no-sugar-added candies, jams and spreads, lite ice creams, baked goods, and some sodas and juice drinks.
A few popular items sweetened with monk fruit include:
- Smart Sweets gummy candies
- Lakanto brand
- Lakanto produces both plain monk fruit sweetener and monk fruit sweetened baking mixes including cookies and brownies.
Not all foods and drinks sweetened with monk fruit are sweetened with just monk fruit, however. Some of these products use a blend of monk fruit and other sugar-free sweeteners.
If you are choosing monk fruit sweetener because your GI system is sensitive to sugar alcohols, be sure to carefully read the ingredients, as sugar alcohols are a common second sweetener.
Monk Fruit and Stevia or Erythritol
Monk fruit is frequently searched for in connection with both stevia and erythritol. While all three are considered alternative and no-calorie sweeteners that are safe to use during pregnancy, there are some distinct differences between them.
As I mentioned earlier, erythritol is a common addition to monk fruit sweetener blends. Unlike other sweeteners, erythritol has a unique benefit- it can help improve dental health by reducing plaque and oral bacteria (source: Advances in Dental Research).
While there’s no research to show that a combination of erythritol and monk fruit improves oral health, some dental benefit from these blends is still likely.
Erythritol is a sugar alcohol, however, which can cause some people GI upset and diarrhea.
If you are in the market for a plant-based sweetener, the biggest two options on the market are monk fruit and stevia. Compared to monk fruit, stevia is slightly more popular.
Because of this stevia has been the center of more studies, though most of these studies have been done on animals so far. Other than the amount of research available, stevia and monk fruit sweeteners are very similar.
All three of these sweeteners are safe, including during pregnancy. The “best” one to use depends on your personal taste preferences and how you feel after eating foods made with them.
Whether man-made or a more natural option, picking a sweetener that both tastes good and is safe to use during your pregnancy can seem like a daunting task. Hopefully you now feel confident in knowing that monk fruit is safe to use and how it stacks up against some other popular sweeteners.