No doubt everyone sugary things now and again. In fact, our brains are hardwired to enjoy sweetness. But it’s important to note that sugar isn’t inherently bad; our bodies run on glucose, a type of sugar produced from carbohydrates we consume.
However, high sugar intake can cause weight gain, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. According to the World Health Organization, diabetes affects 422 million people worldwide, with the majority residing in low- and middle-income countries. Alarmingly, diabetes is directly responsible for 1.5 million deaths per year.
Enter sugar substitutes. These sweeteners have similar, and often more, sweetness levels as sugar but either don’t influence insulin levels or do so much less than does. There are eight commonly consumed sugar substitutes, many falling under the umbrella category of artificial sweeteners.
You’ve likely heard of aspartame and sucralose, and may even be justifiably cautious of them. But two other sweeteners—stevia and monk fruit—have risen in popularity recently, and need to be on your radar if they aren’t already.
Stevia vs Monk Fruit
Monk fruit and stevia share some important similarities.
- Natural sweeteners
- Derived from plants
- No calories
- No or very few carbs
- Up to 250-400 times sweeter than sugar 
- Available as sweeter powder
- Common in sugar-free snacks
Differences between stevia and monk fruit
- Native to Asia
- FDA approved
- No harmful side effects
- Contains antioxidants 
- May regulate blood sugar 
- May help prevent complications with diabetes 
- Used for centuries in traditional Eastern medicine
- Native to South America
- Not FDA approved (unless highly refined)
- Known to cause gas, nausea and bloating
- Only commonly available in refined forms
- Used for generations as a natural sweetener
Who Should Have Sugar Substitutes?
Almost everyone can benefit from the use of sugar substitutes to reduce their sugar intake. However, there are certain people who should seek out healthy sugar substitutes especially.
At the top of this list for good reason — It is well-known that sugar buildup is the main cause of diabetes, and as a result people living with diabetes need to closely monitor their blood sugar and insulin levels. One of the best benefits of sugar substitutes is that most substitutes allow people with diabetes to enjoy sweetness without triggering an insulin response. Both monk fruit and stevia are recognized as safe for diabetics. [5, 6]
However, diabetics and people who are obese or suffer from certain other chronic illnesses should be very cautious when using other sugar substitutes, particularly Saccharin and sucralose (Sweetex, Splenda), which are artificial sweeteners that do cause glucose spikes, and the artificial sweetener erythritol, which we’ve covered extensively for its potential to cause life-threatening blood clots.
Kids crave sugar. They always have and always will. But, especially in America, children tend to consume too much sugar too often.
As a result, they can develop unhealthy habits and difficult-to-control cravings. Feeding into these habits and cravings (pun intended) is one of the leading causes of childhood obesity and the alarming rise in childhood Type 2 diabetes and obesity.
But there’s more to it than that.
Consistent intake of added sugars, such as those found in soft drinks and candy, at a young age influences kids’ eating behavior, potentially causing them to seek out low-nutrient foods more often while actually avoiding healthy foods. This is particularly true when parents display similar habits around their children. 
A spoonful of sugar may help the medicine go down, but cups of it at a time (as is found in many sugar sweetened beverages, or SSBs) cement unhealthy habits that can easily lead to obesity, chronic illness, and other serious health issues as children grow.
Sugar has a high caloric value, and for those of us with weight loss or weight management goals, monitoring calorie consumption is very important.
Sugar substitutes like monk fruit and stevia offer a way to enjoy sweetened foods while minimizing caloric intake. That’s because sugar substitutes are lower in calories, or often calorie-free. As a result, they can help balance your diet. For instance: using monk fruit powder to sweeten your coffee, baked delites, and snacks where sugar and excess calories tend to sneak in and add up.
It’s nothing new, but something we often forget: while we’re buzzing on a little sugar high, sugar itself is eating away at our teeth.
Sugar is among one of the biggest reasons for cavities, which can quickly lead to painful tooth aches and tooth decay. But if you think dental health is a relatively small concern, you need to think again.
With recent studies looking more closely at oral health, we’re finding surprising correlations between poor oral health and longevity, as well as chronic illness and even Alzheimer’s Disease. 
What is Monk Fruit?
Monk Fruit, also known as Lou Han Guo, is a tiny green fruit that grows in Southern China. Monk fruits start off resembling green apples and gradually ripen with an earthy yellow-brown color, similar to a Bosc pear or kiwi skin.
Monk fruit extract is a natural sweetener with 150-200 times the sweetness of sugar, with no calories. It derives its sweetness from an antioxidant compound called mogrosides, which are extracted and used as sugar substitutes. This antioxidant is largely why monk fruit has been used for hundreds of years in traditional medicine.
Monk fruit is completely safe to eat and there are certain health benefits associated with monk fruits. Antioxidants, such as those in monk fruit, can help combat an array of health issues, and, as such, are a critical component to healthy diets.
What Does Monk Fruit Taste Like?
Though sweeter than sugar, monk fruit does not have an off putting sweetness. In powdered form, it has an exceptional fruity taste with a background flavor. Better yet, it has a pleasant, mild, and slightly caramel-like flavor. Some people state they also detect hints of melon or pear in its taste.
A growing cohort of healthy snack food companies, including us here at BHU Foods, turn to monk fruit as a natural sweetener because of this balanced taste and consistency when cooking up healthy alternatives to sugary snacks.
Health Benefits of Monk Fruit
Monk Fruit Aids Weight Loss
Monk fruit has no calories since our digestive system does not absorb it. As a result, foods sweetened with monk fruit are generally lower in calories than if they’d have been sweetened with cane sugar. This doesn’t mean all foods with monk fruit are low-calorie. Energy bars or protein bars sweetened with sugar may have a high calorie count, but these are often used to supplement burned energy from exercising or other demanding activities.
Monk Fruit Fights Oxidative Stress & Inflammation
Monk fruit has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, due to the aforementioned mogrosides. Because of this, it may help to prevent disease, including cancer and other chronic illnesses, by minimizing inflammation and oxidative stress. 
Suitable for Diabetics
The monk fruit is helpful in diabetes prevention because it derives its sweetness from the mogrosides compound and is not as sweet as sugar. Therefore, diabetes patients can consume it without concern.
Promote Heart Health
The mogrosides in monk fruit may help regulate cholesterol levels. They may even boost HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) which is beneficial to cardiovascular functions.
Fighting Against Bacteria
The monk fruit reduces the growth of undesirable microorganisms (bacteria) by delivering beneficial anti-microbial qualities that preserve the optimum bacterial balance in the stomach. It also combats oral bacteria, which cause cavities and periodontal disease in the mouth.
Supplies Vitamins to the Body
Monk fruit contains vitamin C, which can increase the development of white blood cells, strengthening the body's general immunity, unlike sugar, which deprives the body of vitamin C absorption.
Monk Fruit: The Sweetener Without Side Effects
Pure monk fruit has no known negative side effects, despite being well-studied. Enjoy without worry. However, be cautious of brands that add erythritol or other potentially harmful sugar alcohols to their monk fruit extract or monk fruit powders.
(Hint: you may have to inspect the packaging for sugar alcohols in the ingredients section.)
What is Stevia?
Stevia is a sugar substitute from the Stevia rebaudiana plant. This herb grows in South America and is part of the chrysanthemum family. Stevia has been used as a sweetener and medicinal by many South American tribes for thousands of years.
Similar to monk fruit, stevia extract is much sweeter than sugar, so only a small amount is needed to achieve the desired level of sweetness.
What Does Stevia Taste Like?
Stevia is 200 to 400 times more intense than regular sugar. Despite this sweetness, common complaints about stevia is that it has a noticeably bitter aftertaste.
For this reason, it may be preferable to use stevia in coffee but monk fruit in baked goods (unless you prefer your coffee on the sweeter side, then monk fruit in both.)
Health Benefits of Stevia
Being a naturally grown, zero-calorie sweetener, Stevia has many of the health benefits of monk fruit. That’s why the Stevia vs Monk Fruit matchup is a good one, pound for pound (rather, ounce for ounce).
However, Stevia comes with some side effects that are not present with monk fruit.
Possible Side Effect
Stevia is known to cause gastrointestinal issues among certain people. Nausea, indigestion, and bloating are among the most common GI complaints. So if you or your children have sensitive stomachs, it’s worth leaning toward monk fruit or ensuring that your stevia is exceptionally pure.
Side note: it’s always important to be sure your sweeteners are exceptionally pure. Many sugar alternatives are supplemented with sugar alcohols, which are increasingly being criticized by scientists, dietitians, and medical providers for surprisingly dangerous side-effects, including blood clots. Whether stevia or monk fruit, make sure your sources are 100% organic and made with 100% monk fruit or stevia only—no added sugars, sugar alcohols, or artificial sweeteners like erythritol.
The Stevia vs Monk Fruit debate shouldn’t be so much a debate as a preference. In fact, when compared with sugar and with other sugar substitutes on the market, both monk fruit and stevia are your healthiest choice in natural sweeteners. However, there are differences.
Monk fruit might be overall more preferable to most people when it comes to healthfulness and taste.
Stevia might be easier to find as the market for it is larger than monk fruit. Though both have been widely used for hundreds of years, monk fruit is more recently gaining popularity in western foods as a healthy alternative to sugar.
At BHU Foods, we decided long ago to use monk fruit as our sweetener of preference. We find it’s an incredibly balanced sweetener for our most popular items, like our Vegan Protein Bars. Also, because we’re kind of obsessed with true health, we love the benefits it provides to our bodies. Rest assured we use only organic monk fruit in our snacks (in fact, every ingredient we use is 100% organic and as sustainably sourced as we can find).
If you have any more questions about monk fruit vs stevia, please reach out to us. We employ certified nutrition experts who are happy to help answer your questions. Our FAQ page is also a great source of information.
For now, be healthy, stay active, and keep living the sweet life without sugar!