Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Thanks to all who submitted comments and questions on last week’s posting about Splenda. What a great response! This week, I’ll focus on the other sweetener made by McNeil Nutritionals called Nectresse.

Nectresse
Nectresse is the brand name of a relatively new sweetener that is sometimes called monk fruit extract or luo han guo (or kuo). Monk fruit (also known as Buddha fruit) is a melon-like gourd that is found in China and Northern Thailand. It got its name from the monks that cultivated it hundreds of years ago, and the fruit was somewhat of a folk remedy to help treat certain ailments, such as coughing and constipation. Most fruits are sweet, but the reason that monk fruit is used as a base for a sweetener is because it contains antioxidants called mogrosides. Mogrosides are 200 to 500 times sweeter than regular sugar. BioVittoria, a company headquartered in New Zealand, has been able to develop a process to extract the mogroside from the monk fruit.

A study published in 2009 looked at one type of mogroside called mogroside V, and found it to be a low-glycemic-index sweetener with a positive effect on stimulating insulin secretion. Mogroside V is the one that is used in monk fruit extract. This extract, which is in powder form, is calorie- and carbohydrate-free, and has no effect on blood glucose levels. Also, the powdered extract is heat stable and can be stored for long periods of time without changes in taste or smell.

Nectresse contains monk fruit extract, but it also contains erythritol (a sugar alcohol), sugar, and molasses. This sweetener comes in single-serving packets as well as in a canister. One packet of Nectresse contains 0 calories and roughly 2 grams of carbohydrate. Of those 2 grams of carbohydrate, less than 1 gram comes from sugar while approximately 2 grams come from erthryitol (although, since it is a sugar alcohol, its effect on blood glucose is very small). A quarter teaspoon of Nectresse from the canister has 0 calories and less than 1 gram of carbohydrate. Because this sweetener has virtually no calories and no carb, its effect on blood glucose levels is minimal (provided you use a reasonable amount). Nectresse is heat-stable, which means you can cook and bake with it, as well.

Monk fruit extract is also available in another brand of sweetener called Monk Fruit in the Raw. In this sweetener, the extract is combined with dextrose.

Nectresse’s safety
The FDA has given monk fruit extract GRAS status. GRAS stands for “generally recognized as safe.” Because of this, food companies can use monk fruit extract as a tabletop sweetener and also in foods and beverages. In fact, monk fruit extract is already being used in beverages, cereals, frozen desserts, supplements, and some whey protein powders.

The big question is: Is Nectresse safe? Maybe the first question should be: Is monk fruit extract safe? There really are no reported side effects from using either product. That’s a good sign. And some people feel more comfortable using a sweetener like Nectresse compared to Splenda or Equal, for example because it seems more “natural.” All of these sweeteners are processed to some degree. But using a sweetener derived from a gourd-like fruit seems more “natural” than a sweetener cooked up in a laboratory. That’s why many people prefer using monk fruit extract or even stevia-based sweeteners.

Just keep in mind that the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Yes, Nectresse and some of the other nonnutritive sweeteners haven’t been around for a very long time. Studies confirm their safety but then again, we don’t know what might happen 40 or 50 years down the road. The use of any type of sweetener is a personal choice. From our readers’ responses, we’ve learned that some people wouldn’t touch a nonnutritive sweetener with a ten-foot pole, while others feel that using a little bit here and there is certainly not going to cause any harm.

There’s no right or wrong answer and it’s a decision that you need to make for yourself. But I would urge you to keep an open mind about any product and also go beyond the hype and the dramatic testimonials. Focus on the facts and check your sources. And don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

I’m curious: have any of you tried Nectresse or Monk Fruit in the Raw? What did you think? Please share!

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Comments
  1. Personally, I am not very impressed by this new sweetener. If it is 200-500 times sweeter than sugar, then why does it need added molasses for goodness sake? It may be natural, but eating too much could cause sugar spikes in the susceptible I would think. My question is…what is the fructose content…since it derived from fruit? I have found that fructose affects my BG readings negatively, so I will continue to use stevia.

    I appreciate Amy’s research on this subject and would also like to read others’ comments on the use of this new sweetener. Maybe using it once in awhile would be o.k., but just like Splenda or Equal, it may end up in everything…making these products seem fine for diabetics and may therefore be “over-consumed” leading to complications we won’t know about for years.

    Posted by Mary G |
  2. Could you do a part 3 and cover Stevia?

    Posted by John Kaess |
  3. So happy to get to use the MONK SWEETENER. The fact about the older sweeteners can’t be too bad ,my husband has been a type one diabetic for 50 years and used the other sweetener because that was the only choice he had. It has never caused him any side effects to our knowledge.

    Posted by Shirley Stamper |
  4. Thank you for all the info. Where can we find nectresse? I read some info. on luo han guo but you have to send away and it’s costly, do you have any info. on luo han quo?, I read it was all natural and lowered the blood glucose reading. Mary R.

    Posted by Mary Rupard |
  5. Hi Mary,

    Nectresse should be available in your local grocery store or chain store, such as Target or Walmart. Here is a link for information on luo han guo: http://www.itmonline.org/arts/luohanguo.htm.

    Posted by acampbell |
  6. I live in New Zealand, but am originally from The US> Interestingly, we can’t get Nectresse in NZ even though the company that makes it is based here!
    I purchased some Nectresse in the US last year as I have a daughter that is type 1 (diabetic). I feel we can now let her have treats like cinnamon toast again.
    The nice thing about this compared to Stevia (which is also good), is that there is no aftertaste and it is granular like sugar.

    Posted by Justin Andrist |
  7. I never heard of monk fruit extract until this evening. While looking for liquid stevia extract at my local Safeway store (which doesn’t carry it), I stumbled on Safeway Kitchens brand liquid monk fruit extract.

    Ingredients: “WATER, MONK FRUIT EXTRACT, MALIC ACID, SODIUM BENZOATE AND POTASSIUM SORBATE (PRESERVATIVES).”

    I tried it tonight added to some unsweetened chocolate almondmilk. The taste is good, but it takes more of this stuff to sweeten a beverage than it would take of liquid stevia extract. I’ve long since gotten used to stevia’s taste (the liquid tastes better than the powder which is cut with other stuff) and I can’t say that I prefer monk fruit extract over liquid stevia extract, but they both seem pretty good. We’ve certainly come a long way since my childhood in the yucky saccharin era!

    Posted by Larry |
  8. I have tried both and like both. However, my boyfriend is diabetic and the Nectress has the molassas and does seem to have a small effect on the blood sugar. So, I stay with the Monk Fruit in the Raw. They both taste great!

    Posted by charlie |
  9. If I use a large quantity of monk fruit sweetener will there be calories due to the sugar in it?

    Posted by JOSEPH BIRDSONG |
  10. Hi Joseph,

    One-quarter of a teaspoon of monk fruit sweetener (such as Nectresse) contains 1 gram of carbohydrate, although some of that may come from a sugar alcohol (erythritol). But, in general, 1 gram of carbohyrate contains about 4 calories. You’d have to use a lot of this sweetener for the calories to really add up.

    Posted by acampbell |
  11. I’m tired of hearing how wonderful Stevia is because it is “natural”. It can lower blood pressure which, for me, is a huge problem. That means lightheadedness when standing up and problems exercising. Stevia is also purported to affect fertility and have contraceptive-like effects. Because of this hormonal effect, I have tended to gain weight whenever I use it for my daily coffee. I have personally done much better using Splenda or aspartame. However, I am now enjoying Nectresse in my coffee & haven’t noticed any ill effects.

    Posted by Andrea |
  12. I recently discovered Monk Fruit and I am very happy with it. Splenda caused a headache for me and Equal caused frequent urination after ingesting them. So far Monk Fruit has caused no side effects.
    Do you have any recipes for using Monk Fruit extract (In The Raw)?
    Thank you

    Posted by Jimmy Ricker |
  13. i use sweet additions monk fruit sweetener in my coffee, and occasionally in cooking. it has two grams of carb per packet and its ingredients are the same as what is described above. because of it i am able to have my coffee every day, and my doctor is about fainting from joy at my glucose readings. i’m 62 years old and if it has any side effects i think something else will kill me before i find out about them.

    g

    Posted by genessa |
  14. I recently discovered monk fruit extract in the form of Nectresse here where I live in Arizona. We have it in three different forms between Safeway and Walmart. It is a bit pricey but well worth the price in that I, as a Type 1 diabetic for 38 years, can now have it in my coffee and it is sweeter than sugar without any of the after-taste that I get from Stevia, Sweet-N-Low, Splenda, or any other packaged sugar substitutes. I do not see any spike of blood sugars what-so-ever, and I use a lot less to sweeten my coffee than anything else I have used. Even my wife, who is not diabetic, uses it in her coffee because it is sweeter than sugar. I have tried it in Cream-O-Wheat as well and it is wonderful. I am glad I decided to give it a try and will also try the Monk Fruit in the Raw as well, thanks to a couple of the comments talking about that brand. My family loves Sugar in the Raw, so Monk Fruit in the Raw should be a great choice too.

    Posted by Brian |

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