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 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.
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!