Because I wanted a benign and healthy way for followers of the Wheat Belly lifestyle to recreate dishes such as chocolate chip cookies, cheesecake, and pies with none of the health problems of grains or sugars, I helped Wheat-Free Market develop its Virtue Sweetener product.
Yes, you could do without such sweeteners. But I learned long ago when I introduced Wheat Belly concepts to patients in my cardiology practice that having options while entertaining friends, during holidays, and pleasing kids was important for staying on course on this lifestyle. Before I understood how to use such natural sweeteners, patients would come back from, say, the Thanksgiving holiday 14 pounds heavier with disastrous changes in blood sugar, triglycerides, blood pressure, and small LDL particles that increased risk for heart attack. Given access to benign natural sweeteners, patients would come back with no weight gain, no change in blood sugar, no rise in small LDL, or any other measure—they would just enjoy the holiday with no observable downside.
It has also become clear in the last two years that synthetic sweeteners such as sucralose, saccharine, and aspartame have unhealthy implications, specifically adverse changes in bowel flora composition that explain why these sweeteners have been associated with weight gain and increased type 2 diabetes risk.
So Virtue Sweetener has emerged front and center because it allows you to end your wonderful grain-free meal with, say, a delicious German Chocolate Brownie or Peanut Butter Fudge while not dealing with any adverse health effects. This remains true even if you are strictly limiting carbs on your low-carb diet or even ketogenic lifestyle.
There are two components in Virtue Sweetener: monkfruit and erythritol. Let’s talk about each one:
Monk fruit–More than a healthy sweetener?
Among our choices of natural sweeteners, monk fruit is the clear winner: zero calories, no weight gain, clean taste without bitter aftertaste, and—because of its concentrated sweetness—can slash cost when combined with other natural sweeteners like erythritol. But there are effects of this interesting non-caloric sweetener that go beyond its ability to just help us create healthy muffins or cookies. Scientific studies are now identifying important effects that add to health.
Much of this research got underway because of monk fruit’s long history as an effective home remedy to relieve sore throat and cough. Research studies have documented an anti-inflammatory effect of monk fruit. But there are additional beneficial effects that have been identified, including reduced blood sugar, an antioxidant effect, blocking fat accumulation in fat cells, and anti-inflammatory effects. A number of studies have also pinpointed effects that reduce potential for cancer. To date, these observations have only been made in experimental models and not through any human trials, but those will be emerging near-future. A sample of the scientific observations that have been made are listed below.
In the meantime, enjoy your coffee sweetened with monk fruit, or cookies or pies in which sugar has been replaced by this clean-tasting, non-caloric sweetener. Perhaps you will also obtain some important health benefits from monk fruit, as well.
Monk fruit is labeled Siraitia grosvenori or Momordica grosvenori in scientific studies. The active components of monk fruit are called mogrosides.
Experimental animal models suggest that monk fruit mogrosides provide protection from developing diabetes and reduces blood sugar:
- Qi XY, Chen WJ, Zhang LQ, Xie BJ.Mogrosides extract from Siraitia grosvenori scavenges free radicals in vitro and lowers oxidative stress, serum glucose, and lipid levels in alloxan-induced diabetic mice. Nutr Res. 2008 Apr;28(4):278-84.
- Suzuki YA, Tomoda M, Murata Y, Inui H, Sugiura M, Nakano Y. Antidiabetic effect of long-term supplementation with Siraitia grosvenori on the spontaneously diabetic Goto-Kakizaki rat. Br. J. Nutr. 2007; 97: 770–5.
- Suzuki YA, Murata Y, Inui H, Sugiura M, Nakano Y. Triterpene glycosides of Siraitia grosvenori inhibit rat intestinal maltase and suppress the rise in blood glucose level after a single oral administration of maltose in rats. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2005; 53: 2941–2946.
Monk fruit-derived mogrosides appear to block the cellular changes that lead to fat accumulation:
- Harada N1, Ishihara M1, Horiuchi H1 et al. Mogrol derived from Siraitia grosvenorii mogrosides suppresses 3T3-L1 adipocyte differentiation by reducing cAMP-response element-binding protein phosphorylation and increasing AMP-activated protein kinase phosphorylation. PLoS One. 2016 Sep 1;11(9):e0162252.
Monk fruit is an antioxidant, including blocking oxidation of LDL particles that can lead to heart disease:
- Chen WJ, Wang J, Qi XY, Xie BJ. The antioxidant activities of natural sweeteners, mogrosides, from fruits of Siraitia grosvenori. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2007 Nov;58(7):548-56.
- Takeo E1, Yoshida H, Tada N et al. Sweet elements of Siraitia grosvenori inhibit oxidative modification of low-density lipoprotein. J Atheroscler Thromb. 2002;9(2):114-20.
- Wang M, Xing S, Luu T et al. The gastrointestinal tract metabolism and pharmacological activities of grosvenorine, a major and characteristic flavonoid in the fruits of Siraitia grosvenorii. Chem Biodivers. 2015 Nov;12(11):1652-64. doi: 10.1002/cbdv.201400397.
Monk fruit mogrosides are anti-inflammatory:
- Di R, Huang MT, Ho CT.Anti-inflammatory activities of mogrosides from Momordica grosvenori in murine macrophages and a murine ear edema model. J Agric Food Chem. 2011 Jul 13;59(13):7474-81.
- Shi D, Zheng M, Wang Y et al. Protective effects and mechanisms of mogroside V on LPS-induced acute lung injury in mice. Pharm Biol. 2014 Jun;52(6):729-34.
Cancer preventive effects
- Akihisa T, Hayakawa Y, Tokuda H et al.Cucurbitane glycosides from the fruits of Siraitia gros venorii and their inhibitory effects on Epstein-Barr virus activation. Nat Prod. 2007 May;70(5):783-8.
- Liu C, Dai LH, Dou DQ et al. A natural food sweetener with anti-pancreatic cancer properties. Oncogenesis. 2016 Apr 11;5:e217.
- Matsumoto S, Jin M, Dewa Y, Nishimura J et al. Suppressive effect of Siraitia grosvenorii extract on dicyclanil-promoted hepatocellular proliferative lesions in male mice. J Toxicol Sci. 2009 Feb;34(1):109-18.
- Takasaki M, Konoshima T, Murata Y et al. Anticarcinogenic activity of natural sweeteners, cucurbitane glycosides, from Momordica grosvenori. Cancer Lett. 2003 Jul 30;198(1):37-42.
- Ukiya M, Akihisa T, Tokuda H et al. Inhibitory effects of cucurbitane glycosides and other triterpenoids from the fruit of Momordica grosvenori on epstein-barr virus early antigen induced by tumor promoter 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate. J Agric Food Chem. 2002 Nov 6;50(23):6710-5.
- Marone PA, Borzelleca JF, Merkel D et al. Twenty eight-day dietary toxicity study of Luo Han fruit concentrate in Hsd:SD rats. Food Chem Toxicol. 2008 Mar;46(3):910-9.
- Pawar RS, Krynitsky AJ, Rader JI. Sweeteners from plants–with emphasis on Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) and Siraitia grosvenorii (Swingle). Anal Bioanal Chem. 2013 May;405(13):4397-407.
Erythritol–A natural fruit sugar
Along with monk fruit, erythritol is one of the two natural sweeteners contained in Virtue Sweetener. Erythritol is one of the best choices among natural sweeteners because of its clean flavor, lack of effect on blood sugar or insulin, and even provides modest health benefits.
Erythritol is a sugar found naturally in fruit such as apples and oranges but is produced from glucose in greater quantities through a fermentation process using yeast.
Erythritol yields no increase in blood sugar even if as much as 15 teaspoons are ingested all at once. Unlike monkfruit that has no calories, erythritol has a small number of calories: less than 1.6 calories per teaspoon—90% less than regular table sugar. It also does not stimulate insulin release, unlike synthetic sweeteners such as sucralose (Splenda) and aspartame. Studies have demonstrated modest reductions blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c (reflecting the previous 90 days’ of blood sugars) in people with diabetes who use erythritol as their preferred sweetener.
Like monkfruit, erythritol is not just safe, but also has modest beneficial health effects. Erythritol yields protective effects on dental health, shown to reduce the number of cavities and plaque in several clinical studies, unlike sugar that, of course, promotes tooth decay.
Unlike most other sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol, mannitol, and maltitol, erythritol does not cause bloating, gas, or loose stools when used in the quantities specified in our recipes. This is because only a small proportion of erythritol passes through the intestinal tract.
Erythritol is about 70% as sweet as table sugar. It also has a slight “cooling” sensation, similar to that of peppermint, though less intense. It may therefore confer a modest cooling sensation to baked products and other sweets.
In Virtue Sweetener, we rely on a greater proportion of monk fruit, which is much sweeter than erythritol. Erythritol is thereby used to add bulk, or volume, to Virtue Sweetener, while the monk fruit with its intense sweetening power allows you to use far less total combined sweetener, thereby yielding a considerable cost savings.
- Bornet FRJ, Blayo A, Dauchy F, Slama G. Gastrointestinal response and plasma and urine determinations in human subjects given erythritol. Regulatory Toxicol Pharmacol. 1996;24, part 2:S296–S302.
- De Cock P, Mäkinen K, Honkala E et al. Erythritol is more effective than xylitol and sorbitol in managing oral health endpoints. Int J Dent 2016;2016:9868421.
- Honkala S, Runnel R, Saag M et al. Effect of erythritol and xylitol on dental caries prevention in children. Caries Res 2014;48(5):482-90.
- Ishikawa M, Miyashita M, Kawashima Y et al. Effects of oral administration of erythritol on patients with diabetes. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol 1996 Oct;24(2 Pt 2):S303-8.
- Munro IC, Berndt WO, Borzelleca JF et al. Erythritol: an interpretive summary of biochemical, metabolic, toxicological and clinical data. Food Chem Toxicol 1998 Dec;36(12):1139-74.
- Wölnerhanssen BK, Cajacob L, Keller N et al.Gut hormone secretion, gastric emptying, and glycemic responses to erythritol and xylitol in lean and obese subjects. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 2016 Jun 1;310(11):E1053-61.
Putting aside taste, safety, and potential health benefits, how about cost? Here is a cost comparison I did recently: Virtue is the clear winner, costing as much as 80% less than other natural sweeteners. You can enjoy dishes naturally sweetened without destroying your grocery budget.
Given its natural sourcing, safety profile, potential health benefits, and cost, Virtue Sweetener is everything I intended it to be, an advantage to all of us following the Wheat Belly lifestyle to reclaim control over health and weight.