Is Monk Fruit Safe for Children with Allergies?
Nonnutritive sweeteners (NNSs), often called sugar substitutes, have become an increasingly popular way to add sweetness to foods or beverages while reducing sugar, carbohydrate, and calorie intake. These differ from nutritive sweeteners, such as table sugar or high fructose corn syrup, which provide the body with calories in the form of carbohydrates and can contribute to added sugar consumption. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends aiming for less than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar per day for children 2 years of age and older to reduce the risk of obesity, tooth decay, heart disease and other health conditions. As a result, the increased use of nonnutritive sweeteners may have parents wondering which sweetener to choose for their child.
Nonnutritive sweeteners are usually 100 to 20,000 times sweeter than table sugar and are divided into two categories: artificial and natural. Currently there are two plant-derived NNSs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), stevia and monk fruit. These natural sweeteners have a “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) distinction stating that the substance is safe under the conditions for its intended use.
Natural Nonnutritive Sweeteners
Monk fruit is a natural, calorie free, low FODMAP sweetener used in flavored Essential Care Jr. as it provides natural sweetness without contributing to the sugar content and unpleasant side effects that some sweeteners can cause. All other flavored junior amino acid-based formulas contain artificial sweeteners. Essential Care Jr. is a great option for those wanting to avoid artificial ingredients or natural sweeteners with added ingredients.
Monk fruit, also known as luo han guo, is a small, melon-shaped fruit that is native to southern China and is becoming a more common option when choosing a no-calorie sweetener. Fresh monk fruit has green skin and once it is dried, the skin becomes brown.
Unlike artificial sweeteners, monk fruit sweeteners are derived from a natural source. Monk fruit sweeteners are made by removing the seeds and skin of the fruit, crushing it, and then filtering and extracting the sweet portions into liquid and powdered forms. The fruit has an intensely sweet taste, particularly in comparison to other no or low-calorie sweeteners, including stevia, aspartame, and sucralose.
One of the benefits of using monk fruit as a sweetener is that only a small amount is needed to equal the sweetness of sugar. In fact, monk fruit ranges from being 150-200 times sweeter than sugar! While taste is very individualized, some prefer the sweetness of monk fruit and have noted monk fruit to have less of a bitter aftertaste when compared to other alternative sweeteners.
Extracts from monk fruit are Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS), which is a regulatory review process used by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and these extracts are currently permitted for use in more than 60 countries. In fact, monk fruit sweeteners have been safely used for centuries in Asian cultures.
A potential benefit for many is that monk fruit may have anti-inflammatory properties. While more research is needed, studies have shown that the mogrosides found in monk fruit act as antioxidants that can help inhibit the growth of harmful cells and prevent the onset of chronic disease. Some studies conducted on animals found mogrosides help to regulate the inflammatory genes.
Monk fruit is part of the gourd family of fruits and vegetables. Other gourd fruits and vegetables include assorted melons, pumpkin, and spaghetti squash. Allergic reactions to monk fruit are rare, but if your child experiences any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention: hives or rash, difficulty breathing, rapid or weak pulse, dizziness, swollen tongue, stomach pain or vomiting, and/or wheezing.
Stevia is another naturally sourced, nonnutritive sweetener that is derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) plant which is a shrub native to South America. It has a taste that is 50-350 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia sweeteners are made by extracting steviol glycosides from the leaves of the stevia plant and purifying them to remove some of the bitter attributes found in the crude extract.
Stevia leaf and crude stevia extracts are not considered GRAS by the FDA. Instead, only high purity steviol glycosides which are purified from the leaves of the stevia plant, are approved as GRAS in the United States.
While stevia has been shown to potentially lower high blood sugar and blood pressure, some people have reported negative side effects such as bloating, nausea and gas after consuming stevia sweeteners. In addition, stevia sweeteners are often more refined than monk fruit and may contain additional ingredients such as sugar alcohols, dextrose, maltodextrin. These added ingredients may make it an undesirable choice of sweetener, especially for those avoiding corn derivatives.
Allergic reactions to stevia are rare but it is suggested that people who are allergic to plants that come from the Asteraceae family should avoid stevia altogether. This includes daisies, ragweed, chrysanthemums, and sunflowers.
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes that add sweetness and texture to foods and beverages. Artificial sweeteners that have been approved by the FDA in the US include: acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), advantame, aspartame, neotame, saccharin and sucralose. Despite the approval from the FDA, studies show parents continue to have concerns regarding artificial sweeteners with only about 16% stating they feel safe using certain brands in foods and beverages consumed by their children.
Clinical studies have shown that certain artificial sweeteners can have a variety of negative health effects. Recent studies looked at a few different artificial sweeteners and suggested that these can negatively alter the gut microbiome. These microbes in the gut are important for supporting the immune system and overall health. Other research suggests that certain artificial sweeteners may lead to changes in appetite and taste preferences making children crave more sweet foods.
In addition, some people report that NNSs cause side effects such as gas, bloating, or allergic reactions. In fact, some artificial sweeteners are controversial as they may cause long-term negative health complications. (Incidentally, there are no known side effects with monk fruit sweeteners.)
Consider Trying an Amino Acid-Based Formula
A hypoallergenic amino acid-based formula such as Ajinomoto Cambrooke’s Essential Care Jr. can be a safe nutritional option for your child with food allergies or GI disorders. Essential Care Jr. offers a more natural option sweetened with monk fruit as well as value-added ingredients to support growth and development. It is intended for use in children 1 year of age or older and is the only flavored amino acid-based formula that does not contain artificial sweeteners. Try a free sample today or learn more about each of this unique formula by visiting us online today or calling 1-833-377-2773.