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The Luo Han Guo Stevia Experiment

June 3, 2009 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

A few months ago I wrote a column about a relatively obscure sweetener known as luo han guo. It was of interest to me because it’s a natural, zero-calorie sweetener that doesn’t appear to impact blood sugar levels and may even possess some health promoting properties. The real question in my mind was how luo han guo compared to another similar sweetener called stevia. To that end, I did some very basic blood sugar testing on myself in order to compare how luo han guo and stevia affected me.

The first thing I did was to invest in a basic blood sugar monitoring kit. It includes the testing device, lancets and testing strips. Next, I set up a basic guideline for how I would test my blood sugar levels.

  1. In this mini-experiment, I made sure to always use an equal amount of instant coffee as the base beverage for the test sweeteners.
  2. I also made it a point to do the testing at least two hours after eating any food.
  3. Finally, I not only monitored my reaction to luo han guo and stevia, but I also tested my response to unsweetened black coffee as well.

Please keep in mind that I plan to continue my sweetener testing. This is just a preliminary update on what I’ve found so far. In this initial stage of my experiment, I used two commercially available products. My goal was to select widely available items that were as similar to each other as possible. By that, I mean that a) both products provide a single, standardized serving in an individual packet and; b) each product utilizes the same base (inulin) for the respective sweeteners.

Please note that the actual amount of luo han guo and stevia used for sweetening is very small – usually about 100 mg per serving. Therefore, most manufacturers use a base/carrier in which they mix these alternative sweeteners so that they can be used just like regular table sugar – which contains about 4 grams of sucrose per teaspoon.

Coffee + 1 Packet of SweetFiber

Baseline Blood Sugar Level (mg/dl) 30 Minutes After Coffee + LHG (mg/dl)
83 84
83 86
84 80
79 87
88 85
93 87
Average 85 84.8

Coffee + 1 Packet of Now Foods Organic Stevia

Baseline Blood Sugar Level (mg/dl) 30 Minutes After Coffee + Stevia (mg/dl)
96 89
91 85
89 87
91 89
81 83
81 81
Average 88.2 85.7

Coffee with No Sweetener

Baseline Blood Sugar Level (mg/dl) 30 Minutes After Coffee w/o Sweetener (mg/dl)
99 86
84 84
87 87
84 79
85 84
86 91
Average 87.5 85.7

As you can see, both the luo han guo and stevia didn’t provoke a blood sugar spike (in me) one half hour post consumption. If anything, it could be said that black coffee and coffee + stevia *may* slightly lower (my) blood sugar. However, this change isn’t significant enough to have much relevance.

From a taste perspective, I felt as though stevia provided greater sweetness per packet than did the luo han guo product. I suspect that many people would need to add more than one packet per cup of coffee to reach a satisfactory level of sweetening effect.

In my next round of testing, I’ll evaluate my blood sugar response to pure luo han guo powder and pure stevia extract powder. I’ll also check to see what kind of an effect two packets of each sweetener will evoke. Please stay tuned for a follow up column that will be posted soon with those results.

Be well!

JP

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42 Comments to “The Luo Han Guo Stevia Experiment”

  1. Rob Weaver Says:

    Very cool, Harry!

  2. JP Says:

    Thanks, Rob!

    More experimentation to come!

    Be well!

    JP

  3. Cindy Says:

    Have you tried Xylitol? I have used it in baking, but I haven’t done any thorough research on it. Stevia is such a pain to use in baking.

  4. JP Says:

    Cindy,

    I have tried xylitol. In fact, I regularly consume natural mints and gums that feature it as the sole sweetener – to promote oral health.

    I can empathize with your stevia experience. I think things will get easier now that stevia is being marketed as a sweetener – as opposed to being sold previously only as a “dietary supplement”. I think the easing of this classification will allow for manufacturers to more openly offer advice about how to use stevia to replace sugar.

    While I do think xylitol has value, I’m not 100% comfortable using it in large quantities because it is a sugar alcohol. Using it is this way can, in sensitive individuals, cause GI problems and may have a greater impact than stevia (and perhaps luo han guo) on blood sugar levels. Therefore, I exert caution when using xylitol and other sugar alcohols in recipes.

    Be well!

    JP

  5. Janine Says:

    Have you done testing on pure luo han guo powder and pure stevia extract powder? Can you comment whether SweetFiber or Stevia Extract has an after taste? Is it true that these sugar substitutes are not recommended for use on cold beverages or in making ice cream?

  6. JP Says:

    Janine,

    I haven’t done the pure stevia vs. pure luo han guo testing yet. However I do have the material and your comment is a good reminder to begin this experiment soon. Thank for that! :)

    Many people find that stevia has a bit of an aftertaste. I think it varies by brand and is often based on the exact composition of the product in question. As an example: I use an organic stevia/inulin extract in my hot cocoa. I don’t detect any aftertaste. However there is a slight aftertaste in the peanut butter cookies that I sweeten with a combination of stevia/erythritol.

    re: cold beverages and ice cream

    I haven’t tried making a stevia-sweetened, homemade ice cream but I will when the weather warms up. There are quite a few stevia-based ice cream recipes out there so I’m guessing that it can be used effectively in such recipes.

    In my experience, stevia works well for sweetening lemonade and iced coffee or teas drinks. It’s easier to dissolve stevia in warm liquids but it can be done in cold ones as well.

    Be well!

    JP

  7. Cherish Says:

    I’m Cherish from Guilin, China. Luo Han Guo is sweet but does not include sugar, so it doesn’t affect the blood sugar. The aftertaste of pure Luo Han Guo is slight sweet but not bitter.:)

  8. Cathi Gross Says:

    Luo Han Guo, why does it seem to be going away. I really enjoy the taste better than Stevia. It has a carmel, buttery type of taste with no after bitter taste. While most of the Stevia products all have some kind of a bitter aftertaste to me. Just a couple of days ago, I baked brownies, using Sweet & Slender, which is Luo Han Guo with Frutose, and Erythitol mixed together. They were also low carb, gluten free, no soy or corn flours at all. They came out tasting really close to Fudge Brownies in taste. My husband and daughter really liked them, and they are hard to please. Anyway, I wanted to replace, my Sweet and Slender and found out the Company Wisom Herbs, has dropped making this product. They told my they were only going to use their Stevia Products, and had no plans in the future to bring back Sweet and Slender, which was thier Luo Han Guo Sugar Substitute. So, Now I am on the hunt for a product that will take the place without all the expense. Anyway, I hope Luo Han Guo will become a sugar substitute that everyone likes. Maybe someone will come out with a product the mixes both Luo Han Guo, and Erythitol. This Combination worked in my Brownies, with no Aftertaste of any kind.

  9. JP Says:

    Cathi,

    Stevia is definitely more popular these days. However I did find a new product that actually switched from using stevia to using Luo Han Guo at this year’s trade show.

    Have you ever tried this product? http://www.jarrow.com/product/351/Lo_Han_Sweet It might be a viable alternative to Sweet and Slender.

    I actually have some pure Luo Han Guo extract at home. At some point I plan to experiment with it. I have the ingredients but I lack the time!

    Be well!

    JP

  10. Corey Says:

    I just found it in the ingredient list for Kashi Honey Sunshine cereal. I can’t stand stevia either. I love that they are using natural no calorie sweetners, but the aftertaste of it makes me gag, almost licorice like.

  11. JP Says:

    Thanks for letting us know about this, Corey.

    Be well!

    JP

  12. Myrna Says:

    As far as taste it’s purely a matter of individual preference. I love 100% Stevia, dislike the stevia/anything else combinations I have tried, and can barely tolerate the very weird (for me) flavor of luo han.

  13. Tom Says:

    My concern is the chemical process used by Proctor & Gamble (patented 1995)on Luo Han Guo. SweetFiber I beleive uses this patented process. Does anyone know anything about the process used? I also have a problem with Xylitol and the chemical process. I’m Diabetic and are allways looking for the natual process sweetners and therefor have probelms with sugar alcohol.

  14. JP Says:

    Tom,

    It’s a multi-stage process. All the details are presented here:

    http://www.freepatentsonline.com/5411755.html

    Be well!

    JP

  15. Shree Says:

    I tried dried Stevia Leaves, bolied the leaves in water and stored it. while taking Stevia Liquid it tastes good but after drinking it taste bitter…but it is good it an antioxidant and has many advantages

  16. JP Says:

    Shree,

    That’s the biggest issue with stevia – the aftertaste. Many food scientists are hard at work trying to solve that puzzle. Some stevia products strike a pretty good balance – nice sweetness and little aftertaste *if* you use the right amount. I feel as though I’ve achieved success in that regard in several of the recipes I’ve crafted on this site.

    http://www.healthyfellow.com/category/recipes/

    Be well!

    JP

  17. Carol Says:

    If your looking good Lo Han with Erythritol combination you can get from http://www.sarayacanada.com it is called Lakanto – all natural sweetner. Looks like brown sugar, smells like brown sugar, but taste like white sugar. The erythritol is a lot more stomach palitable, no side effects(dirreaha,bloating,upset stomach,headaches) as with inulin or xylitol. Its a little pricey though. I’m a big green tea drinker so it can be costly, but the health aspects are more important to me. Hope this will help you with a source as it took me hours looking for a erythritol/lo han combo.

  18. JP Says:

    Thank you for the tip, Carol. Much appreciated! :)

    Be well!

    JP

  19. Helen Says:

    Well, I too have heard that the sugar alcohols are something to either avoid or to use sparingly, which means that they are not a long term solution for a sugar fix (at least for me). I had been using Truvia which is a mix of Stevia and Erythritol (a sugar alcohol). Now, I’m understanding that Xylitol is also an alcohol sugar. I got a pure powdered stevia from a recommended company, but I feel it does have an aftertaste that I don’t like. Sigh… Maybe I’ll give the Luo Han stuff a go. I thought that the experiment was really cool by the way.

  20. JP Says:

    Thank you, Helen.

    You may want to try out an alcohol-free stevia extract. One that I’ve found good success with is made by NuNatural’s – the alcohol-free, unflavored stevia. Also, please note that some sugar alcohols such as erythritol and xylitol may actually be healthful when used judiciously.

    http://www.healthyfellow.com/465/erythritol-and-xylitol-news/

    Be well!

    JP

  21. Michael Says:

    Hi JP,

    you’re way ahead of the curve in not only discovering but also testing Luo Han Guo….
    Any updates on how the purer versions taste comparatively?
    More than 2 years after your post, there’s still little out there about this Chinese fruit sweetener.
    thanks,
    Michael

  22. JP Says:

    Hi, Michael.

    I’m beginning to see a few more products that feature Luo Han Guo as part of sweetening blend. A successful example of this is the new line of “no sugar added” ice creams produced by So Delicious/Turtle Mountain. They use a combination of erythritol, monk fruit extract (LHG) and stevia to sweeten their dairy-free dessert. However, I haven’t come across many products that are utilizing LHG as a standalone sweetener as of yet.

    http://www.turtlemountain.com/products/product.php?p=so_delicious_nsa_vanilla_bean

    Be well!

    JP

  23. Joy R. Says:

    I’m a nutritionist and have been thrilled to see more and more of Lo Han Guo creeping into products, as well as a combo of Lo Han Guo and Erythritol. There’s a great line of protein bars now even using it: http://www.questproteinbar.com They’re original line uses Lo Han Guo & Sucralose (which I am not a fan of), but they’re introducing an All Natural line that replaces the Sucralose with Erythritol. I’ve tried some of the prototypes and they’re fantastic!

  24. JP Says:

    Hi, Joy.

    Like you, I’m not comfortable using or recommending sucralose. Good news about an all natural option becoming available. Thanks for letting us know. I’ll keep an eye out for them and give them a try.

    Be well!

    JP

  25. Stephie Says:

    I’ve given up stevia which I was using in high amounts this summer after developing severe shoulder, back, and neck pain. I found out that joint pain is not an uncommon side effect of stevia, along with allergy symptoms (so please beware). I’m still learning about the Luo Han Guo and hope it’s safe.

  26. JP Says:

    Hi, Stephie.

    I’m sorry to hear about your negative reaction to stevia. I haven’t come across similar data in the published clinical studies or experienced adverse reactions myself. But, I’ll make sure to keep an eye out for other accounts like yours in my continued research.

    I wish you the best of luck experimenting with luo han guo.

    Be well!

    JP

  27. Shelly Says:

    Being a type II diabetic I have tried just about everything. I can happily say stevia has been by far the most successful of all the sweeteners I have used. My wife makes a wonderful low calorie custard I eat on a regular basis. My a1c are almost always in the 5.8-6.2 range. I only use diet to control my blood sugar levels. Just visited my Ophthalmologist, he is always amazed that I have no signs of diabetic retinopathy, even tho I have been a diabetic since 1988. I would also give credit to my taking flavay, vitamin c,zinc and b-vitamins.

  28. JP Says:

    That’s fantastic news, Shelly. Thanks for sharing it with us! Continued success!

    Be well!

    JP

  29. Linda Says:

    I loved your experiment…… thank you! Very enlightening.

    I would love to have your opinion and thoughts with the following;

    I am looking for a healthy low calorie natural sweetener. Who isn’t right? My father is a diabetic. I introduced him to Crystalline fructose 20 years ago he is now over 80 years old and healthy. Do you think this is a good natural healthy sweetener? I am very confuse with all of the documentation on the net. Please help me to figure this out! See these sites below;

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fructose

    http://www.fructose.org/facts.html

  30. JP Says:

    Thank you, Linda.

    I don’t recommend sweetening with crystalline fructose or sweeteners that contain a high concentration of fructose (ex. agave nectar). Almost all of the dessert recipes on my site use stevia-based sweeteners. This is a much healthier option for diabetics and just about everyone, IMO. However, it takes some patience/practice to find the right level of sweetness with stevia. Also, some people have personal preferences regarding different brands. Fructose is easier to work with, but harder on the body. I’ll provide some relevant links below:

    http://www.healthyfellow.com/925/fructose-confusion/

    http://www.healthyfellow.com/185/agave-danger/

    http://www.healthyfellow.com/826/healthier-birthday-cake-recipe/ <— recipe example using a commercially available brand of stevia

    Be well!

    JP

  31. Paul Says:

    A friend gave me a packet with two cubes of lo han kuo. It looked, smelled and tasted like brown sugar. It’s significantly more expensive than brown sugar. It seems to me that there would be a strong financial incentive for companies to package brown sugar and sell it as lo han kuo. Chinese companies have been caught doing things like putting melamine in milk products, cadmium and lead in children’s toys, etc., so it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if some of what is being sold as lo han kuo really isn’t. Is there a good, simple test to authenticate it? I remember from elementary school science class that something with calories will burn– sugar is essentially pure calories, and lo han kuo has none. Will it react the same as sugar to an open flame? Maybe someone here has a better test?
    Since you’re diabetic, obviously it doesn’t make sense for you to have used sugar as a control in your blood sugar tests, but maybe someone with a blood monitoring kit who is not diabetic could make a comparison. I would assume that real sugar would cause a spike in blood sugar– that would seem obvious; but one packet may or may not be that significant and the only way to really know is to try it, which you can’t do for obvious reasons. Hopefully someone else will add to your efforts. Thank you for the information– this was interesting.

  32. Martha Says:

    I think you did a very cool thing in testing these, and I am sure the results are somewhat accurate, but I am diabetic and have tested my blood sugar for years with one of those testers, and have re-tested with the same drop of blood immediately after the first test and I have observed that their accuracy is not that good. Sometimes the second test will be quite different from the first, and I have never known it to be exactly the same. I have done this with 3 different meters, over the years, all of high quality, and the results are the same. So I believe the only way your results of blood sugar testing for the differences in sweeteners are going to be very nearly accurate is if you did multiple testings and took the average, and of course, whatever else you did in that time span makes a difference too. So I am convinced that neither spikes your blood sugar, but not convinced of the accuracy of the numbers.

  33. Margaret Says:

    I’m really having difficulties right now what sweetener is good to our health. I read that fructose is bad to our health. Do you think it’s right. The article is really convincing that made me think. please check this out – http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/01/02/highfructose-corn-syrup-alters-human-metabolism.aspx

  34. JP Says:

    Hi Margaret,

    I generally recommend avoiding fructose and sweeteners that are rich in fructose such as agave. I personally opt for other natural options such as monk fruit (luo han guo) and stevia instead. Small amounts of select sugar alcohols including erythritol and xylitol are probably fine as well.

    Be well!

    JP

  35. Kate Says:

    One thing many of us do not know is that there are 3 different and distinct types of taste buds so how sweet, sour, after taste is different for everyone. They have test strips used to show what kind of taste buds you have, I saw this done on an audience at a TV show and was intrigued.

    I’ve used Stevia liquid extract for years, I don’t like the powders and personally prefer KAL or NOW Foods Better Stevia brands. Many herbal ppl will only use it from a growing plant of their own or if it is still green in color.

    One sweetener which I never new about until recently, is all natural, 0 calories and 0 glycemic. It’s sold in Whole Food stores and perhaps another near you, I understand it is not as sweet as sugar but with all the others being 300-600x sweeter perhaps this is a good thing. It’s available in 90 countries and can be purchased on line. I have not done so yet and we just got a WF here where I live so I will try it there. It’s called Just Like Sugar. They have 2 websites http://www.justlikesugariskosher.com and http://www.justlikesugarinc.com

  36. JP Says:

    Thank you for sharing that information, Kate.

    I haven’t tried Just Like Sugar yet. The ingredients look just fine to me. So, I’m open to the idea.

    Please let us know if you experiment with it. I’ll do the same.

    Be well!

    JP

  37. LS Says:

    The problem with sweetners, whether it’s table sugar, processed herbal sweetners, or artificial sweetners, if the substance is not in its natural form, like sugar cane, or say Luo Han, then do we actually receive benefits from it outside of a natural state (like processing fruit so that the nutrients are processed out and leaves a sugar base…I saw such a sweetner today at Whole Foods made from vegetables and it looks like and almost tastes like table sugar…but therein is the issue: processed natural foods that have a natural amount of “sugars” contained within the natural plant, and those “sugars” are then processed out of hte natural plant. Are we denied the associated nutrients of the plant itself that may be balancing the sugar metabolism in our bodies to prevent disease. For Example: cancer thrives on sugar. If you eat sugar, the cancer grows. If you deny the cancer sugar, it shrinks and sometimes goes away. If we continue on this slippery slope of removing “sugars” from natural plants, are we thus denying the nutrient balance? Are we inviting issues by consuming sweeteners that are best left isnide the plant as we consume it. I read about Luo Han; should the fruit be dried, and tehn used in its natural form? Agave is said to spike the sugar levels, and research seems to agree with the statement. One person’s simple experiement is not the total impact that agave may have on others. It seems that we shold keep “sweeteners” in their original packaging and consume them as whole nutrient values.

  38. John D. Pilla Says:

    I just read and saw Lakanto, though it is pricey, it use (proprietary} blend of Lo Han and Erythritol.

    I had used a little Stevia, in the past; however, I am very sensitive to the after-taste, and do not like it.

    I also use Xylitol in non-baked foods, in very small amounts, it is good; but, it is a sugar-alcohol – so must be used in very small amounts.

    Erythritol, though a sugar alcohol, is processed differently, unlike most sugar alcohols, erythritol is fermented, and does not produce the side-effects (bloating, gas, diarrhea, that a little to much of the other sugar alcohols like xylitol can produce. And, unlike the other sugar alcohols, it can be heated (Baked).

    It seems to me, if one must sweeten, use as little as possible, and if you do not like the Stevia after taste, use the new blends of Lo Han and Erythritol.

  39. JP Says:

    Hi LS,

    You make several valid points. However, it’s important to differentiate sugar from sweet phytochemicals. What’s extracted from Luo Han Guo and stevia is not sugar. The naturally occurring chemicals are sweet, but they’re not chemically (or calorically) related to sugar. What’s more, numerous studies have identified potential health benefits associated with the use of extracts taken from Luo Han Guo and stevia. Finally, on occasion, there are undesirable elements in natural foods and plants. By extracting and purifying said foods/plants, the resulting product *can* be more palatable and safer.

    Please note that this isn’t an argument against eating a largely whole food based diet. I’m all for that. I just don’t agree with the comparison of sugar containing foods/ingredients and non-nutritive sweeteners.

    Be well!

    JP

  40. JP Says:

    Thank you for your comments, John.

    I encourage you to continue experimenting with different brands of Luo Han Guo and stevia based sweeteners – which are often mixed with erythritol. Improvements in extraction techniques are yielding better tasting products than ever before.

    Be well!

    JP

  41. William Says:

    Thank you for doing this experiment! I’ve been trying to research about both sweeteners. I was also wondering what if you also tested using sugar to have really comprehensive comparison. But nevertheless, thanks for doing this.

  42. April Romero Says:

    As an RN with pre-diabetes and a father with diabetes I am always interested in finding natural sweeteners which have low glycemic indices and low impact on blood glucose. I care for many diabetics in my work and it is encouraging to be able to recommend a sweetener with a low impact upon blood glucose levels. Thanks for this information and your interesting research. I can’t wait to hear what the next step of you project will show.

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