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The hunt for a sugar replacement that can also improve your gut health
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The hunt for a sugar replacement that can also improve your gut health

The numerous health concerns posed by sugar and artificial sweeteners has got researchers to look for natural alternatives
Representational image | Shutterstock

From increasing a person’s caloric intake, affecting the functioning of the gut, and creating pangs that can even lead to depression, the ill effects of excessive sugar intake are numerous. However, cutting down on it proves to be harder than anticipated for most, forcing them to turn to artificial sweeteners that are readily available in the market.

However, animal models have consistently found that even these artificial sweeteners can have an effect on gut health, including causing inflammation.

To address this, researchers from the Institute of Food Science Research in Madrid have found that a processed natural extract from the Luo han guo-monk (also known as monkfruit or Siraitia grosvenorii) can serve as a table sugar alternative, but with benefits for gut health.

The compound, mogroside V, is touted to be sweeter than table sugar while being safer for consumption as its conducive for gut bacteria when compared to artificial sweeteners. However, the fruit extract contains some off-flavours which the researchers were able to eliminate chemically by altering the enzymatic processes.

The researchers said they found that the high sugar content in mogroside V increased the population of proteobacteria and decreases the population of bacteroidetes in lab tests.

“These substrates could be considered as a novel candidate prebiotic sweetener by combining sweetness and prebiotic fibre functionality, providing a feasible and innovative approach to reducing the sucrose content in food products,” the researchers said.

The latest laboratory experiments with the natural sweetener from Luo Han guo-monk fruit explored its potential as a low-calorie, prebiotic sweetener. The metabolic products of these microbes are known to exert a prebiotic effect.

Apart from its prebiotic nature, it has other health benefits like antioxidant properties, hepatoprotective, hypoglycemic, immunologic, and anti-inflammatory activities. However, given that it was studied under laboratory conditions, further studies and human trials are needed to determine the effects of mogrosides on the human gut microbiome and on the role of the metabolites released by gut microbes.

Future hope

Scientists at the Institute of Food Science Research, Madrid, Spain have proposed to combine the mogrosides with non-digestible carbohydrates (prebiotics such as Galactooligosaccharides (GOS) to boost gut health and achieve a myriad of benefits. A combination of a sweet enhancer with a prebiotic can be a good fit.

This study was funded by Optibiotix Health Plc (York, UK.), the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, and the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program. Future trials on human gut microbe can bring this novel, safer and sweeter option to the market.

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