can yacon syrup really help you lose weight? an objective look

Jill Bridges, SATI STAFF

Neither a fruit nor a vegetable, yacon is a tuber, somewhat related to the potato, which is starting to make waves across the United States. Until a couple years ago, few people in North America had heard of this delicious root, but then Dr. Oz came along. In 2014, the television nutrition expert conducted a public study on the effects of a syrup extracted from yacon as a help for weight loss, and the results were significant.

Since then, more research has been done and the results, while still preliminary, are encouraging. Yacon syrup isn’t only sweet-tasting, it’s safe to use and has measurable benefits in weight loss. It also possesses prebiotic qualities and shows a range of other benefits. It can potentially help diabetics control blood glucose, be used to fight cancer and it even boost the immune system.

What is yacon syrup and what are the potential benefits of its use? This article examines the health benefits of yacon syrup in weight loss, digestion and other areas, and explores how it can help you live a healthy life.

What Is Yacon Syrup?

Yacon is a tubular plant that is natively found in South America and produces a slightly-sweet syrup. This substance is shown, when combined with proper diet and exercise programs, to have certain health benefits including weight loss and digestive aid[1]. Research in this area is still preliminary but the results up till now have been quite positive overall.

The syrup from the Yacon plant is said to taste a bit like maple syrup and has the look and consistency of molasses. It helps people to feel full but doesn’t get digested, so it passes through without calories[2]. Its primary ingredient is also found in bananas, onions, garlic, artichokes and asparagus, but not nearly in as high of a concentration.

The substance responsible for these effects is called fructooligosaccharides, or FOS, carbohydrates that have prebiotic properties and are only partially absorbed by the digestive system[3]. If you were to eat the fruit itself, you’d find a tuber that is related to a potato but tastes a bit like a pear.

While native to the Peru region, these plants also grow well in New Zealand, Japan, Brazil and Thailand[4] and are processed as a sweetener for everything from drinks to yogurt and cakes, as well as used in cooking and even dried like raisins. While it’s new to the United States, it has been consumed for thousands of years, as far back as the ancient Inca[5].

A number of studies have been conducted regarding the potential effectiveness of Yacon as an alternative health food and weight loss supplement[6], especially in helping the growth of good bacteria in the colon, enhancing absorption of minerals, improving metabolism and regulating cholesterol. But what are the specific benefits of Yacon Syrup and how do they work?

What are the weight loss benefits?

While the current research on Yacon syrup definitely supports its use as a weight loss supplement, experts are quick to point out that it isn’t a magic drug. There is, in fact, no magic bullet for weight loss that allows you to simply shed pounds. Any weight loss supplement—yacon syrup included—should be used as a part of a healthy diet and the right exercise routine. Always talk with your doctor and nutritionist before beginning any diet routine or supplement.

Yacon, however, can be a very effective booster for your weight loss efforts overall. What makes it effective is that it is heavy with soluble fiber, which is a carbohydrate that serves to make people feel full and thus eat less but doesn’t pass through the digestive system like normal sugar does[7]. Even better, this FOS fiber has powerful prebiotic qualities that can increase metabolism and make your system work more efficiently. But it’s not without risks[8]; specifically, when taken in high doses it can cause abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea, similar to sugar alcohols.

The early indications, however, are that it did contribute to weight loss in at least two human studies[9] by creating feelings of fullness. One study was performed for the Dr. Oz show in 2013, while the other was published in Clinical Nutrition, a double-blind and placebo-controlled study[10]. Both studies showed a significant weight loss among the subjects given Yacon syrup over several months.

In the Dr. Oz study[11], the results showed that 73% of the participants lost weight, with half of those losing at least five pounds and an average waist size reduction of nearly 2 inches. Nearly 70% of the participants crediting the yacon as the reason for their weight loss. In the study published in Clinical Nutrition, the results found that the syrup is a solid source of FOS and that long-term use had positive health effects on pre-menopausal, obese women with insulin resistance[12].

While these results are still in need of assessment, more research is currently being conducted. But the existing evidence is pretty solid as to the positive benefits that yacon might provide. Its prebiotic qualities alone can be a major benefit, as the health of your gut directly translates to your overall health[13].

Are there other health benefits?

One of the great things about yacon syrup, however, is that it carries a wealth of other potential health benefits aside from just being a possible weight loss supplement. These can include healthier cholesterol and triglyceride levels, better digestive health and even potential benefits to resist cancer. It possesses no noted severe side effects aside from potential gastrointestinal distress if overused. Rare allergic reactions have also been noted in some individuals, which can be serious[14].

Yacon is a low-calorie sweetener with only about 1 to 4 grams of sugar per 100g of the root, which translates to about 14 calories[15]. It’s also shown to have a positive effect on maintaining blood sugar. A clinical study published in 2009 showed that when it was used properly there were no undesirable side effects and that it has significant health benefits[16]. A more recent study published in 2016 in Nutrients showed that yacon roots have excellent functional properties that allow them to work as an effective dietary supplement and perhaps even be used to treat chronic illness[17].

Yacon root can also have effective properties to regulate blood pressure levels[18], probably due to the high levels of potassium contained in the tuber, which helps blood vessels to remain relaxed and flexible. This allows blood to flow through them easily and improves heart strain as well as decreasing the chances of atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke.

Yacon also serves as a powerful body fat regulator and can help stop the accumulation of cholesterol. This allows it to protect liver function and help with metabolism not just in the liver but throughout the body[19]. In addition to health, this can be another potential weight loss benefit for those who choose to add yacon syrup to their diet and exercise routine.

It’s also got powerful antioxidant properties, can be used to treat constipation by boosting mobility in the intestinal tract, and even can be used to prevent cancer, according to research published in Filoterapia in October 2011. This research is starting to show what has been known in South America for centuries, where it’s used in tribal medicine to this day to treat bladder and kidney problems, cystitis, nephritis and even myalgia[19].

Yacon and diabetes

People who suffer from Type 2 diabetes are constantly looking for new options to help them control blood sugar and deal with issues like insulin resistance and blood glucose levels. For these folks, there can be some good news: recent research shows that yacon can have powerful blood glucose regulation effects.

It’s already been established that yacon is a fiber-rich root, and fiber is one of the key elements in maintaining and achieving optimal control of blood glucose among type 2 diabetics. This unto itself makes yacon a useful addition to the diabetic diet, but there are other measurable effects it can offer as well.

In a study published in Nutrition & Diabetes in May 2013[20], male insulin-resistant rats were fed yacon for 5 weeks to test for blood glucose levels. The conclusion indicated that the root created beneficial effects on hepatic insulin sensitivity, which had the result of a significant increased control of blood glucose levels, as opposed to those in a control group.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, however. Another study, published in the Fronteir and Future Development of Information Technology and Education in 2013, showed that four compounds isolated from the yacon plant showed strong results in having measurable anti-diabetic components[21], and it could be a solid part of a dietary treatment plan for diabetes.

A third study in the European Journal of Nutrition was published in 2014, this one looking at the effects of freeze-dried and powdered yacon on blood glucose in elderly patients[22]. The study involved 72 participants with an average age of 67 who were given a daily intake of yacon over 9 weeks. It concluded that the FOS compounds in yacon had a measurable positive effect in blood glucose levels among elderly patients.

While three studies aren’t conclusive, it should be mentioned that findings have been consistent across all three, with no negative side effects noted and no contrary evidence presented.

Yacon as sweetener

When discussing dietary supplements, most people think of pill bottles lined up in the vitamins and minerals section of the local pharmacy. When it comes to yacon, however, most people use it in syrup form. It can, in fact, form an outstanding and completely natural sugar alternative. We all know the dangers of too much sugar in our diet, from obesity to diabetes to heart disease and even cancer.

There are many healthier and still natural alternatives to sugar on the market today, including stevia, sugar alcohols like xylitol, and of course, yacon syrup. Yacon has been hailed as a great sugar substitute; it’s up to 50% FGO, which means it passes right through your body undigested, while also curbing cravings and hunger as well as feeding positive bacteria in your gut (more on that below)[23].

The biggest downside to using yacon to sweeten your cereal or beverages is that its high fiber content can contribute to abdominal cramps, digestive issues and diarrhea. This is similar to the laxative effects that can be experienced from using sugar alcohols. However, these effects only occur when you consume too much of it at once[24].

While yacon can be hard to come by in the U.S. at this particular point in time, the good news is that it’s easy to grow and use all on your own. It’s a perennial plant, which once grown will come back year after year. All you need is moderate heat and enough rainfall[25]. Normally, the tubers form in the autumn and the growing season is roughly similar to that of tomatoes. Plants should be placed about a yard apart and require plenty of soil nutrients to thrive. You’ll want to harvest the plant as the leaves begin to whither in the colder months, gently lifting the tubers with a fork and snapping off the larger ones to use.

The syrup form of yacon has a flavor that has been described as floral, pear-like and similar to maple syrup, with the consistency of molasses or caramel[26]. As with many sugar substitutes, different people seem to have a different experience with the taste.

Yacon as a prebiotic

Finally, let’s look at the prebiotic qualities of yacon. This tuber contains large amounts of a fiber called inulin 101, which is a substance that has powerful and measurable health benefits in the body. It’s been linked to a range of gut health effects and is a very common additive in many foods and dietary supplements[27]; however, getting these nutrients from your diet is much better than getting them in supplementary form, and yacon syrup is an outstanding natural source of this substance.

In addition to FOS, yacon root is exceptionally rich in inulin, which is proven to improve the levels of positive bacteria in your gut, help reduce constipation, help your immune system function at a higher level and improve mineral absorption into the body, as well as regulating blood fats[28]. It’s also got powerful antioxidant properties which can help your immune system and healing processes in the body overall.

The science is there to back up the benefits of yacon-based products also. In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Food Medicine, it was found that yacon syrup was highly effective in aiding with the symptoms of constipation, both in terms of reducing evident symptoms and as a useful potential therapy for the condition[29].

Another study was published in Digestion in September 2008. This particular paper studied the effects yacon syrup might have on transmit time through the colon among healthy people. It used 16 participants over a series of 2-week periods interrupted by 2-week phases to wash out the substance[30]. The end findings were that the use of yacon syrup creates a marked acceleration in colonic transit among healthy patients. It was noted that the study is preliminary with a small sample size, but also that early results indicate that it could be an excellent treatment for constipation, particularly among those suffering from diabetes or obesity.

The sati line

It’s easy to say that more research needs to be done, but that’s the case with just about any dietary substance or new discovery. There is constant research going on even among well-established dietary guidelines, which are always being adjusted. The current line of research and published studies, from publicized trials like the Dr. Oz study to double-blind, peer-reviewed articles published in scientific journals, are all consistent in their findings.

Yacon root and yacon syrup derived from the root have measurable benefits in fostering weight loss, both by encouraging digestive function and in helping to curb the appetite of those who ingest it. Yacon is 100% safe when used properly, with the worst general side effects being potential abdominal distress, gas or diarrhea. Some rare individuals may be allergic to the food, and it’s recommended that you be tested for allergies before trying anything new. For most people, however, yacon can be an excellent addition to your diet and exercise routine.

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