What is Yacon?

Yacon ( Smallanthus sonchifolia) is a root vegetable native to South America where it has been a diet staple for centuries (1). The yacon plant has a large tuber root, similar to the look of a sweet potato, however, the flesh of a yacon is described as being sweet and crunchy, more similar to an apple or pear rather than a potato. This natural sweetness is due to yacon’s higher levels of fructose. In the food supply, yacon can be consumed in a number of forms including whole, dried, ground into powder or flour, and as yacon syrup.

What is yacon syrup?

Yacon syrup is a sweetener made by evaporating the juice of a yacon root until it resembles a molasses-like texture.  Yacon syrup may still not be a common sight on your grocery aisle shelves but has been getting more attention especially for individuals managing diabetes as a natural sweetener option.

What are the benefits of yacon for diabetes?

Nutritionally yacon has a high concentration of fructooligosaccharides (FOS). FOS are known to resist digestion in the stomach and small intestines resulting in a blunted blood sugar response and has been shown to increase feelings of post-meal satiety. That is a benefit alone however the greater benefits may occur as a result of these prebiotic sugars passing along to the colon where they are fermented by gut bacteria.  Studies show that consuming dietary sources of FOS may boost bifidobacterium, a beneficial gut bacteria (5,6). Additionally, more research is showing the potential benefits of Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFA), the metabolic byproducts produced by gut bacteria consuming FOS, which may support improved intestinal barrier function, immune response and glucose metabolism (7).

Using yacon for better blood sugar control

With a lower calorie contribution and glycemic load, yacon offers benefits for managing blood sugars while still providing sweetness.  Studies also suggest that SCFA produced from the prebiotic fibers in yacon may support signaling molecules for glucose homeostasis and lipid metabolism (2). This may make this sweetener an option to reduce post-meal blood sugar spikes and potentially improve cholesterol profiles.

In a randomized, double-blinded, crossover study participants consumed 40 grams of yacon syrup versus placebo. In the yacon syrup group, glucose and insulin concentrations were lower in the postprandial period (3).

Is yacon a safe sweetener alternative?

Consuming yacon root in various forms, including yacon syrup appears to be safe and may even provide some potential health benefits.  For other areas of the plant, more research may be needed especially examining the effects on the kidneys.  A 2011 study examined the anti-diabetic impacts of yacon leaf extract and found it to have rental toxic effects (4). If consumed in larger quantities yacon root may cause some gas and bloating due to the high levels of prebiotic fibers, however reducing the amount and frequency of use should reduce these side effects.

 

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