It is quite possible that you have already heard of yacon syrup, especially if you are interested in nutritional medicine and natural sugar alternatives. Perhaps you read about it
in an advertisement touting its fat burning benefits. To some, such hype is a red flag, warning them against yet another dietary fad, which could spawn a plethora of questionable products making unrealistic claims. Is yacon the new acai or green coffee supplement, or is it another incarnation of the cabbage soup or grapefruit diets? In the following paragraphs, we will discuss the history and science of this substance, which may help you decide whether it is a suitable product for your needs.
What is Yacon Syrup?
The yacon root is a tuber that grows in the Andes region, and it resembles a thin, pale sweet potato. Many natives of Peru, Brazil and Bolivia have been ingesting the roots and leaves for centuries, and some of them claim that the Incas made sweeteners from these tubers. Today, diabetics living in the Andes still use tuber extract as a sweetener and the leaves for tea, which they claim is beneficial for controlling their blood sugar.
The process for making yacon syrup is very similar to maple syrup production. The roots contain fiber, saccharides, and water, which the manufacturers extract as raw juice. Then they use evaporation techniques to remove all of the water from the extract, leaving only the concentrated syrup, which is very sweet. Many people liken the flavor of this syrup to molasses or browned sugar.
History of use outside of South America
A couple of decades ago, the Japanese discovered the benefits of yacon extract as a low glycemic sugar alternative, and the plant has become popular in Western countries in recent years as a sugar substitute and for its purported benefits to the colon. Yacon contains oligofructans, which are saccharides that do not increase blood sugar levels, so it is easy to see why this alternative is attractive to diabetics and people with other metabolic disorders. The extract has become more popular among Western consumers seeking ways to control their body weight as well.
How does Yacon improve gut health?
First, you need to understand that gut health depends greatly on the microflora balance in the GI tract. Probiotic species of bacteria are normal residents in the gut, and these microbes keep it healthy by fighting pathogens and preventing damage to the gut lining. A healthy gut protects every living cell in your body from attacks by pathogens or erratic autoimmune responses. Keeping probiotic colonies strong can prevent many health issues, including viral, fungal, and bacterial infections, gastrointestinal inflammation, food poisoning, food allergies, and studies have linked probiotics to many other immunological benefits. If you have eaten yogurts and cultured dairy products touting “live cultures”, then you have had experience with probiotics. Along with the calcium and other nutrients, the probiotics are what make yogurt “good for you”.
Prebiotics are the substances that “feed” probiotics and encourage them to multiply. There is a wealth of information supporting the benefits of fiber in our diets, especially the fiber from whole grains and fruits and vegetables. The main reason why you need this fiber is to feed your probiotic colonies. Yacon plants are rich in fiber and Fructooligosaccharides, which we will call “FOS” to keep it simple. FOS are natural sugars on which probiotic organisms thrive. In fact, some of the more potent probiotic supplements contain FOSs along with the live cultures to make the supplements more effective. These sugars are the ingredients that drive the benefits of yacon syrup.
Weight loss claims
Diet fads seem to change with the seasons, but the search for nutritional alternatives is not only about marketing. The United States and other Western countries continue to struggle with rising obesity rates and the destructive diseases associated with obesity. Diabetes and insulin resistance top the list of the most deadly consequences of being overweight. As a result, researchers have studied possible yacon syrup benefits related to blood sugar and body weight control. Dietitians have already established that one’s risk of metabolic syndrome rises with one’s waist size and body mass index (BMI). Irregular blood glucose and insulin levels are also hallmarks of insulin resistance, which is a “pre-diabetic” condition where blood insulin levels are normal to high, yet the body cannot use this insulin. High insulin levels are the cause of hypoglycemia, which is a dangerous drop in blood sugar.
A 2009 Argentinian trial gave daily doses of yacon extract to a group of obese women who suffered from insulin resistance. The results were very promising, as researchers reported that these women lost significant amounts of weight and belly fat, which reduced their waist circumferences and lowered their risks for metabolic syndrome. Regular tests of the subjects’ blood serum levels revealed that the syrup reduced fasting insulin levels and did not created any spikes in blood glucose levels. The subjects also reported more regulated bowel movements and fewer hunger spells and cravings while using the extract. The syrup is about seventy percent sweeter than ordinary sugar, and so one only needs a small amount to sweeten food and drinks. As a result, one can obtain the same level of sweetness as sugar with less product and fewer calories.
Another study from the Czech University of Agriculture, Prague, concluded that yacon roots contain various nutrients, including minerals like calcium, potassium, riboflavin and thiamine; Vitamins B1, B2, C, and beta-carotene; polyphenols, the amino acid tryptophan, and the antioxidant chlorogenic acid. The researchers also isolated anti-fungal substances from the leaves of the plant, which may offer more health benefits, but this finding will need further investigation. The study mentions other reported benefits of the plant, including its soothing properties for skin conditions and GI tract complaints.
While some consumers may trust folk wisdom and historical evidence from the Andes, others may require scientific support from clinical trials before trying yacon syrup. Either way, your personal needs and your doctor’s advice should also factor into your decision. Please consult your physician before trying any new supplements or alternative and nutritional medicines. Currently, the FDA deems yacon products safe for the general population; however, European and Canadian health authorities warn against using baby formulas that contain this ingredient.
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