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The Benefits of Yacon Syrup- The Healthy Sugar Substitute
There are many purported benefits of yacon syrup. From diabetic control, to weight loss, to digestive health and improved immunity, let’s find out if these claims are true. First of all, in case you didn’t read my previous post on Yacon Syrup, unlike the artificial sweetener Aspartame and it’s Side Effects, is a completely natural and minimally-processed(1) sweetener from a starchy sweet potato-like root indigenous to the Andes mountains of Peru that is often eaten raw and has a long history of use. What makes it unique is that much of its sweetness comes, not from sugars, as we traditionally think of them, but from a soluble carbohydrate ‘prebiotic’ fiber called Fructooligosaccharide, or FOS. FOS doesn’t affect blood sugars in the way that other sugars do, and it also is a food source for good bacteria in your gut. This and other qualities of yacon, such as its antioxidant content, give rise to many of its health benefits.
Yacon Syrup for Candida
Yacon is a unique sweetener because it contains over 50% fructooligosaccharides, the highest concentration of any known plant (1). Also known as FOS, this carbohydrate is indeed a sweet tasting sugar, however, FOS is also considered a soluble fiber, and is 25-30% lower in calories than other sugars, and is known as a ‘prebiotic’. This prebiotic effect is what really sets yacon syrup apart from other natural sweeteners and makes it a healthy superfood. A prebiotic is a substance that feeds the good bacteria in the digestive tract. Unlike sugar that can feed the ‘bad’ candida yeast in the gut, which contributes to symptoms of Intestinal Candida, prebiotics like FOS feed the good bacteria in the gut. Since these good bacteria compete for the same space with candida yeast in the intestinal tract, yacon may be a safe alternative for those on diets to limit the growth of Candida yeast.
It could also be beneficial in helping those with candida through its noted improvements in the immune system. It’s a little known fact that approximately 75% of the immune system lies in the digestive tract, and the improvement in gut bacteria may be at least partly responsible for the improvements seen in the immune system in those taking yacon. However, the polyphenols and other antioxidants in yacon are almost certainly contributors to the immune system improvements, as well.
Diabetic Blood Sugar Control
Since FOS is lower in calories than sugar, and it contains 50% FOS that do not affect blood sugars, it doesn’t raise blood glucose levels to the extent that sugar does. So, it can be used in limited quantities by some diabetics and not raise blood sugar levels to the extent that sweeteners like honey, agave and sugar do(3). While this does not give diabetics carte blanche to eat all the yacon syrup they want, for those diabetics that use sweeteners in moderation, and want to avoid the nasty Side Effects of Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners, yacon syrup could be the right choice.
This blunting of blood sugar may also be responsible for the weight loss seen in several studies. Since most of the studies on weight loss and yacon were done on diabetics(4), the weight loss effect that is prominent on most sites discussing yacon may be due to the blood sugar modulating effects in diabetics, and this may not translate to weight loss in anyone without blood sugar issues, however, with 30% calories than sugar, anyone who needs to lose weight could potentially benefit in many ways by simply switching from sugar to yacon, even if doesn’t help them to lose weight.
As was pointed out earlier, the FOS in yacon syrup feed good bacteria in the digestive tract. Specifically, it feeds good bacteria such as Bifidus and Lactobacillis species, and it passes undigested all the way to the colon. This quality of remaining undigested is both the reason why it can feed these bacteria, and why it is lower in calories than traditional sugars, the carbohydrates, like other fibers, simply pass right through the digestive tract without any calories being absorbed. Possibly because of the effect of the FOS, or because of other, yet undefined reasons, yacon has been shown in several studies to cause bowel transit time to be faster(2). What this means is that the time from eating to pooping is quicker, which can help to improve constipation in some people. Yacon also seems to have the ability to bring more water into the colon, which can also help with constipation.
Because yacon can feed the good bacteria in the gut, this can lead to some temporary digestive distress in people with a badly damaged gut microbiome, and has caused bloating, gas and digestive problems in some people,particularly those with chronic digestive problems. This is the same as we outline on the Xylitol Side Effects page, another ‘prebiotic’ fiber sugar substitute. While in studies, these effects were no worse than those in the placebo group, it would be prudent for those with serious digestive tract microbiota disturbances to start out taking yacon in small doses to gauge the effect.
Overall, it seems that yacon syrup would be an excellent and tasty substitute for sugar and artificial sweeteners in many recipes. I certainly am impressed by the research and the taste, as I discuss on my Review of Yacon Syrup, is pleasant and delicious. I’m surprised that yacon syrup has not received more attention from the health community, as there seem to be a lot of benefits and few downsides to taking it regularly.
(1) Yacon Syrup, Principles and Processing
(2) Effect of Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius) on Colonic Transit Time in Healthy Volunteers
(3) Gut microbiota and metabolic disorders: how prebiotic can work?
(4) Yacon syrup: Beneficial effects on obesity and insulin resistance in humans