(NaturalNews) North Americans are catching on to the benefits of yacon syrup, a traditional South American food that may help prevent or even treat a myriad of digestive and metabolic health conditions.
Yacon syrup is derived from the tuberous roots of the yacon plant (Smallanthus sonchifolius), a sunflower relative native to the Andes Mountains. It is said to taste similar to figs or raisins.
Both the tuber and a sugary syrup derived from it have been a part of the traditional Andean diet for hundreds if not thousands of years. In modern Peru, Bolivia and Brazil, the syrup is prized as a low calorie, low sugar sweetener with medicinal benefits for digestive disorders, kidney problems and diabetes.
Endorsed by Dr. Oz
Yacon syrup burst into the public consciousness recently when it was publicly endorsed by Dr. Oz on his television show, in an episode that first aired Nov. 4, 2013. Oz announced that the syrup could help people lose weight without changing any of their other diet or exercise habits.
Oz's claim was based on a trial that he conducted, in which 60 women from his audience were instructed to eat one teaspoon of yacon syrup before each of their three daily meals for four weeks. At the end of the experiment, 73 percent of the women had lost weight (an average of three pounds), and had lost an average of two inches from their waist circumferences. The women reported that eating the yacon syrup had made them feel full longer.
At least two other studies have suggested that yacon syrup may have several of the health benefits claimed for it. A study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition in 2009 found that obese women who consumed 3-4 teaspoons of the syrup daily lost an average of 33 pounds over the course of four months, as well as experiencing significant decreases in waist circumference and levels of insulin and LDL ("bad") cholesterol. However, the study is not considered conclusive because the women were also instructed to reduce their caloric intake and increase their exercise by 45 minutes per day.
Another study, published in Plant, Soil, Environment in 2003, confirmed that yacon syrup has a low glycemic index, meaning that it causes only a minimal increase in blood sugar levels. This makes it less likely to contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes and an acceptable sweetener for people who already have the disease.
"The tuberous roots of yacon have a sweet taste and because the human body is not able to metabolize the fructooligosaccharides [FOS], yacon does not put on body weight," the researchers wrote.
"Yacon sweetness... does not bring a glycemic reaction. From this point of view, yacon saccharides have been an ideal sweetener for diabetics.
Fiber and good bacteria
Yacon syrup is considered low calorie, containing only 20 calories per tablespoon. The FOS sugars that give the syrup its sweetness are processed by the body like fiber, contributing to digestive and metabolic health. In addition, FOS and other yacon syrup ingredients such as inulin function as prebiotics, encouraging the growth of healthy gut bacteria that have been linked to stronger immune and digestive systems, as well as less inflammation and healthier weight.
Although the syrup is not a magic bullet, it may give a helpful boost to people who are already making changes to diet and exercise in order to improve their health.
"It contains half of the calories of sugar, promotes healthy bacteria in the digestive system, is loaded with minerals including potassium, and is low glycemic," said Arielle Haspel of Be Well with Arielle. "So yes, it is a healthier alternative to processed sugars and has a lot of health benefits."