Have you heard of yacon syrup? This sweet-tasting alternative to sugar (pronounced “yuh-KON”) is becoming more and more popular in the low-carb community.
Yacon syrup is packed with prebiotic fiber that feeds good gut bacteria, and preliminary studies suggest that it might even help with weight loss. While human research on yacon is still a bit sparse, there are several potential benefits that make yacon attractive for low-carb dieters with a sweet tooth.
Is yacon really a good weight loss aid? And is yacon syrup keto? Let’s take a closer look at the health benefits and side effects of this natural sweetener, as well as how it fits into a keto lifestyle.
Yacon syrup comes from the roots of smallanthus sonchifolius (also called the yacon plant or the peruvian ground apple). Yacon is native to the Andes in South America, where it’s been used for centuries as a local folk medicine.
Yacon is a tuber, much like a sweet potato, and its roots can be made into a low-carb syrup that’s a natural sweetener.
To make yacon syrup, yacon roots are crushed to release juice, and the juice is then filtered and evaporated until a thick syrup is left. Yacon syrup has a sweet taste and amber color, with a consistency somewhere between maple syrup and molasses.
The main ingredients in yacon syrup are fructooligosaccharides (FOS), a type of soluble fiber that passes through your system without being digested.
FOS are made of sugars, which imparts a sweet taste, but humans lack the enzymes to break FOS down, so they pass through your digestive tract intact and contribute no energy that your body can actually use. You get sweetness without an accompanying spike in blood sugar.
That said, yacon syrup isn’t entirely sugar-free. It does still contain fructose and glucose, which are simple sugars[*]. However, with only 6g of sugar per tablespoon, yacon syrup is fairly low-carb, and a small amount of it goes a long way.
Yacon contains a few beneficial compounds that may improve your health, ranging from prebiotic fiber to antioxidants. There are a few potential health benefits of yacon syrup, although it’s worth noting that human research on yacon is somewhat sparse. Here are the main possible yacon benefits:
Blood Sugar Control
Eating yacon may help keep your insulin levels stable, which decreases your risk of heart disease and supports steady energy throughout the day.
Prebiotics For Gut Health
The fructooligosaccharides in yacon resist digestion as they move through your stomach — you lack the enzymes to break them down.
But the beneficial bacteria in your gut do have the enzymes to digest FOS, and they’re more than happy to use FOS as a food source. Eating yacon syrup provides a prebiotic effect, feeding all those gut microflora and helping to improve overall gut health[*].
Not only that, but when your gut bacteria digest the FOS in yacon syrup, they produce short-chain fatty acids that fight inflammation and protect your gut lining from damage. Short-chain fatty acids may also speed up your metabolism[*].
Yacon may have beneficial effects on obesity. A single study in humans found that when obese women with insulin resistance took yacon syrup daily, they saw decreases in body weight, waist circumference, and body mass index[*].
Their insulin resistance also improved, which could be due to inulin, a type of fiber in yacon that regulates blood sugar.
A lot of yacon syrup marketers rely heavily on this study to push the idea that yacon root is a powerful weight loss supplement. That said, it’s worth noting that the study has never been replicated, and yacon syrup on its own probably won’t make up for poor diet or lack of exercise.
While it probably won’t cause significant weight loss on its own, yacon could be a valuable addition to a healthy lifestyle. If you’re looking to lose weight, this guide may help.
Yacon is rich in a few different antioxidants, including caffeic, chlorogenic, and ferulic acids, which are similar to the antioxidants in coffee. These compounds may decrease inflammation and protect your cells from oxidative stress[*].
Possible Anti-Cancer Benefits
Research is still in its early stages, but a couple of studies have found that yacon extract (from yacon leaves and roots) may kill cancer cells and prevent cancer from spreading.
- In a 2012 study, rats with colon were given either yacon alone or yacon plus a probiotic for 13 weeks. Both groups had a significant decrease in cancer cell growth[*].
- A study from 2017 found that yacon extract killed isolated breast cancer cells in a test tube setting[*].
While this research shows promise, it’s still quite young. Yacon may have anti-cancer properties, but to be clear, natural remedies are not a substitute for a comprehensive cancer treatment plan. Always work closely with your doctor.
Yacon syrup is rich in fructooligosaccharides and another type of fiber called inulin. These prebiotic fibers are great for some people and not so great for others. Depending on the bacteria in your gut, too much prebiotic fiber may cause bloating, cramps, and digestive distress.
Your best bet with yacon syrup is to start slow. Try a teaspoon at first and see how your gut responds.
If you struggle with FODMAPS or you have a sensitive gut, yacon syrup may not be the best choice when it comes to natural sweeteners.
Yacon syrup has a rich, malted flavor that’s similar to molasses. It’s an excellent low-carb substitute for honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, brown sugar, or molasses.
Yacon syrup can add depth to baked goods and keep them from drying out, and it’s a great addition to smoothies.
Yacon is a little less sweet than table sugar, so you may want to mix it with another low-carb sweetener. Stevia and monk fruit extract both mix well with yacon. In fact, if you find stevia has an unpleasant aftertaste, mixing in yacon is a good way to neutralize the flavor.
Yacon can certainly fit into the macros of a ketogenic diet, but you should be aware of how much you use. While yacon root is fairly low in carbs, it does have some digestible sugars in it. Plus, too much yacon syrup can cause digestive issues.
Yacon syrup has 6g of sugar per tablespoon, although it’s sweet enough that a little bit goes a long way. And because of its consistency and flavor profile, yacon syrup is an excellent substitute for maple syrup or molasses. It offers the same moisture and viscosity without as much sugar and it doesn’t have a strange aftertaste.
Yacon syrup can definitely have a place in a keto diet as long as you factor it into your macros, and it may benefit your gut bacteria, waistline, and blood sugar.
If you’re looking for a new healthy alternative sweetener, give yacon syrup a try. And if yacon isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other keto natural sweeteners to choose from, each with its own unique benefits. Nutrition is quite personal; try a few and see what feels good for you.