Have you heard of yacon syrup? This sweet-tasting alternative to sugar (pronounced “yuh-kon”) is becoming increasingly popular in the low-carb community.
Yacon syrup is packed with prebiotic fiber that feeds good gut bacteria, and early studies suggest that it might even help with weight loss. While there’s not much human research on yacon, there are several potential benefits that make it attractive for low-carb dieters with a sweet tooth.
Learn about 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 the yacon plant, which is officially called smallanthus sonchifolius or the Peruvian ground apple. Yacon originally comes from the Andes Mountains in South America, where it’s been used for centuries as 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.
Yacon roots are crushed to release juice. That juice is then filtered and evaporated until a thick syrup is left. Yacon syrup has a sweet taste and amber color, with a thickness that’s somewhere between maple syrup and molasses.
The main compounds in yacon are called fructooligosaccharides (FOS), a type of soluble fiber that passes through your system without being digested.
FOS are made of sugars, which give yacon syrup its sweet taste. Since the human digestive system doesn’t have the enzymes to break down FOS , they pass through your digestive tract in one piece. Because of this, they don’t give your body any energy that it can use. This means that yacon has a low glycemic index since you get sweetness without a spike in blood sugar (or blood glucose).
That said, yacon syrup isn’t entirely sugar-free. It still contains fructose and glucose, two simple sugars[*]. However, with only 6 grams of sugar per tablespoon, this syrup is fairly low-carb and low-calorie. Plus, a small amount goes a long way.
Yacon has a few beneficial compounds, ranging from prebiotic fiber to antioxidants, that may improve your health. While these compounds offer several potential health benefits, it’s worth noting that human research on yacon is somewhat limited.
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 have the enzymes to digest FOS, and they’re more than happy to use FOS as a food source. Consuming 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, 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 marketers rely heavily on this study to push the idea that yacon root is a powerful weight loss supplement. It’s worth noting that the study has never been replicated, and yacon syrup on its own won’t make up for a poor diet or lack of exercise.
While it probably won’t cause significant weight loss by itself, yacon could be a valuable addition to a healthy lifestyle. If you’re looking to lose weight, check out this guide to the keto diet and weight loss.
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 cancer 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 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 slowly. Try a teaspoon at first and see how your gut responds.
If you struggle with FODMAPS or you have a sensitive gut, yacon may not be the best choice when it comes to natural sweeteners.
Syrup from yacon 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.
It adds depth to baked goods and keep them from drying out. Plus, 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. If you find stevia has an unpleasant aftertaste, mixing in yacon is a good way to neutralize the flavor.
Yacon can 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. Also, too much of this syrup can cause digestive issues.
Pure yacon syrup has 6 grams of sugar per tablespoon, although a little bit goes a long way. And because of its consistency and flavor profile, yacon 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.
It’s probably best to consider yacon a treat, rather than something for daily consumption.
If you’re looking for a healthy sugar substitute or 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 unique benefits. Nutrition is personal — try different options and see what feels good for you.