Pronounced ya-cone, ever since it was featured in a Dr. Oz episode several years back, this Peruvian staple has been catapulted to superfood status in the minds of many.
While it appears to offer numerous health advantages, the biggest claim to fame it has going for it is dieting and diabetics. That’s exactly what Oz said it may be good for… but is it really?
What is yacon syrup?
The yacón is a South American daisy species. This plant’s large tuberous roots serve as a food source and one way to eat them is in the form of a syrup, which is made like maple syrup by using an evaporator. Yacon syrup is sweet because of fructooligosaccharides, but lower glycemic than pure fructose and sugar.
If you haven’t tasted it before, here is a popular brand on Amazon to check out.
Fructooligosaccharides is a hard word to say, but the advantage of them is easy to understand.
Called FOS for short, these are what give onions, garlic, artichokes, and many other veggies that subtle sweetness. They are a form of fructose but what makes them unique is that they are actually a chain of fructose molecules linked together.
With FOS, you really can have your cake and eat it too.
You taste the sweetness, yet they’re not absorbed by your body.
The FOS portion doesn’t cause cavities in your teeth, since the bacteria in your mouth can’t eat it. The enzyme in your gut that’s responsible for digesting carbs – glycosidases – can’t break down fructooligosaccharides, either.
What can eat fructooligosaccharides are the bacteria in your small intestine and hence, they serve as a prebiotic by promoting the growth of your probiotics
Because of the FOS content, the taste of yacon syrup is different. The closest thing to compare the flavor to would be molasses or caramel. The goopy consistency and texture on your tongue is even the same. It does have hints of raisin though and some people dislike that.
“If a fig married a prune, this is what it would taste like to me.”
That’s how Dr. Oz described it on his show. An audience member he asked described it “like candy in a jar.” Generally, most people like the taste.
The truth about glycemic impact
The fructose content of yacon syrup is not entirely made of FOS. For the dry unprocessed root, the amount of FOS can range from 6.4% to 70% depending on the crop and location. The composition of yacon syrup is up to 50% FOS and 35% fructose content. (3) (4)
At 35%, yacon syrup extract is not high in fructose when compared to other common sweeteners like honey (50%), agave syrup (90%), and high-fructose corn syrup (55% or 90%). Blackstrap molasses is lower (24%) while maple syrup, brown and white table sugar have almost none. That’s because they’re high in sucrose, which is a 50/50 mix of fructose and glucose linked together by a chemical bond.
Sucrose is rapidly broken down into those two compounds, which is why they say “sugar is sugar” regardless of form.
In most aspects that’s true, as long as it’s a digestible sugar (which FOS is not). Regardless of whether it’s fructose, glucose, or sucrose, all are digestible and will be equal in how many calories they have and each form will have a very similar effect on blood sugar levels.
Believe it or not, the glycemic index of yacon syrup has never been measured. Or least that’s according to The University of Sydney, who was the pioneer of that measurement and maintains the most comprehensive, constantly updated database of verified values on the web. If someone has measured it, they haven’t published the report for public viewing.
That lack of a glycemic index or load value isn’t that unusual. To test a food, you need 10+ healthy volunteers who are willing to spend about half a day fasting, eating, and then having their blood sugar measured. (5)
You would think one of the bestselling could bankroll such a study, like Genesis Today or Amazon Therapeutic Laboratories organic yacon syrup. Yet none have and since they’re selling it like hotcakes anyway, there isn’t much motive.
Some brands say it’s a zero glycemic sweetener and/or it’s zero calories like stevia, both of which are inaccurate claims.
Since up to 50% of the sugar content can’t be digested, on an equal weight basis it will undoubtedly have a far lower glycemic impact than white sugar, corn syrup, and most other common sweeteners. Still, low glycemic and low calorie is not the same thing as zero. The bottom line is that if it’s made using traditional recipes, without chemical or synthetic processes to remove the fructose component, all syrups will contain at least some fructose and that portion can influence blood sugar.
Based on a sugar conversion of equal amount, the syrup has almost 60% fewer calories – 20 vs. 45 per tbsp. That’s with your average pure syrup, regardless of brand.
Is yacon syrup healthy?
Yes and no. The portion which is FOS is great for diabetics and frankly everyone, since it does not increase blood sugar. However the other 35% or so is fructose and consuming large amounts of that can worsen insulin resistance even more so than starch (i.e. glucose). Since fructose is processed by the liver, over-consumption is a major risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). That’s an epidemic which strikes not only the obese, but also seemingly healthy slim men and women. (6)
Before you get scared off, remember that it’s still healthier for you than almost every other form of sugar.
Sure, the ratios of fructose, sucrose and glucose varies immensely between sugar, coconut sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave, date sugar, and blackstrap molasses, yet all of those are made of 100% digestible sugars. The difference with the carbs in yacon syrup is that up to 50% of them can’t be digested.
That makes using yacon syrup for weight loss better than all of those, assuming you’re consuming an equal portion that you otherwise would of table sugar, honey, etc.
One of the dangers is that thanks to Dr. Oz and internet hype, some have drawn the wrong conclusion that they should eat more yacon because it’s good for you.
It won’t be good for you in excess. It’s low carb, with up to 60% fewer calories versus those other sweeteners. A huge improvement, yet it’s not the same as guilt-free stevia and monk fruit which are 100% lower (they’re zero calorie).
Glycemic impact aside, when it comes to dieting, exactly how naughty is it on a side-by-side comparison?
This can be confusing because some products report by teaspoon while others use tablespoons (1 tbsp = 3 tsp).
Here’s how many calories there are in yacon versus other common sweeteners. We standardized the following serving sizes so they are all are based on an equal quantity of 1 teaspoon:
|Type of Sweetener||Brand/Product||Calories Per Teaspoon|
|1.||Monk fruit extract||Lakanto, diluted with erythritol||0|
|2.||Stevia||Stevia In The Raw, diluted with dextrose||0|
|3.||Yacon syrup||Sunfood Organics||7|
|4.||Balsamic vinegar glaze||Roland Foods||8|
|5.||White table sugar||any||15|
|8.||Maple syrup||Coombs Family Farms, Grade A||17|
|9.||Blackstrap molasses||Golden Barrel, unsulfured||17|
|10.||Jaggery powder||Deep Foods||20|
|11.||Agave syrup||Madhava Organic, light||20|
|12.||Manuka Honey||Trader Joe’s, 100% New Zealand sourced||23|
Of course the perceived sweetness of each is not apples to apples, so it’s not always fair to pit them against one another. Regardless, yacon is the only one of that list which contains a real form of sugar that’s not actually digested.
We use the above listed Sunfood brand to make a tasty lemonade. Add a teaspoon or two into lemon water and stir.
Sunfood sells it in an 8 oz. bottle that you can buy on Amazon.
Here’s what’s on the nutrition label for the brand Sunfood Organics, as reported by the USDA National Nutrient Database. Keep in mind it looks high calorie because it’s 2 tablespoons they have listed – that’s the equivalent of 6 teaspoons. (7)
|Yacon Syrup Nutrition Facts|
|Serving Size: 2 tablespoons (29.5 mL)|
|Calories From Fat||0|
|% Daily Value*||% Daily Value|
|Total Fat 0g||0||Vitamin A||0%|
|Trans Fat 0g||Vitamin C||0%|
|Total Carbs. 22g||7%||Iron 0.36mg||2%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||0%|
|*Percent Daily Values (DV) are based on a 2,000 calorie diet|
The ways yacon syrup can be bad for you include:
- Blood sugar spikes
- Abdominal cramping
- Excess gas and bloating
- Loose stools and diarrhea
- Weight gain
- Weight loss
- Candida yeast growth
- Not FODMAP diet compliant
- Allergic reaction
Many of the syrup’s negative side effects don’t seem to make sense and in fact, are contradictory. How can it cause you to lose AND gain weight?
Almost all of the the possible adverse reactions are the result of eating too much. In small dosages of one or two teaspoons per day, experiencing flatulence or any other symptom of digestive discomfort is very unlikely.
If you eat too much fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and/or soluble fiber from any vegetable or fruit, these reactions become increasingly likely.
Likewise for increasing weight and blood sugar. Using yacon as a substitute or replacement for other sugars is diabetic-friendly and might help you drop a few pounds, but if you eat it unnecessarily in high amounts, then it could actually cause a weight gain and promote high blood sugar.Raw pure yacon root is an excellent source of fiber, however the amount in syrup is usually zero grams.
That’s too bad because fiber is normally a good thing and it’s one of the reasons why the Dr. Oz show recommended this sweetener for “chronically constipated” people.
Compared to other root vegetables like white and sweet potatoes, yacon has significantly higher soluble fiber content. It’s comparable to taro root, which is around 4g of fiber per 100g serving (3.5 oz). This gets lost during conversion, as even raw yacon syrup is pressed in a way that results in the plant fibers getting mostly discarded.
Almost all brands will have less than 1g of fiber, with most listing 0g on the nutrition facts label because that’s what it rounds down to per serving.
Can you be allergic to yacon syrup?
While it’s theoretically possible to be allergic to any food, the good news is that having an allergy to yacon root or its syrup is extremely unlikely. In published medical literature, there is only one case study of an allergic reaction. It was a 55 year-old woman who suffered anaphylaxis after eating and that was for the whole root. As a sweetener, there isn’t documentation of reactions occurring. (12)
FODMAP diet compliant or not?
If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis (MS), eczema, or migraines, your doctor may place you on a low FODMAP diet to try and rule out potential trigger foods.
Basically, that means as little sugar as possible. Fructose, lactose, fructans (like FOS), sugar alcohols, etc. are all discouraged during the process. This means that yacon syrup and low FODMAP diets don’t go together. Then again, the same can be said about any other source of sugars or fermentable carbs.
Does yacon syrup cause cancer?
Like the zero calorie claim, this is another myth albeit a negative one. While it is true that sugars in general – regardless of form – accelerate cancer cell growth, there’s no evidence to suggest that yacon is any better or worse for you versus other sugars.
In fact, there is actually lab research which suggests the opposite, that certain compounds in the yacon root (Smallanthus sonchifolius) may actually offer anti-cancer properties.
Uvedafolin, which is a new type of sesquiterpene that’s been identified in the plant, has shown cytotoxicity against various tumor cell lines in the lab, including a form of melanoma, leukemia, cervical, and pancreas cancer.
However this compound was isolated from yacon leaves, which are poisonous and not edible for humans. They can cause kidney damage. It’s unknown how much – if any – exists in the edible root or syrup and whether or not those foods have any of the same cancer benefits in actual living organisms versus a test tube. (8) (9) (10)
One thing that is in the edible portion is the high concentration of FOS, which Brazilian scientists say might offer “potential for colon cancer prevention.” (11)
Is yacon syrup safe for candida?
Probably not. Those suffering from candida overgrowth in the intestinal tract are advised to stay away from fermentable sugars and adhere to a low FODMAP diet. It may actually be worse than sugar, since the FOS content can act as a prebiotic food source for bacteria and as well as fungi (Candida yeast) in the small intestine.
Safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding?
While there is no scientific evidence to suggest that using yacon root during pregnancy is dangerous or causes side effects, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe. As with many exotic foods, there just is not adequate research done on pregnant women or animals to determine whether or not it increases the risk of premature birth, miscarriage, and birth defects.
Since the root has been eaten for thousands of years in South America as a staple in their diet, most likely it is safe while pregnant and breastfeeding. However until clinical data can validate that, it would be premature to make that claim.
Weight loss studies
Way back in that Dr. Oz episode, among the uses he listed it as being best for people who are obese and overweight. His logic for doing was because it may support the good bacteria in the gut (since it’s a prebiotic) and there being preliminary evidence that it might lower levels of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin and result in a slimmer waist. Much of his enthusiasm seemed to be based on one human clinical trial.
That trial is nearly a decade old now. Unfortunately, similar studies have not been conducted, so the verdict on weight loss benefits isn’t much different now than it was back when that episode ran.
Even though just one human study has been done, the results of it are quite intriguing.
Here’s how the placebo-controlled and double-blinded study worked:
- 55 obese women participated, averaging 41 years old.
- None were on any prescription medications during the trial.
- 40 of them were placed in groups that received low and high yacon syrup dosages.
- 15 received a placebo version of the syrup.
- They were instructed to take it 1 hour before meals, with the dosage being split to twice daily.
- All groups were instructed to use their syrups daily for a period of 120 days.
- Other aspects of their diet were said to remain constant throughout the trial, such as the amount of carbs, fat, protein, calories, and fiber consumed.
The results were both good and bad:
The high dose group experienced gastrointestinal side effects such as gas. However that was to be expected because too much FOS will cause that regardless of source.
That group was getting 0.29 grams of FOS per kilogram of body weight each day. Since the syrup was 41.39% FOS and the average weight of these women was 89.2 kg (197 lbs), when you run all the numbers you discover it was 62g per day of the typical syrup extract.
In plain English, that’s 3 tablespoons of pure yacon syrup every day. An “overdose” amount since it causes GI side effects.
That’s the bad news, now for the good news…
The low dose group was consuming roughly half that amount – 0.14g of FOS per kg of body weight. Translated, that’s 1.5 tablespoons of syrup daily, or 4 teaspoons.
They did not experience the gas and bloating like the high dose group did. Even though it was a lower amount, it was a big success story…
The women in the placebo group actually gained weight, while those in the low dose yacon group lost 33 lbs on average!
But wait, there’s more. On average:
- 6 points were shaved off their BMI
- 4 inches off their waist circumference
- Serum glucose and insulin decreased
- Bad LDL cholesterol dropped
- No more constipation – daily bowel movements 99% of the time, versus 28% prior
Since the placebo group wasn’t experiencing these health benefits, we are left to conclude the sweetener most likely was the reason. (13)
Of course it is disappointing there aren’t more studies about losing weight but as you can imagine, that’s not unusual because there’s very little financial incentive for anyone to pay for expensive human trials. There’s not something like the California Avocado Commission for this niche superfood!
While there aren’t any more on weight loss, there was another about yacon syrup for constipation in 2015. The elderly adults who participated experienced improvement (14):
“…not only was its functional characteristic in reducing constipation symptoms evident but it also demonstrated usefulness as a potential therapy.”
That further substantiates the very first study done about this sweetener, which was in 2008. Swiss researchers tested it for “colonic transit time” and found it was well tolerated with an “excellent side effect profile” and faster transit time in the colon, meaning it was good for constipation. (15)
While there isn’t enough research to claim any health advantage is proven, when you weigh the yacon syrup pros and cons, the scale tilts in favor of using it. Since the root requires refining to make it, technically it’s not Paleo and sources of carbs are never good for a ketogenic diet. Though it is vegan, gluten free, non-GMO, and appears to be a safe and lower glycemic sweetener vs. sugar and honey.
In a matchup of yacon vs. stevia, you could even argue that this root syrup wins. It’s not zero calorie, but the danger of stevia is that it’s mutagenic after digestion. Meaning, it has been found to mutate DNA. That’s why the U.S. government’s recommended limit on stevia is only the equivalent of 9 packets per day.
To sum it all up…
Benefits of yacon syrup
- Good for weight loss in preliminary research
- Low glycemic means it’s better for diabetics
- Fewer calories than other common sweeteners
- FOS portion does not cause cavities
- Healthier sugar substitute for coffee
- Promotes bowel regularity
- Some brands are a source of fiber
- May help lower LDL bad cholesterol
- Safer than stevia
Can you bake with yacon syrup? Unfortunately not. When exposed to high temperatures, it will breakdown the beneficial fructooligosaccharides. To prevent this, keep it below 120°C (250°F). Using it in coffee works, since that’s always cooler. (18)
If you’re cooking with it, your only option is to stir or drizzle it on afterward – e.g. spreading it on cake as a healthier frosting alternative.
If you leave the cap off, you will notice the syrup hardens. If you were to let the moisture completely evaporate, you would be left with a powdered sweetener similar to table sugar.
Yacon powder vs. syrup vs. pills, which is better?
You can buy it as a powder or even a pill but since the research so far used the liquid form, it seems like that would be your best bet. There isn’t good data about how it may or may not change on the molecular level when it’s dried. Supplement yacon pills are perhaps the stupidest idea. That would kind of be like taking sugar inside of a gelatin capsule. What’s the fun in that?
Some of the top rated brands you will recognize, while most are niche manufacturers that have very few customer reviews. Here’s a rundown of almost every supplier:
- Abundant Health
- Amazon Therapeutic Labs
- Belmont Jarabe
- Essential Living Foods
- Elana’s Pantry
- Genesis Today
- Gold Source Labs
- Loving Earth
- Lean Health
- Living Health
- Navitas Naturals
- Nature 365 Super
- Nature Botanical Farms
- Organic Traditions
- Quality Encapsulations
- Raw Food World
- Swanson Vitamins
- Terrasoul Superfoods (powder)
- Vitamin Shoppe
- Young Living
- Z Naturals
The truth is that there are many good manufacturers. Don’t fall for marketing lingo like “royal dark” and other adjectives. Instead, just focus on finding a pure syrup. About a quarter of the brands are USDA certified organic and several are kosher certified.
The big trap to be aware of is fake yacon syrup.
It’s so expensive since it comes from South America and requires an evaporation process to make the final product. While few are brazen enough to sell 100% bogus liquid, be on the lookout for products that “water down” the sweetener with other added ingredients.
Perhaps it’s literally added water, which can be evident based on the calorie count. If it’s below 20 calories per tablespoon (7 calories per teaspoon) that should be a red flag that it has higher water content than average.
Where to buy
Can I buy yacon syrup at Walmart or Trader Joe’s?
Probably not. Trader Joe’s doesn’t currently make it and while you can find it on Walmart.com, locating it locally at your store is unlikely. Even a local Whole Foods here in LA we checked did not sell it. Nor does GNC. This remains a niche superfood.
Your best chance will be at The Vitamin Shoppe in the US and Canada, or a place like Holland and Barrett in the UK. In a place like India, Ireland, or New Zealand… fuhgettaboutit!
It seems to be too expensive to be sold by the gallon but if you look online, you can find affordable brands. On Amazon, this bottle from Zint is both favorably reviewed and affordable.
For a smaller amount, try Alovitox. It’s a USDA organic brand and they use glass jars. You can buy Alovitox on Amazon.
Whatever type you choose, remember the best yacon syrup dosage for weight loss will be no more than 1.5 tablespoons (4 teaspoons) per day. Higher amounts produced GI discomfort in the study. Use it as a replacement for higher calorie sweeteners in your daily routine.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.