Yacon syrup has recently become popular as a weight loss aid. For many, it can be difficult to determine whether this is another ‘fad’ diet product, or, if indeed yacon syrup can help with weight loss. This article will explain what yacon syrup is, investigate how yacon syrup is claimed to help with weight loss, and determine whether yacon syrup can actually help people lose weight.
What is Yacon syrup?
Yacon syrup is a dark thick sweet tasting syrup (it has been described to taste similar to raisins), which is extracted from the root of a plant called Smallanthus sonchifolius, which is native to South America. Nutritionally, yacon syrup contains very little, and is primarily made up of simple sugars. As yacon syrup is a natural product, the actual quantity of these sugars will vary due to growing conditions, but typically, one tablespoon of yacon syrup will contain between 8g-12g of simple sugars.
Sugars in Yacon syrup
The sugars in Yacon syrup are quite unique, and are unlike the majority of plants has a unique make up of plant sugars:
50% Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) – The majority of the sugars in yacon syrup are FOS, which we are unable to absorb in our digestive system. This means that we are unable to access the energy (calories) in this sugar, but will still taste the sweetness. Aside from being a natural zero calorie sweetener, FOS is a well known prebiotic (components of our food, usually fibres, which selectively promote the activity and/ or growth of probiotics). FOS acting as a prebiotic is well documented and recorded, and so demonstrates a very clear benefit benefit for the digestive system in helping to promote beneficial bacteria.
35% ‘free’ fructose – Unlike FOS, we can absorb fructose and so are able to access the energy. However, only our liver is able to process fructose into usable energy (unlike glucose). Fructose also doesn’t have any impact on our insulin levels, avoids the dangerous and undesirable fluctuations in energy levels which are associated with consuming regular ‘table’ sugar, which contains glucose. This will help to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and minimize the risk of increasing the amount of body fat.
However, fructose is not without its negative effects on health. Consuming large amount of fructose, such as drinking fruit juices, has been shown to increase circulating LDL levels, which is an indicator of an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Yacon syrup provides 2.g-4.6g of fructose, which is not enough to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, but it will contribute to total fructose consumed, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
How to use Yacon syrup
Many manufacturers suggest eating 1-2 tablespoons throughout the day. Whilst this will provide your digestive system with beneficial FOS, it will still add calories from fructose to your diet, and so is unlikely to actually aid with weight loss, and will only increase the amount of fructose you consume. A much better use of yacon syrup will be to use it as a sweetener for drinks such as tea and coffee. By using yacon syrup as a sweetener for drinks you will avoid you consuming as many calories from sugar, avoid insulin fluctuations, and help to improve gut health.
How Yacon syrup may work
Assuming you drink an average of 3 cups of tea/ coffee a day with 1-2 teaspoons of sugar; switching to using yacon syrup instead of sugar you would cut out approximately 16g-32g of sugar (64kcals- 128kcals) a day. Although you will still be getting some calories from the fructose and additional sugars which are found in small quantities, you may still be reducing your daily calories by approximately 50kcals- 100kcals. A healthy deficit of calories for weight loss is around 300kcals, so by substituting yacon syrup for sugar in your tea/ coffee you can cause a calorie deficit of up to 33% of what is required. This suggests that yacon syrup may be able to help support your weight loss goals, but additional dietary changes would be needed.
Evidence that Yacon can help with weight loss
As yacon syrup is still a new food/ sweetener, it is unsurprising that there are very few studies on yacon syrup to prove/ disprove the claims made for it, and the simple calculations above only show it has the potential to help with weight loss and doesn’t prove it.