Will yacon syrup help you lose weight?

yacon-syrupYacon syrup is a natural, low-calorie sweetener that may pave the way for weight loss by conditioning the gut.

This sweet syrup is made with the juice of a plant native to the South American Andes. Preparations derived from Yacon roots have been used medicinally for centuries to treat digestive disorders and kidney problems. (1)

The secret is in the molecular structure of the fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which accounts for most of the sugar in yacon syrup, as well as the bulk of the sweet flavor it imparts.

Connecting structure between molecules of FOS is unique, making it unrecognizable by the digestive tract.  That means it tickles the taste buds, and then slips on through the digestion process without adding a lot of calories.

Yacon syrup is one of the richest dietary sources of fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which is also found in lesser amounts in other vegetables, like leeks, artichokes, onions, and garlic.

Also known as Smallanthus sonchifolius, the yacon root looks a lot like a sweet potato. The syrup is made in a process very much like maple sugar: juice is extracted, filtered and evaporated, with no chemicals used or added.

The syrup contains roughly 40% to 50% fructooligosaccharides, some fiber in the form of inulin, and a sprinkling of fructose, sucrose and glucose, which the system does recognize and digest. One tablespoon delivers about 20 calories from those three sources of sugar. Sucrose, or table sugar, runs at 48 calories per tablespoon. (2)

Indulging a sweet tooth has derailed dieters with the best of intentions, so this new take on taste might be the definitive answer to tripping the pleasure meter and supporting healthy body weight at the same time.

Down the hatch

The greatest benefits from using yacon syrup may come from the way it affects friendly bacteria in the human digestive system.

When the sweetener works its way down to the large intestine, the fructooligosaccharides nourish resident friendly bacteria; we can’t digest FOS, but the bacteria can, and the end result is improvement of the gut environment.

Keeping those little guys happy is a good move; when our guts have the right stuff to do the job the way it’s meant to be done, we can think more clearly, our immune systems function better, and the risk of developing serious health disorders like diabetes drops. (3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

Feeding the friendly gut bacteria with FOS can also decrease appetite. Fructooligosaccharides affect secretion levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone that lets you know it’s time to eat. (8, 9)

Studies with rats included analysis of byproducts from the bacterial digestion process of FOS, some of which include short-chain fatty acids that can help prevent weight gain, increase metabolism and improve colon health. (10, 11)

Single Study Shows Good Results

Yacon syrup is a relative newcomer to the diet aid scene, so there’s not much in the way of research to draw from yet. There are bound to be more trials and studies on its effects in the future, and the general reaction from nutritional experts is what you’d expect: more information is necessary to determine if it’s really effective as a weight-loss supplement.

As clinical trials go, this 4-month study was fairly small; 55 obese women with high cholesterol and constipation problems participated for 4 months, with results correlated for body weight and Body Mass Index (BMI), cholesterol levels, insulin sensitivity and frequency of bowel movements. (12)

Participants in the placebo-controlled double-blind trial were asked to follow a low-fat diet and cut back on total calories.

Over 16 weeks, 40 of the women took yacon syrup while the other 15 were given a syrup without active ingredients.

Women taking yacon syrup experienced dramatic changes in BMI and metabolism; the others reached the end of the trail without much difference in measured markers.

The yacon group dropped an average of 33 pounds, while the others packed on about 3.5 pounds each. Waist measurements didn’t change in the placebo group, but the women taking yacon syrup shrunk the numbers by nearly 4 inches.

Other positive results for women taking yacon syrup include:

  • Constipation issues resolved
  • Insulin resistance down 67%
  • LDL cholesterol down 29%
  • Average drop in BMI from 34 to 28

Decreased insulin resistance translates to a lower risk of developing heart disease and diabetes; LDL cholesterol is the bad kind, and a better lipid panel is also associated with better heart health. Constipation has been linked to higher rates of gastrointestinal disorders, depression and thyroid problems. (13)

Lower BMI measurements allowed yacon syrup users to officially gravitate from “obese” to “overweight.”

High fiber content of yacon syrup helps speed up transit time of material through the digestive tract and increases stool frequency. (14) It’s also an excellent source of potassium. (15)

How to Use Yacon Syrup

Since it’s a natural food with no chemicals or additives, the chances of having an adverse reaction taking yacon syrup are slim, but caution is the best approach with anything that affects your digestion.

If you take too much yacon syrup at once, you could experience nausea, diarrhea, flatulence or stomach aches. Anyone who already has a problem with diarrhea might do well to pass on this one.

Women in the study covered above took 10 grams of fructooligosaccharides daily, dividing the dosage to take it about an hour before eating each meal or snack. The total amount of 10 grams adds up to between 4 and 5 teaspoons.

Consider starting with a single teaspoon a day so you can see how it affects you.

It’s not yet clear whether taking yacon syrup before a meal is necessary to get the appetite-suppression effect, so you may want to try it both ways.

The molecular configuration of FOS doesn’t hold up to heat, breaking down at 284˚ F (140 C˚); cooking with it alters the sugar content into free fructose, making it sweeter and also digestible, which would defeat the purpose of keeping calories low. (16)

Using it as a sweetener in cold drinks would be fine, but it may be simplest to take it from a spoon.

Keep in mind that adding yacon syrup to your diet won’t affect the habits and choices that contributed to carrying excess weight in the first place.

Summary:If you’re looking for a natural short-term weight-loss aid, yacon syrup isn’t likely to cause problems, and it might just be the ticket for soothing that sweet tooth.

References:

  1. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378874100003512
  2. http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/many-calories-one-tablespoon-sugar-2094.html
  3. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2982.2010.01664.x/full
  4. http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/33/10/2277.full
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17183309
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15894105
  7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12583961
  8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15877889
  9. http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2FBJN%2FBJN96_02%2FS0007114506002133a.pdf&code=57cb0a49577c934bbe3d4e84592ebdd3
  10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16633129
  11. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2699871/
  12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19254816
  13. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25215427
  14. http://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/155214
  15. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10552877
  16. http://examine.com/supplements/yacon/
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