Jicama is a root vegetable (similar to a potato) that has potential weight-loss benefits as well as the ability to lower cholesterol and treat digestive conditions. Research is in its early stages and human studies are limited.
Jicama (also known as yacon) contains fructooligosaccharide — a type of sugar — that benefits gut health due to its prebiotic effect. It may also have a minor appetite suppressing effect in those who are obese, which helps reduce food intake.
Experimental studies of methanol extract of jicama leaf tissue have exhibited considerable antidiabetic and antioxidant activities (1).
Researchers believe jicama could have a possible application in the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical fields. The specific compounds responsible for jicama’s biological activities need to be found; further investigations for the most active compounds will be done in the near future.
Jicama may aid in weight loss. This root vegetable is low in calories and high in fiber and water, making it a popular food for those looking to lose weight.
Obese pre-menopausal women were studied over a 120-day period in a double-blind placebo-controlled experiment. Researchers used two doses of jicama syrup, 0.29 g and 0.14 g fructooligosaccharides/kg/day.
Daily intake of the syrup produced a significant decrease in body weight, waist circumference and body mass index. This is partially attributable to its influence on increasing defecation and satiety after eating.
Additionally, decrease in fasting serum insulin was observed and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol went from 137 mg/dL to 97.5 mg/dL (a 29 percent decrease) 2.
While these results are impressive, further studies are needed before recommending it as a weight-loss supplement.
Jicama can help reduce symptoms of constipation. The results of a study published in Digestion, found that 20 g daily of jicama significantly decreased transit time and was well tolerated. Bloating-related disturbances were not significantly more often reported with jicama compared to placebo.
The study was performed in healthy volunteers; further studies are needed in constipated patients (3).
Jicama may improve gut health. Jicama is high in inulin, a prebiotic fiber that feeds good bacteria in the gut. Trillions of bacteria live in the digestive tract — some good and some bad. Collectively, they’re known as the gut microbiota. Having the right balance of bacteria is essential for keeping the gut healthy and protecting against certain diseases.
Researchers have begun to draw links between the bacteria in the gut and obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
The bacteria in the gut converts inulin and other prebiotics into short-chain fatty acids, which nourish beneficial colon cells to help improve digestion, immunity and overall health.
Jicama has hypoglycemic effects. The hypoglycemic effect of water extract of jicama leaves in normal and diabetic rats was recently investigated. Ten percent jicama decoction produced a significant decrease in plasma glucose levels in normal rats. In a glucose tolerance test, a single administration of 10 percent jicama decoction lowered the plasma glucose levels in normal rats.
In contrast, a single oral administration of jicama produced no effect on the plasma glucose levels of diabetic rats. However, the administration of 2 percent jicama tea instead of water for 30 days produced a significant hypoglycemic effect on the diabetic rats.
After 30 days of tea administration, diabetic rats showed improved body (plasma glucose, plasma insulin levels, body weight) and renal parameters (kidney weight, kidney to body weight ratio, creatinine clearance, urinary albumin excretion) in comparison with the diabetic controls (4).
In another study, oral administration of jicama extract (200 mg/kg) and its constituent, chlorogenic acid (10 mg/kg) for 6 weeks, produced a significant hypoglycemic effect in diabetic rats.
In addition, total cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations were significantly decreased by 33 percent and 49 percent, respectively in the jicama-treated rats (5).
Research is needed to back these claims in humans.
Jicama may promote bone health. Fructooligosaccharides in general are known to promote absorption of minerals from the colon into serum, which is thought to preserve bone mass. As previously mentioned, this vegetable contains this type of sugar.
In one animal study, jicama flour lead to higher values of bone mineral retention and biomechanical properties (peak load and stiffness) when compared to the control group. The positive effects on mineral intestinal absorption, bone mass and biomechanical properties showed an important role of jicama roots in the maintenance of healthy bones (6).
In another study, jicama flour in combination with Bifidobacterium longum (a probiotic) helped increase the concentration of minerals in bones, an important factor in the prevention of diseases such as osteoporosis (7).
Jicama may have an effect on colorectal cancer. Researchers are beginning to see the chemopreventive potential of this root vegetable. In an animal study, a reduction in cell proliferation, number and multiplicity of preneoplastic lesions and invasive adenocarcinomas was seen in a group receiving 1 percent jicama powder.
In another animal study, oral treatments of jicama aqueous extract and Lactobacillus acidophilus (a type of bacteria used as a probiotic) showed potential as a chemopreventive agent against early stage tumor development (8).
Limited studies in humans have found no adverse effects with moderate usage of jicama. Taking higher than normal doses has been linked to abdominal pain, flatulence, diarrhea, nausea and digestive discomfort.
Evidence suggests that jicama leaf extract (consumed as a tea) is harmful to the kidneys, due to the presence of sequesterpene compounds. The vegetable itself is believed to be nontoxic as it does not contain sequesterpenes.
Jicama is a healthy food that can be consumed as part of a balanced, healthy diet. More research is needed to determine the efficacy, safety and dosage of supplementation.
Jicama is a root vegetable (also known as yacon) that appears to have an appetite suppressing effect and the ability to improve gut health.
Methanol extract of jicama leaf tissue may also have antidiabetic and antioxidant properties.
This root vegetable is also being studied for its potential to prevent and treat colorectal cancer and promote bone health.
While researchers believe jicama could have a possible application in the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical fields, human studies are limited.
There do not appear to be adverse effects with moderate usage of jicama; leaves (consumed as tea) are thought to be toxic to the kidneys.