If you've decided to explore sugar alternatives, you're likely to come across yacon, which is known by the scientific name, Smallanthus sonchifolius. A member of the sunflower family, at first glance, this perennial root looks like an elongated potato. Upon further inspection, however, you'll find that yacon has a slightly sweet taste. Yacon syrup and powder is commonly marketed as a low-calorie sweetener and alternative to table sugar. Data from animal and human studies indicate it may offer health benefits.
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The yacon root is native to South America, where locals eat it raw like a fruit. It contains a mixture of naturally occurring sugars, about 1 to 4 grams per 100-gram serving of fresh root, according to the International Potato Center in Peru. It's rich in potassium, supplying between 185 and 295 milligrams per 100-gram serving True to its reputation, yacon is low in calories. A 100-gram serving of fresh roots contains as few as 14 calories.
Promotes Healthy Blood Sugar
Yacon has a positive influence on blood sugar, according to an animal study published in the May 2013 issue of the journal, "Nutrition and Diabetes." Researchers added yacon to the normal chow diet of rats for five weeks. Eating yacon reduced the amount of glucose produced by the liver and significantly decreased fasting glucose levels, according to the study. Researchers postulate that yacon might boost insulin sensitivity, which promotes healthier blood sugar levels.
May Lower Cholesterol
The sugars in yacon, called fructooligosaccharides, have a positive effect on lipid levels, according to an animal study published in the journal, "Chemico-Biological Interactions" in October 2011. Researchers supplemented diabetic rats with yacon flour for 90 days to observe the effects. The study found yacon caused a significant decrease in fasting triglyceride and low-density lipoprotein, which is a "bad" form of cholesterol. In addition, yacon protected rats against the typical post-meal spike in triglycerides.
Promotes Weight Control
The beneficial effects of yacon appear to translate to humans, according to a study published in the April 2009 issue of "Clinical Nutrition." Researchers studied the effect of daily consumption of yacon syrup in obese women who have slightly high cholesterol. The study found that yacon consumption significantly decreased body weight, waist circumference and body mass index – which is an indirect measurement of body fat. Yacon consumption also increased feelings of fullness and bowel movement frequency. In addition, researchers observed a positive effect on LDL cholesterol and fasting insulin, which is a blood sugar regulating hormone.