If you are looking for natural sugar alternatives that are healthy and does not bring in extra calories, you would have most probably come across the option, Yacon. Popularly known as the Peruvian ground apple, Yacon is a perennial plant that produces juicy and sweet tuberous roots. A native of South America, yacon is high yielding, easy to grow and bursting with nutrition. The syrup and powder obtained from this plant is usually marketed as a substitute to table sugar and as a low calorie sweetener. This plant that has been enjoyed as a food source for more than a thousand years is gaining more and more attention and popularity these days because of its health benefitting properties.
Yacon nutrition facts
Yacon belongs to the sunflower family but unlike the sunflower, this plant is mostly grown for its roots that are edible, sweet and highly nutritious. Although very sweet and popularly used as a sugar alternative, Yacon is surprisingly low in calories. When compared to other root vegetables like taro, potato and sweet potato, Yacon is found to have the lowest calorific value, which makes it a perfect diet food option. It is a good source of protein, fiber and vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2 and vitamin C. Yacon tuber is also rich in essential minerals like calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus. It can also provide your body with as many as 20 vital amino acids.
The sweetness of yacon comes from the high amounts of fructoligosaccharide (oligofructose) that it contains. Fructoligosaccharide is a form of sugar that cannot be digested by the human body and so hence it is an ideal sweetener as well as a nutritious food for people suffering from diabetes and also for those who want to lose weight. Yacon is considered to be a supplement and health food owing to the abundance of nutrients in it. Other active phytochemicals like chlorogenic, protocatechuic, ferulic, rosmarinic, gallic, gentisic, and caffeic acid and their derivative have been isolated from extract of Yacon leaves and tubers which have health modulating properties.
Health benefits of Yacon
Yacon has been valued in traditional medicine for its multitude of health benefits and healing properties. Apart from its high nutrient profile, this plant is also beneficial for people suffering from medical conditions like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, insomnia, and kidney diseases, just to mention a few. As a health food, Yacon is not only effective in improving your overall health but also in maintaining it.
Yacon and treatment of diabetes
Diabetes is third serious chronic disease after cancer and heart disease. Yacon helps in managing blood sugar levels. According to a study published in Clinical Nutrition (April 2009 issue), the syrup prepared from the roots of Yacon may be effective in lowering blood sugar levels. The sweetness of Yacon comes from the sugar-like molecules it contains, called fructooligosaccharides. These molecules however do not contribute to an increase in the blood glucose levels. The study revealed that yacon syrup helped in improving insulin resistance in obese people and also in controlling appetite and promoting weight loss. Yacons are considered to be good source of Polysaccharides used for treating diabetes. They offer inhibitory effect on enzyme α-glucosidase which play important role in sugar metabolism. Yacon has been considered as dietary supplement for health food and treatment of diabetes.
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Yacon and weight loss
Yacon syrup extracted from the roots of the yacon plant has been found to have weight loss benefits. The syrup contains fructooligosaccharides (FOS) that is not digested by the human digestive system and hence does not add extra calories. Inside the digestive system, the gut friendly bacteria feed on fructooligosaccharides and they give out short-chain fatty acids that have anti-obesity properties. FOS is also found to be helpful in controlling appetite by lowering the hunger hormone called ghrelin. Studies have confirmed anti-obesity benefits of yacon.
Yacon is rich in antioxidants
Free radicals are always formed inside your body that causes oxidation damage to cells and DNA, leading to early aging and also life – threatening diseases like cancer. Antioxidants help in neutralizing the effects of these free radicals and hence it is vital that you get plenty of antioxidants from your daily diet. Yacon is a rich source of powerful antioxidants and so its regular consumption can prevent free radical damage.
Yacon has anti-inflammatory effects
Yacon contains active ingredients that show anti-inflammatory effects and hence is used for getting relief from conditions like joint pain, arthritis and gout. Studies have confirmed of anti-inflammatory properties of extract of leaves and tubers of yacon. Another study concluded yacon leaf extracts contains sesquiterpene lactone, which can potentially be used as topical anti-inflammatory agent.
Yacon and cancer prevention
A tissue culture study of cancer cells of the human cervix found that Yacon has powerful anti-cancer properties. Certain compounds present in Yacon were capable of promoting early cell death, thus inhibiting the growth and development of cancer cells. Another study revealed that a fungus that is found on the leaves and roots of yacon helped in the prevention of certain types of cancers like, blood cancer, colon cancer, and skin cancer.
Yacon improves digestive health
Yacon offers a number of benefits to your digestive system because of the presence of fructooligosaccharides and inulin. As a prebiotic food, it helps in the growth of intestine friendly bacteria that are essential for maintaining the proper health and functioning of the digestive system. These compounds in Yacon improve bowel movement and prevent conditions like constipation. They aid in mineral absorption and metabolism. This tuberous root from Andes is thus regarded as functional food.
Yacon and heart health
Yacon helps in protecting your heart health by lowering cholesterol and high blood pressure. Studies conducted on pre-hypertension patients reveal that the consumption of yacon helped in reducing LDL cholesterol as well as systolic and diastolic pressure.
Yacon reduces cholesterol and triglyceride
The fructooligosaccharides not only aids in weight loss, but are also beneficial in reducing the levels of bad cholesterol or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and triglycerides. According to a study published in “Clinical Nutrition” in the April 2009 issue, the levels of LDL cholesterol levels were significantly reduced in people who consumed yacon regularly.
Yacon promotes healthy functioning of the liver
Studies show that a combination of yacon and silymarin (an active component found in milk thistle) is effective in improving the levels of cholesterol and in preventing the accumulation of fat in the liver, thus ensuring proper functioning of the liver. Antioxidant property of yacon protects liver cells from oxidation.
Yacon improves the immune system
Studies reveal that yacon contains active elements that help in improving the immune system, thus reducing your likelihood of falling ill. A study aimed at evaluating effect of yacon flour on immune response of preschool children has showed positive results. Fructooligosaccharides from Yacon helps improve immunity, as was found from an animal study. They concluded regular consumption of yacon can thus improve immunity without any risk of autoimmune or metabolic diseases.
Yacon increases bone density
Aging comes with several drawbacks to your health. One such is the loss of bone density. Yacon syrup has the potential to increase bone density by improving the uptake of minerals like calcium and magnesium that are essential for the growth and development of healthy bones. Regular intake of yacon can thus prevent the occurance of conditions such as osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and scoliosis.
Yacon has diuretic properties
Yacon has diuretic effects which mean that it increases the production of urine and frequency of urination. This is helpful in flushing out the toxins and in preventing conditions like kidney stones and urinary tract infection.
Yacon prevents anemia
Iron deficiency is considered to be the number one cause of anemia. This mineral is needed by your body to produce haemoglobin, which is responsible for transporting oxygen to the different parts of the body. Deficiency of iron leads to lesser production of heamoglobin and hence reduced oxygen supply. Yacon is a rich source of iron and therefore incorporating it in your diet can provide the required amount of iron that your body needs.
Yacon increases fertility
In a latest study, Yacon tuber extracts increased sperm number and serum testosterone level in rats. It is believed that chlorogenic acid of Yacon tuber extract has spermatogenic activity. Yacon tuber extract prevents degradation of male hormone testosterone. Low level of testosterone is one of the prime cause of sperm deficiency and infertility. Yacon can thus be suitable as herbal supplement for treating male infertility.
Yacon has antimicrobial properties
Various parts of Yacon contains phytonutrients which are antimicrobial in nature. Antifungal activities of the leaves extracts have been reported. Similarly leaf extract was found to have antibacterial effect against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus bacteria.
Culinary uses of Yacon
The roots of Yacon plant are sweet and can be eaten raw or cooked. They are low in calories and have a juicy flesh resembling a watermelon or an apple. Since 85 to 90 percentage of yacon is water, it is often grated and juiced into a cool and refreshing drink. A combination of fresh yacon and honey with a sprinkling of lemon juice over it is an extremely delicious treat. Yacon tends to discolor when exposed to air and hence sprinkling of lemon juice will help to slow down the browning process. Because of its crunchy texture, this vegetable would be a great addition to stir fries and salads. It also tastes good when baked, roasted or fried. Yacon is a versatile vegetable that easily absorbs the dressings and sauces and hence can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. The dried and crumbled leaves of the yacon plant are used to make tea, which has potent medicinal value. When kept in an airtight container the tea leaves will keep fresh for several months. The leaves can also be used as a tasty wrap for any kind of filling. Yacon is also available in the form of yacon syrup and powder.
Nowadays Yacon syrup, with its low glycemic index and low calories has become widely favored as a natural sweetener and a weight loss aid. The properties of the yacon plant, however, is not just limited to getting rid of unwanted body fat, but it also has numerous other health benefitting features which makes it a super food guaranteed to give you super health. Even if you’re not trying to shed those extra pounds, the benefits of yacon are intriguing enough to make it a healthy addition to your daily diet.Image Credits: Wikimedia - NusHub, Flickr - John & Anni Winings, Flickr- Søren Holt