In the quest for the best diabetic food, I recently came across perhaps one of the most powerful, natural diabetic super foods: yacon. Yacon syrup, in particular, is a great sweetener that can be used in cooking just like molasses or honey. Research suggests that yacon can not only help manage blood sugar, but also significantly reduce body weight. Not only that, but it can also lower cholesterol and is indicated in studies to be particularly effective as an antioxidant to help fight diabetes. If all that weren’t enough, yacon also contains a prebiotic, encouraging growth of beneficial bacteria to help improve gut function.
What is Yacon?
Yacon is a tuber-like plant native to the Andean Regions in what is now parts of Peru and Bolivia. It has a sweet, crisp taste and can grow nearly anywhere. Both the tuber and the leaves can be used – some cultures use the leaves as an antidiabetic tea. The component of yacon that is important for diabetics is the type of sugar it contains: fructooligosaccharide (FOS). FOS is a type of sugar that is not digested, which means it has little or no effect on blood sugar levels. FOS is also a prebiotic, meaning it passes through undigested to the intestines where it can become food for beneficial bacteria already existing there. There is some concern that eating too much FOS can cause an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, so if you have issues with candida, you may want to monitor your intake of foods containing FOS.
According to a study published at the National Institute for Health:
“Daily intake of yacon syrup produced a significant decrease in body weight, waist circumference and body mass index. Additionally, decrease in fasting serum insulin and Homeostasis Model Assessment index was observed. The consumption of yacon syrup increased defecation frequency and satiety sensation. Fasting glucose and serum lipids were not affected by syrup treatment and the only positive effect was found in serum LDL-cholesterol levels.”
Yacon syrup can help lose weight, while decreasing fasting serum insulin (but not fasting glucose), as well as improving bad cholesterol levels. The trade-off for this weight loss and improvement in insulin is the need to go to the bathroom more often, meaning yacon syrup may have some laxative effect. This is not uncommon for alternative sweeteners; erythritol, when taken in quantity, has the same laxative effect.
In another study, published in 2005, researchers conclude:
“Yacon administered as a diet supplement was well tolerated and did not produce any negative response, toxicity or adverse nutritional effect at both intake levels used. Yacon root consumption showed no hypoglycemic activity in normal rats and resulted in significantly reduced post-prandial serum triacylglycerol levels in both doses assayed.”
Yacon is a powerful antioxidant, and this study on rats states that organic extracts from yacon have effects that “were comparable to those observed with insulin.” The study further states that the research predetermines yacon leaves “for use in prevention and treatment of chronic diseases involving oxidative stress, particularly diabetes.”
What all this means is that yacon is a powerful food for managing diabetes and controlling blood sugar. The figurative icing on the cake is that it makes an awesome sugar substitute – what more could we ask for?
Cooking with Yacon
Yacon syrup is an ideal sugar substitute and is about 3/4 as sweet as table sugar. It has a molasses-like texture and can blend well into baking, tea, coffee and many other foods. You can buy powdered yacon to use as a sweetener and even flour replacement, adding a sweet, delicious texture to baked goods.
For a comprehensive guide on how to make delicious desserts and cakes using yacon and other natural ingredients, try this set of two recipe books and start enjoying sweets with all the health benefits of yacon.
Whether you are trying to lose weight, control blood sugar or a combination of both, adding healthful, flavorful yacon syrup might well be the best diet choice you make on your low carb diet.
Yacon syrup: beneficial effects on obesity and insulin resistance in humans. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19254816
Subchronic 4-month oral toxicity study of dried Smallanthus sonchifolius (yacon) roots as a diet supplement in rats. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15979774
The effect of Smallanthus sonchifolius leaf extracts on rat hepatic metabolism. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15242186