August 3, 2023

Is Yacon Syrup Healthy?

All-natural, plant-based and low-calorie, but it can also cause some serious digestive discomfort

Yacon syrup in small glass jar displayed with yacon root all on a piece of burlap.

Move over, maple syrup, there’s a new kid in town. Yacon syrup is making waves online and among nutrition enthusiasts who claim that this plant-based sweetener is the ideal replacement for sugar and other sugary products.

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It’s true that yacon syrup is all-natural, low-calorie and can be a great substitute for its higher-in-calorie counterparts. But it’s not necessarily the magic sweetener of your dreams — and if you have stomach issues, it could actually be a bit of a digestive nightmare.

What exactly is yacon syrup, and is it really all it’s cracked up to be? Registered dietitian Beth Czerwony, RD, LD, gives us the low-down on this sweet substitute.

What is yacon syrup?

Yacon syrup is made from the yacon plant, or Smallanthus sonchifolius, a member of the daisy family that’s native to the Andes Mountain region in South America.

Sometimes called Peruvian ground apple or strawberry jicama, yacon itself has long been a staple in South American diets. Its tubers, which are mostly made of water and carbohydrates, can be eaten raw or cooked, alone or in drinks and snacks.

And yes, they can be turned into syrup, which can be used in place of honey, maple syrup or molasses, drizzled on waffles, over yogurt, etc.

Benefits of yacon syrup

Fans of yacon syrup love that it’s low-cal and plant-based, and some say it can also relieve constipation, aid in weight loss, and decrease insulin resistance, blood sugar and cholesterol. But how much is just hype?

Czerwony weighs in on these claims so you can separate fact from fiction and decide whether yacon syrup is worth trying.

All-natural

Yacon syrup basically comes straight from the yacon plant itself. Once juice is extracted from the plant, it can be boiled until it becomes a thick, caramel-colored substance with the consistency of molasses. It tastes a bit like honey, but not as sweet.

Low in calories

Yacon syrup is about 40% to 50% fructans, a type of carbohydrate. The type of fructan in yacon syrup is called fructooligosaccharides. (Try saying that five times fast!) Why is this important? Well, your small intestine can’t actually digest or absorb fructans.

“It’s made up of these little molecules of sugar, and what makes it unique is that it also has a fiber component, inulin,” Czerwony explains. “Because of that makeup, your body can’t completely digest it, which means you take in fewer calories.”

Here’s how yacon syrup stacks up, calorie-wise, against other types of syrups and syrup-like sweeteners:

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Sweetener
Yacon syrup
Calories per tablespoon
20
Maple syrup
Calories per tablespoon
54
Molasses
Calories per tablespoon
61
Agave
Calories per tablespoon
63
Honey
Calories per tablespoon
64

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Relieve constipation

Fiber helps ease constipation — and yacon syrup is full of it. It includes both fructooligosaccharides, which can help stimulate good bacteria in your gut, and inulin, a prebiotic fiber.

“It may actually help make your gut microbiome healthier,” Czerwony says. One study suggests that yacon syrup can decrease the amount of time it takes your body to digest and that it increases stool (pooping) frequency.

Not so fast, though. For some people, yacon syrup can actually cause digestive issues like diarrhea. More on that in a moment, but if you have a sensitive stomach, it’s probably best to hold off on this sweet substitute.

May work as an appetite suppressant

Some people say yacon syrup is an effective weight loss aid, and not just because it’s low in sugar.

“There are claims that it may act as an appetite suppressant because of the amount of fiber in it,” Czerwony says. “To use it this way, try taking a teaspoon of yacon syrup about 30 to 60 minutes before a meal, rather than having it with your meal.”

But don’t expect yacon syrup to change your life. It’s critical, Czerwony notes, to eat a well-balanced diet, drink enough water, exercise regularly and just generally lead a healthy lifestyle — all of which will go a lot further than a spoonful of yacon syrup before you eat.

“Nothing is going to be like a magic pill for weight loss,” she says.

Other possible benefits

There are a lot of lofty claims out there about yacon syrup’s benefits, like that it can lower your blood sugar and your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and decrease insulin resistance. But Czerwony says there’s just not yet enough research into yacon syrup to show that any of these is a sure bet.

Side effects of yacon syrup

If you have stomach issues, like irritable bowel syndrome, yacon syrup may not be the right move for you.

Remember what we said about your body not being able to digest fructans? For some people, fructans can cause unwelcome stomach issues. In fact, in one study on yacon syrup, 30% of participants dropped out because the digestive-related side effects were so uncomfortable and unpleasant. They include:

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Some people are sensitive to fructans, which are a type of FODMAP — an acronym for a class of carbohydrates that can be difficult to digest. Fructooligosaccharides, the specific kind of fructans in yacon syrup, are found in other foods, too, but in lesser amount. They include:

“If you have intolerances to FODMAPs, then yacon syrup isn’t something you want to try,” Czerwony warns. “There are enough other low-calorie sweeteners, though, like Stevia and monk fruit.”

Can make you constipated

When you consume a lot of fiber, constipation is always a risk — and yes, we know that sounds counterintuitive, given that we just told you that fiber is also known to help you poop. Fiber pulls in water, which helps get things moving, but if you aren’t hydrated enough, it can actually back you up.

“Any time you’re taking in extra fiber, it’s important to make sure you’re drinking plenty of fluids,” Czerwony advises.

Not suitable for baking

You can use yacon syrup sort of like a condiment, the way you might use maple syrup or honey:

  • Mixed with Greek yogurt and berries.
  • As a dip for apple slices.
  • Drizzled atop pancakes, waffles or toast.
  • Blended into a smoothie.
  • Stirred into a cup of coffee or tea.
  • As a substitute for honey or agave in no-bake recipes.

But what you can’t do is sub it into baking recipes. “The high temperatures will actually break it down,” Czerwony explains.

Elusive and expensive

As yacon syrup has its 15 minutes of fame on social media, some celebs are singing its praises. But it’s not necessarily easy to find, depending on where you live.

“Celebrities are probably going to find it more accessible within their circles than most of us are,” Czerwony says. And even if you can find it, you may experience some sticker shock at the price.

Is yacon syrup good for you?

So, is yacon syrup a legit, must-try ingredient, or is it just a fleeting food fad? If you don’t have any known sensitivities, go ahead and give it a shot, Czerwony says — but only if you want to.

“If it works within your diet, it’s worth a try,” she continues. “It does have some benefits for some people, but if it’s not right for you, don’t stress over it. It’s not going to be a miracle cure for anything.”

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