Yacon is a large perennial plant that is mainly grown and cultivated for its tuberous roots. The scientific name of yacon is Smallanthus sonchifolius and it primarily grows in South America, including the Central and Northern Andes, which primarily fall in Colombia and Argentina. It has been a traditionally grown vegetable for thousands of years and has a wide variety of uses. Yacon syrup and powder are commonly used as healthy replacements for sugar as sweeteners in various foods. Furthermore, the root can be eaten raw, like a potato or a jicama. The majority of the density of these vegetable tubes, which can grow up to 1 kilogram in weight, are fructooligosaccharides, which is an indigestible form of fructose. This unique quality of yacon is part of what makes it so valuable.
This vegetable wasn't widely known outside of its native range until recent decades, but is also cultivated in Australia and New Zealand, with its popularity spreading to Japan, China, South Korea, and even in the healthy food markets of the United States.
yaconYou can harvest yacon after the rhizomes at the top of the plant die and fall back, meaning that the tuber underneath the ground is ready to be eaten. One of the best things about yacon is that it can easily be grown in home gardens and requires very little expertise or farming experience. The juicy meat of the tuber is slightly sweet, thanks to the fructose-based composition.
The leaves of the plant also contain a variety of beneficial organic compounds, which is why yacon tea and syrup have become valuable and sought after components to add to people’s diets. In fact, yacon syrup has had a recent surge of popularity, as it is claimed to not only be a superfood for diabetics, but also for people trying to lose weight. However, the question remains: why is yacon considered so important for our health?
Nutritional Value of Yacon
As mentioned, yacon tubers are mostly composed of fructooligosaccharides and water. This means that the majority of the carbohydrate sugars cannot be digested by the body, resulting in a very low calorie level and a prevention of excess sugar coming into the bloodstrea. Yacon also helps the body increase its vitamin and mineral absorption of all other foods, so while there aren’t many vitamins and minerals in yacon itself, it is very important for the intake of these essential components of human health. That being said, yacon is still rich in potassium, calcium, and phosphorous.
Health Benefits of Yacon
Blood Sugar Levels: The reason that so many people around the world have begun to use yacon so often is its anti-hyperclycemic effects. The fructooligosaccharides in yacon mean that the body does not absorb any simple sugars; in fact, it lowers the amount of glucose production in the liver and causes a shift to lower fasting glucose rates. This is very important for people suffering from diabetes. Research is also being done on yacon’s potential to increase insulin sensitivity in the body, yet another beneficial aspect for diabetics or for people at risk of developing the disease.
Blood Pressure: There are a number of heart-healthy aspects to yacon, but the high levels of potassium are certainly worth mentioning first. Potassium is a vasodilator, meaning that it relaxes blood vessels and reduces strain on the cardiovascular system. This means increased blood flow and oxygenation to parts of the body that need it most, and a reduced chance of developing conditions like atherosclerosis, or suffering from heart conditions like heart attacks or strokes. Potassium also helps to regulate the fluid balance in our body’s cells and tissues, in conjunction with sodium.
Cholesterol Monitoring: Aside from its importance to diabetics, yacon is also important for people who need to control their cholesterol. Research has shown that consuming yacon results in a general lowering of fasting triglyceride and low-density lipoprotein levels. In other words, the fructooligosaccharides that compose yacon help to lower lipid levels and prevent the accumulation of “bad” cholesterol. This aids in the prevention of a wide variety of heart concerns, including coronary heart disease.
Weight Loss Aid: Although this has been hotly debated in certain circles, various researchers claim that eating yacon can help increase weight loss. Since it is not composed of starch (like most tubers), but fills you up, and has a very low level of calories, it is thought to result in overall weight loss. This can also be caused by the slight laxative effect of yacon (perhaps due to its fiber content) and the increased satiety that people feel after eating this sweet plant.
Digestive Health: While the body can’t absorb these fructooligosaccharides, it doesn’t mean that the healthy bacteria in our gut doesn’t find it delicious! Yacon also contain prebiotic materials, stimulating the growth and health of the microflora in our bodies. When our probiotic bacteria are well-taken care of and healthy, our body can maximize its intake of vitamins and minerals. By optimizing the absorption levels of our food, we are able to get more “bang for our buck”, so to speak, when we eat any other foods. Also, the slight laxative effect of yacon reduces constipation, bloating, and other more serious gastrointestinal conditions, such as gastric ulcers and colon cancer.
Cancer Prevention: Research has shown that the compounds found in yacon can have inhibitory effects on the growth of cancer cells. While this research is still somewhat preliminary, there is no downside to this possible side effect of adding yacon to your diet!
Liver Health: The liver is the source of glucose in our body, so it makes sense that regulation of glucose through eating yacon would affect our livers in some way. In fact, studies have shown that proper amounts of yacon (particularly when combined with milk thistle) prevent fat accumulation in the liver and maintain proper liver health and function.
A Final Word of Caution: Although it is rare, there have been some reports of allergies to yacon root. Furthermore, the leaves should only be used for tea, because they have been found to be slightly toxic to the kidneys when eaten directly. Other than these two small issues, enjoy yacon, as well as all of the wonderful benefits it can bring to your health!
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Source: Organic Facts
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