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The Endurance Athlete’s Guide to Yacon Syrup

Haven’t lost any weight by adding extra coconut oil and red palm oil to your diet?

No luck with weight loss pills like green coffee bean extract or garcinia cambogia?

Well, have you tried yacon syrup yet?

Late last year, Yacon syrup was featured on – you guessed it – the Dr. Oz show as the next big thing in weight loss. It’s a hot new topic, so it must work better, right?

Let’s see what it’s all about…

 

dr oz yacon syrup tv segment

What Is Yacon Syrup?

Yacón syrup is nothing more than a syrup made from the roots of the yacón plant. I’d compare it to the type of process used for making agave nectar or maple syrup. In other words, there’s more processing involved compared to good old raw honey.

But we need to back up and talk about yacon itself. The whole plant.

The yacón plant is indigenous to the Andes mountains and is widely used in Peru and Bolivia. I’d imagine it’s also used in Chile, Argentina, etc. It was used by the Incas (which would have been around modern-day Peru,) so it has a track record of at least a few hundred years.

Typically, the roots are eaten and leaves are dried and brewed as tea.*

*Some studies have found this tea to be toxic, so you might want to skip that part!

Let’s stick to the roots. They look a lot like yams and are low in sugar and low in calories. They’re high in water and can be eaten raw, like an apple.

To make the syrup, these roots are peeled and cut, then boiled to extract the goodness, and the resulting liquid is filtered and concentrated until you have the finished product.

If you want to see all the details, peruse this PDF download from The International Potato Center which illustrates the entire process. But that’s the gist of it. It’s like juicing the roots.

When all is said and done, what you’re left with is… yacon syrup!

 

Why Did Yacon Syrup Make It On the Dr. Oz Show?

Anything mentioned on the Dr. Oz show must past a stringent review process. I believe they ask, “will this increase ratings?” And if the answer is yes, the topic is approved.

In the case of yacon syrup, there were a few prior studies showing some potential weight loss. And that was enough! So, Dr. Oz conducted his own study. Can you guess the name? Yes, it was The Yacon Syrup Project.

It went something like this:

We asked 60 women to eat one teaspoon of yacon syrup with or before each meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner) for four weeks. They were told not to otherwise change their usual diets or exercise habits. Forty of the 60 women completed the project.

What happened?

  • 73% of the women lost weight.
  • Average weight loss was 2.9 pounds
  • Average reduction in waist size was 1.9 inches

For anyone who is overweight, losing three pounds in four weeks is not impressive. However, doing so by adding a sweetener into their diet, well, that’s interesting.

And it’s certainly better than losing no weight at all, which probably would have been the case otherwise. Of course, we can’t say for sure, because there was no placebo control group in this study! The results could also be attributed to the “OMG I’m going to be on Dr. Oz, I need to look my best, I don’t care if he says not to change my diet or exercise, I’m going to anyway!” reaction.

The one hidden gem, in my opinion, is the 1.9″ drop in waist measurements. You could lose three pounds and not lose anything off your waist. So losing nearly 2″, it’s interesting. But again, it’s tough to pinpoint the true cause there, so I can’t get too excited yet.

 

How Does Yacon Syrup Work?

Yacon works in a few different ways.

First, it’s low in calories.

The neat thing with yacon syrup is, it has only about half the calories of sugar. So, a 1 Tbsp serving only contains 20 calories (whereas the same amount of table sugar would be about 48 calories.)

How is this possible? Keep reading and you’ll see!

For now, the point is – if you replace a higher calorie food with a lower calorie food, you can lose weight. It’s the simple math from the calories in vs. calories out concept.

Second, it’s low on the Glycemic Index.

Yacon syrup ranks at a 1 on the Glycemic Index. That’s low!

For comparison, stevia and sucralose are 0, honey is around 50, and pure glucose is 100.

So, yacon syrup should not spike your blood sugar, which should thus minimize the storage of body fat.

Third, yacon is mostly a special type of sugar.

And that special type is called fructooligosaccharides, or FOS. (It’s also called oligofructose in some cases, probably just to confuse us.)

You’ve probably never heard of FOS, but you may have heard of inulin. Inulin is a type of fiber found in the roots of plants, and it’s commonly added to all types of food (especially food bars) to increase fiber content. Sometimes it’s on the ingredients list as “chicory root extract.”

FOS are a subgroup of inulin, so you can think of them as fiber, rather than sugar. And we know that fiber aids digestion. But that’s not all…

 

It’s All About The Fructooligosaccharides (FOS)

Is yacon really a good source of FOS? You bet!

The yacon root is about 50% FOS. No other plant has this high a concentration – yacon totally beats the pants off of chicory root!

FOS resist digestion in the upper part of the gut in humans. So they’ll reach the colon mostly without being digested. (And that is why they have only half the calories of regular sugar. If your body isn’t digesting them, they don’t really count.)

The FOS are also a prebiotic. Prebiotics nourish your existing beneficial gut flora, so they’re good to have! (Some companies sell special prebiotic pills to aid in gut health, and they’re really just a mix of inulin and fructooligosaccharides.)

Remember, improving your gut health can improve your immune system!

Prebiotics will likely improve your health in more ways than one, and as with most nutrients, I recommend getting them through your diet rather than through supplements. The yacon root would be ideal for this!

 

Are There Any Proven Benefits Here?

Some studies show moderate weight loss. Big whoop. Where are the real benefits?

buy yacon syrup

Many advertisements, like the one to the left, imply that these yacon syrup pills can help you lose 20 pounds in 4 weeks. That’s a little far-fetched if you ask me.

That amount of weight loss is certainly achievable, but with other methods!

Not to mention, I don’t think a single research study suggested the weight loss would be anywhere near that drastic!

So let’s forget the “miracle pill” terminology and look instead at the real, potential health benefits backed by research.

As I mentioned, there really aren’t many studies to look at. But there are a few.

Yacón for antioxidants.

Yacón was used in part of a 2002 study by Yoshida et al. trying to understand what happens to bisphenol A (BPA) in certain biological environments. (Yes, we’re talking about that BPA you don’t want in your water bottle.)

They determined yacón was a better antioxidant than other fruits and vegetables, such as mushroom and eggplant. You’d think they would have compared it to blueberries or something, but honestly, that study was way over my head! So I don’t know what the true intention was.

A review by J. Lachman also confirms the yacon root is a good source of polyphenols, one of the great antioxidants found in green tea.

Key takeaway: You can get some antioxidants from eating yacon roots.

Yacon for weight loss.

In a study by Genta et al. (which was a double-blind placebo-controlled experiment that took place over a 120-day period,) it was shown that a daily intake of yacón syrup produced a significant decrease in body weight, waist circumference and body mass index when given to obese pre-menopausal women.

I’m sure that’s the study that got Dr. Oz’s attention!

Also worth noting is that the yacon syrup increased defecation frequency and the satiety sensation.

(See the full text in the Clinical Nutrition Journal.)

Key takeaway: Yacon syrup can result in weight loss for certain people.

Yacon for improved mineral absorption and bone health.

Though this study was done on rats (and others were all animal experiments as well,) it showed that a diet with added yacon flour could lead to higher values of bone mineral retention and biomechanical properties. In other words, more calcium and magnesium, and stronger bones.

Key takeaway: Yacon could make your pet’s bones stronger.

Overall, yacon root does seem promising, and there don’t seem to be any negative side effects (other than gas, bloating, and diarrhea, potential problems if you can’t handle the fiber.)

For even more details and commentary on these studies, I suggest Examine.com.

 

What Benefits, If Any, Apply to Endurance Athletes?

As usual, weight loss is not our #1 priority. But I do see some potential health benefits from yacon, and some good ways to incorporate it into our endurance training.

A lot of us could stand to lose some fat.

Realistically, how many of us are at an ideal racing weight? Not many, I bet! The weight loss benefits of yacon could help us lose a little fat off our waistlines.

Yacon could potentially be a great pre-workout carbohydrate source. It won’t spike your blood sugar, so you’ll be more likely to burn fat for energy and save your muscle glycogen for later.

If it helps you lose some body fat without affecting performance otherwise, great!

Improve your bowel function.

It’s not uncommon for endurance athletes to suffer from GI issues. If you’re constipated, perhaps because your diet consists of nothing but energy bars and processed foods, the extra fiber might be a big help for your bowel function.

Be very careful if using it before a race though!!

Look ma, no cavities!

If you’re drinking a sugary sports drink, you’re setting yourself up for cavities. But the oral bacteria that cause cavities can’t metabolize FOS.

So, if you have a history of dental troubles, but you can’t train without a sweet drink, perhaps make your own sports drink that’s based on yacon syrup or powder?

Build stronger bones!

Bone health is extremely important, and as endurance athletes, we need to pay special attention here!

Not only do our sports put us at risk for breaking a bone, they don’t do much to help us build our bones. A double whammy!

Yes, the training does help build bone mass, but take cycling for example – there’s very little impact or resistance to stimulate bone growth. It does something, but not a whole lot. What’s worse is that we lose so much calcium in our sweat that we’d be nearly incapable of building bone mass anyway!

That’s a little exaggerated, but the point is, anything that can help calcium absorption is awesome! I’d rank this as the #1 benefit of yacon syrup, with weight loss at #2.

 

How to Use Yacon In Your Diet

If you want to incorporate yacon into your diet, you have quite a few choices these days.

Outside of South America, you’re probably not going to find the root itself. You’ll probably have to stick with a processed form of it.

The most popular option is yacon syrup.

It should say “raw yacon syrup” on the bottle. This is the best option, in my opinion. It’s what they use in the research studies, and it’s the most convenient.

You could take it straight out of the bottle, by the teaspoon, or you can add it to your meals. Try it on your oatmeal, pancakes, or Greek yogurt. Or use it as a sweetener in your coffee or tea.

There is also yacon root powder.

This powder is essentially a sugar replacement and could be used in homemade energy bars.

Supplements are an option.

Though I don’t care to take any more supplements, you can get pills filled with powdered yacon root if that suits you best. You miss out on the taste, though.

You also have to be wary of sketchy products! A lot of these will be free trial offers that put you into a $60 monthly rebill program. I mean, Yacon Molasses? Seriously? C’mon now.

Yacon snacks are emerging.

I’d say this defeats the whole purpose of consuming yacon, but you can actually get dried yacon chips and other snacks.

 

Where To Get It

So, where do you get a good quality yacon product here in North America?

They’re really not hard to find. Both VitaCost and Amazon.com have some. Plenty of retailers sell it.

Check out Amazon Therapeutic Labs Yacon Syrup at VitaCost – it’s $19.29 for 11.5 oz. The same thing is available at LuckyVitamin.com for practically the same price… if it’s not sold out.

That’s the issue – finding it in stock. Thanks to the rise in popularity after the Dr. Oz segment aired, I can’t seem to find a reasonably priced yacon syrup in stock.

Heck, even the Peak Fusion platinum yacon syrup ($30 for 8oz) is sold out today! The Life & Food brand is the same story.

Though I’m liking the idea of yacon syrup, with prices like these, I can think of better supplements to buy!!

I don’t want to resort to taking yacon capsules.

 

My Final Verdict Is…

At first, I worried that yacon syrup was no different than agave nectar, which was hyped up quite a bit. I was also worried that people would use too much and take in too many extra calories.

But after researching, it seems like it could be an interesting diet swap. At the very least, yacon syrup used in place of other sweeteners could reduce your caloric intake.

Considering the prebiotics, improved mineral absorption, and other potential health benefits, I’d say this warrants a “Coach Levi n=1 Yacon Syrup Project.”

Stay tuned!

 

Anyone out there using yacon syrup already? Does it work for you?

 

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7 Comments
  1. I take a fiber supplement with prebiotics and FOS in it.

  2. @Charles

    That’s an interesting situation. If yacon’s benefits come from the FOS, it would stand to reason that you’d get the same benefits from taking an FOS supplement. They’re out there, as you know. But it could be one of those situations where you only get the benefits from raw yacon itself. Hard to say for sure without further study.

  3. Could yacon powder be used for baking bread?

  4. @Sandra

    I assume so. A cup of yacon root powder instead of a cup of sugar is probably fine. You’ll have to try it and let me know what it does for the taste and texture!

    As far as the health benefits, though, it’s possible that subjecting yacon to a high temperature oven will destroy what’s responsible for all the good stuff. So if you’re using yacon specifically for weight loss, I’d stick with the raw form, uncooked. That’s why I only mentioned using it in homemade energy bars, which are often “no bakes.”

    Much easier to track your dosage when using the plain powder or syrup, too.

  5. You had me up until “… increased defecation frequency and the satiety sensation.”

  6. @DaQuan Hanks

    You would think that with increased satiety sensation that you would eat less, and as a result, defecation frequency would actually decrease. But it must be that overall defecation volume decreases despite the increased frequency.

    If you change your mind, stop back in and let me know how it goes!

  7. I’m interested enough that I might grab some if I see it in the store. Otherwise, it’s not that appealing.

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Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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