Did You Know…that an alternative sweetener derived from a traditional Andean superfood can lower cholesterol, help control diabetes, and prevent colon cancer?
Known in the Andean mountains of South America as Apple of the Earth, yacon is a form of sweet potato revered in traditional medicine for its myriad healing powers.
A distant relative of the sunflower, yacon is a tuber vegetable resembling a yam. Its roots and leaves have been used in local communities to treat ailments—especially digestive disorders—for centuries. Now, modern scientists recognize yacon’s rich stores of phytochemicals to have far-reaching powers to fight both diabetes and obesity.
FOS—The Sweetener That Heals
The source of yacon’s delicious, sweet flavor is what makes it such a healthy alternative sweetener. Unlike sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial chemical sweeteners—all of which have lengthy rap sheets of harmful health effects—the sweetening agent in yacon is actually good for you. That’s because it’s primarily composed of inulin, also called a fructooligosaccharide (FOS).
FOS acts like a sweetener, but your body barely absorbs it. Instead, FOS passes through the digestive system without spiking blood sugar, like most other sweeteners—and without the toxic effects of artificial chemical sweeteners. In fact, FOS appears to help regulate blood glucose, keeping it to normal, manageable levels.
Natural health expert and author Dana Carpender recommends FOS, and describes the benefits of FOS as an alternative sweetener on her health blog:
“Think of it as a sweet form of fiber. FOS has a nice, clean sweet flavor, but it’s about half as sweet as sugar… FOS has another interesting property: You can’t digest or absorb it, but the good bacteria in your gut can. So eating FOS will increase your healthy intestinal flora.”
The Sweet Path to a Healthier Heart
Yacon is also attracting attention for its heart health benefits. In a study reported at the 2009 American Heart Association conference, a Chinese team using yacon to treat patients with prehypertension reported the following impressive results:
- Systolic blood pressure dropped by almost 7 points
- Diastolic blood pressure was reduced by greater than 7 points
- LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides both dropped significantly
A Powerful Prebiotic Superfood
As Dana Carpender points out, yacon has great prebiotic capacities, which means it can be a key factor in regulating digestion by stimulating good bacteria and helping fight off harmful invaders. Ultimately, this helps protect your body from kidney stones, intestinal and colon breakdown, and liver disease.
David Wolfe points out in his bestselling book, Superfoods: The Food and Medicine of the Future:
“As a prebiotic, yacon is good for digestion, stimulates positive colon health, and helps with the absorption of calcium, magnesium, and B vitamins. Yacon helps to regulate friendly intestinal flora, and especially improves the growth of certain probiotics (…), thus helping to reduce constipation. Yacon root contains significant quantities of potassium and antioxidants. Because of its high antioxidant value, yacon is beneficial in reducing free-radical damage in the body, especially in the colon.”
Where to Find FOS and Yacon
Fresh yacon for cooking and eating may be available at your local natural foods store. If not, there are a handful of online suppliers of fresh yacon tubers, leaves, and plants.
Yacon is also available as a supplement capsule, both online and in some co-ops and health food stores. The same is true for FOS, which can be purchased both as a powder to use as an alternative sweetener for foods, as well as a supplement capsule for those solely interested in its prebiotic, blood sugar, and heart health benefits.