We’re heading into the holiday season! It’s that wonderful time of the year that’s filled with delicious comfort foods, plenty of excuses to eat said comfort foods, and cold weather that totally merits wearing sweat pants. Which brings us to yacon syrup.
I have a singular goal this holiday season–keep the train on the tracks with regard to my eating habits. For me the culprit is always delicious, sugary, baked goods.
The main reason I’m hell-bent on eating healthy through the holidays is that, having celiac disease, I don’t tolerate sugar well (probably an understatement, like saying Mother’s Day isn’t a popular holiday at orphanages). There’s actually a genetic link between type 1 diabetes and celiac disease.
Up until now I’ve made temporary changes for periods of time, sometimes long spans, but I’ve always gone back to my old habits at some point.
This time is different! I’m determined to continue the lifestyle change I’ve chosen, because I like my health more than I like sugar (I think).
I will not derail, roll down the embankment, over the cliff edge, plummet in a glorious but too-brief free-fall, and splatter all over the rock bottom. I’m not saying that happens every holiday season, but it happens pretty much every holiday season.
So in a noble effort to preempt habit, poor judgment, and convenience, I began a very thorough exploration into sugar alternatives.
LET’S START THE CONVERSATION WITH STEVIA
I’ve relied heavily on stevia for about 15 years, but sometimes stevia just doesn’t cut it. Stevia has an aftertaste in baked goods that I’m not a huge fan of, and of course it’s missing the bulk you get with other sweeteners which makes cookies and muffins turn out “different.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with being different, but if you’re meant to be a dessert and you’re not sweet, moist, and delicious…you may go in the garbage. Just sayin’.
Although if you’re passable, you may go into the container of things I’ll eat when I’m desperate enough (which is a more robust container than I care to admit). Baking with alternative ingredients is very hit or miss, and my average of late is more on the “miss” side.
CAN MUTATE DNA
More troubling is that stevia has recently been shown to, when digested, create a byproduct that can mutate human DNA. So I’m trying to find a suitable alternative.
Stevia is extremely processed to include the use of solvents (hydrochloric acid, chloroform, etc.). This complex processing is required to extract the 3% of the leaf that companies want for the sweetener.
If you think you’re consuming a ground up leaf, you are very far from the truth of the matter. The stevia you buy is about as close to a leaf as jelly beans are to corn (because of their high fructose corn syrup content).
Since the mid-1980’s, there’s been evidence that when rats eat stevia, digesting it creates a highly mutagenic compound called steviol. What does that mean? It means steviol damages DNA which is very bad. Changes to your DNA can cause things like cancer.
In 2016, a human study that showed that when people digest stevia, we produce significantly higher concentrations of steviol than the rats did–so way more DNA mutations for us!
What’s also troubling is that the men in the study weren’t even consuming much–1/10 of an ounce per day.
It’s so frustrating, isn’t it? We try to be healthy only to find out maybe we’re poisoning ourselves. And of course no one will ‘fess up, cuz that would be expensive.
WHAT IS YACON SYRUP?
Yacon syrup is made from the roots of the yacon plant, which look like big potatoes. Yacon is a relative of sunflowers and Jerusalem artichokes and it grows on the western side of South America (Argentina, Peru, Colombia).
It has about half the calories of sugar, has antioxidants, essential amino acids, and is low-glycemic. It’s gluten free, non-GMO, and vegan. It’s also available in both a syrup and a powder.
I decided to try the syrup first to see if I liked it. I think I was most excited to try yacon syrup because every time I say the name, it makes me think of bacon. Mmmm. When I have bacon in my mouth, nothing can make me upset (because, bacon!).
IS YACON SYRUP HEALTHY?
It seemed a little suspicious to me that a plant syrup would be a health product–corn syrup sure isn’t!
My thought was that boiling it into a syrup removes water and concentrates the sugars, and the heat would likely break down the contents into more simple sugars.
So I went in search of any studies I could find that would speak to the health benefits or drawbacks. The verdict seems to be pretty positive!
- This study analyzes yacon syrup and determines it is rich in potassium, calcium, and phosphorous as well as some essential amino acids (tryptophan, valine, and threonine).
- These findings suggested that yacon could help to increase satiety, and consequently, be helpful in the management of type 2-diabetes and reducing obesity.
- This study was conducted on obese, pre-menopausal women, and the result was a significant decrease in body weight, waist circumference, and body mass index.
- This study looked at insulin-resistant rats and found yacon could reduce blood glucose and hepatic insulin sensitivity.
- Other studies show yacon can improve colon transit time, potentially reducing constipation.
- This comprehensive review of literature determined that glycemic levels, body weight and colon cancer risk can be reduced. Basically, yacon may be effectively used to prevent and treat chronic diseases. Not too shabby!
- In this study on mice, yacon helped reduce inflammation and boosted immunity.
Yacon root is about half fructooligosaccharides (FOS). FOS are sugars you can’t digest. They act as a prebiotic that can help with fostering good bacteria in your gut (and thus aid your immune system).
FOS also help protect against unhealthy bacteria, may decrease cholesterol levels, and help manage blood sugar levels. In fact, in Peru yacon is used in diabetic diets.
Many sources state yacon syrup has a glycemic index of 1. The glycemic index (GI) measures how rapidly a particular food causes an increase in your blood sugar. The scale goes from 0-100.
Higher numbers are usually foods like pretzels and candy (processed carbs and sugars), while lower numbers are typically foods like vegetables and meats (foods high in protein, fat, or fiber).
It’s important emphasize the GI value only measures the impact of glucose on blood sugar levels. It does not measure the effect of fructose.
Yacon syrup is about 35% fructose. So there is an impact to your blood sugar from consuming yacon. But because about half the sugars can’t be digested, it’s a far superior alternative to most other sugars out there.
And research tells us that yacon can increase glucose absorption in peripheral tissues as well as stimulate insulin secretion in the pancreas.
CAN I BAKE WITH YACON SYRUP?
Sadly, no. When heated above 250°F, the beneficial FOS break down. This means it’s no longer sweet and no longer as healthy.
I was super bummed when I realized I can’t bake any goodies with it. You can still use it in hot drinks though. So I decided to try using it in my tea and smoothies.
I was thinking about trying it on pancakes instead of syrup, but I’d probably overdo it. The research is pretty clear that using more than 1-2 Tbsp/day will cause some serious gastrointestinal drama. And 1 Tbsp wouldn’t go very far on pancakes.
TEST #1 – TEA
I put a tablespoon in my mug of yerba mate and stirred well. It tasted somewhat root-ish. I wouldn’t say it tasted yammy, it wasn’t that strong–maybe earthy is a better word.
Overall, the flavor isn’t unpleasant. Definitely different. It’s kind of subtle, but it lingers a bit.
The CRAZY thing I noticed was that I wasn’t hungry again until the next day. It definitely curbed my sweet craving and made me feel satisfied, which usually takes a box of cookies or a pint of ice cream. So I’m putting that side-effect in the “win” column.
I’ll take a moment to say that I’m one of those people who is never without cravings. My husband is the total opposite–he can eat a single piece of candy and stop. If I start eating sugar, I’ll eat everything sweet in the house–I can’t stop.
So if you’re like me, you may want to give yacon syrup a try. I literally had no cravings. I can’t remember the last time I experienced that peace.
Since the flavor wasn’t ideal, the next day I added half as much to my tea. It didn’t make my tea very sweet, but I also couldn’t really taste it (which was fine with me) and it totally curbed my desire to eat.
I’m definitely going to be using this in my tea for a while to see what the outcome is. Oddly not for the sweetness it provides, but to curb my appetite.
TEST #2 – FRUIT SMOOTHIE
I made a strawberry-banana smoothie in my vitamix, which is admittedly already sweet thanks to the fruit.
I usually add 1/4 tsp of stevia powder. Instead, I added 1 Tbsp of yacon syrup.
It was delicious–I really enjoyed it! I think yacon syrup is a better sweetener when it can blend with other flavors. In tea it’s kind of a one-man show.
Again, I was extremely satisfied when I finished my smoothie–instead of starting a craving cycle, I ended it. It was bizarre and glorious.
I’ll definitely use yacon syrup in my smoothies from now on.
Yacon syrup ain’t cheap. It costs about 30 times more than granulated sugar and it costs about 8 times more than honey.
It’s probably pricey because it comes from South America and requires a large quantity of roots to make the final concentrated product.
Yacon syrup may not be ideal to purchase as a sugar substitute that you’ll use in large quantities, but I definitely think it’s worth purchasing as a health supplement.
Yacon syrup will definitely be in my pantry/fridge from here on out!
WHERE TO BUY IT
I looked in all the regular and natural grocery stores where I live (which is a lot) and couldn’t find it anywhere. You may luck out, but Amazon is probably the best place to purchase yacon syrup if you want more than one option. I tried the following brands and would recommend them:
Amazon doesn’t seem to have the Blue Lily brand available anymore.
This post may contain affiliate links. Using links to these sites means I may earn a percentage of the purchase at no extra cost to you.
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