Yacon Syrup: The Facts Behind The Latest "Weight Loss" Fad

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Yacon_Syrup_slidePhoto: Courtesy Of Whole Foods.
Every year around this time, a new so-called "miracle" superfood or supplement makes the rounds, promising a bangin' bikini bod in mere seconds — or something. And, guys, this year's no different. With an endorsement from the inescapable Dr. Oz, the Internet's hottest weight-loss supplement is undoubtedly yacon syrup, a mysterious sweet concoction from the Andes.

Actually, to be fair, while "miracle" is definitely a stretch, there might be a lot to like about yacon (or yacón, as it's known in Peru). Using a method similar to that used to make maple syrup, the thick, molasses-like substance is extracted from the roots of the yacón plant; both the roots and the leaves of the plant are used in countries like Brazil and Bolivia for their purported healing properties.

But, the buzzy part comes courtesy of a compound called fructooligosaccharides, or FOSs, which supposedly helps people feel full while being naturally low in calories (since they're not fully digested before they get through your bowels). It's also full of fiber, which helps regulate your blood-glucose levels. And, thanks to a small study from back in 2009, these FOSs have a reputation for contributing to significant weight loss.

Of course, as with any product that claims rapid weight loss just by ingesting a seemingly magical ingredient, a serious dose of skepticism is required here. Very little research exists on the effectiveness of yacón syrup, even as a healthy supplement to your diet; even the lead author in the study above urged caution, pointing out that those who lost weight with yacón syrup also cut their regular caloric intake — and quickly gained the weight back. And, as Shira Lenchewski, a registered nutritionist based in New York and L.A., points out, "because yacón passes through the intestines largely undigested, it can be harsh on the GI tract, especially in people with inflammatory bowel conditions, and may cause gas."

Still, we think there might be some redeeming qualities about yacón that outweigh the hype. As Lenchewski points out, "FOSs are considered prebiotics, non-digestible carbohydrates that act as food for healthy gut bacteria. And, since gut health translates to overall health, a robust flora ecosystem is essential for preventing inflammation and boosting intestinal immunity." And, depending on how the economics work out, yacón could prove to be an effective, affordable substitute for artificial low-calorie sweeteners like aspartame and Splenda. Just don't expect any "miracles," yeah? You guys know better than that.