Benefits And Nutrition Of Yacon (Smallanthus Sonchifolius) For Health

Benefits And Nutrition Of Yacon (Smallanthus Sonchifolius) For Health

Yacon (Smallanthus Sonchifolius)

Yacon (Smallanthus Sonchifolius) is known as other names: Arboloco, Colla, Ipio, Jac√≥n, Leafcup, Mexican Potato, Potato Bean, Yacon, Yacuma...

A perennial plant, yacon (botanical name Smallanthus sonchifolius) has a supple stalk growing up to a height of 2 meters. The flowers of this plant appear at the terminal branches and their crown has a yellowish orange hue. The root system of yacon comprises numerous elongated roots that are large, tuberous, and fleshy. Usually, these roots of this plant are 8 inches long and about 4 inches across. They possess a sugary flavour and may number anything between four and 20 giving rise to a widespread system of slim fiber-like rootlets.

Normally the tubers have a regular shape, but sometimes they may come in irregular shapes owing to the force of other roots or meeting up with stones. The color of the root bark may vary from cinnamon to deep brown. Generally, a yacon tuber weighs anything from 200 grams t0 500 grams (about half lb to one lb), but some tubers may grow larger and may weigh up to 4 pounds. Inside, these edible roots or tubers have a typical yellowish-orange or cream hued pulp and some of them may even have purple patterns. They are extremely succulent and possess a sweet flavour.

Benefits And Nutrition Of Yacon (Smallanthus Sonchifolius) For Health
Yacon (Smallanthus Sonchifolius) Picture

Yacon produces deep green leaves, similar to those of celery. The flowers of this perennial herb are akin to those of daisy with their color varying from yellow to orange. Yacon produces male as well as female flowers that are insect pollinated. When fresh, the peel of the tuber varies from tan to pale yellow, but the color soon changes to deep purple when it comes in contact with the air.

Yacon primarily grows in South America, including the Central and Northern Andes, which primarily fall in Colombia and Argentina. Yacon 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.

Yacon 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. Some of the health benefits of yacon include its ability to regulate blood sugar levels, lower “bad” cholesterol, help with weight loss, lower blood pressure, improve the health of the liver, prevent certain types of cancer, boost digestive health, and strengthen the immune system.

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Nutrition Of Yacon (Smallanthus Sonchifolius) For Health

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.

Yacon (Smallanthus Sonchifolius) use in traditional medicine

During the initial stages of evolution, farmers in the Andes had identified the worth of yacon, especially as a crop cultivated for food. Several centuries prior to the Incas, people discovered yacon in the graveyards. The oldest written document that mentions yacon dates back to 1615 when a Quechua nobleman called Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala incorporated the plant into a list comprising 55 indigenous crops grown by people inhabiting the region around the Andes.

In the traditional medicine of South America, yacon tubers are consumed raw in the form of a diuretic to treat problems related to the kidneys and bladder. In Bolivia, people make a decoction with the yacon leaves and use it to treat cystitis, nephrosis and hepatosis. On the other hand, Peruvians use the leaves to prepare a warm poultice and apply it externally for treating rheumatism and myalgia. People in Brazil brew the yacon leaves to prepare a tea, which is drunk as a natural medication for treating diabetes.

Benefits And Nutrition Of Yacon (Smallanthus Sonchifolius) For Health
Yacon (Smallanthus Sonchifolius) Picture

Apart from the inhabitants of the Andean region, many people across the globe have now started using yacon. The regular use of this herb worldwide is basically attributed to its anti-hyperglycemic results. Yacon contains fructo-oligosaccharides, which mean that when you consume this tuber your body does not take in any simple sugar. Precisely speaking, the presence of this natural compound in yacon tubers works to reduce the quantity of glucose produced in your liver, thereby resulting in a change to reduced fasting sugar rates. Therefore, yacon consumption is extremely beneficial for people with diabetes. Currently, scientists are examining the potential of yacon in enhancing insulin sensitivity in our body. This is one more health benefit offered by yacon, especially for people suffering from diabetes or those who are prone to develop this condition.

Benefits Of Yacon (Smallanthus Sonchifolius) For Health

Benefits of yacon for 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.

Benefits of yacon for heart

Yacon also offers numerous benefits for the health of the heart. Among these, the elevated potassium levels of yacon are foremost and, hence, need to be mentioned first. Being an excellent vasodilator, potassium helps to widen the blood vessels, thereby lessening the pressure on the cardiovascular system. In other words, this denotes augmented blood circulation and supply of additional oxygen to the various body parts. At the same time, it helps to lessen the risks of developing cardiovascular diseases, such as atherosclerosis, strokes and heart attacks. In addition, potassium is beneficial for maintaining a steady balance of various fluids in the cells and tissues of our body. Essential mineral sodium also helps to normalize the fluid balance.

Benefits of yacon for Blood Pressure

Besides the importance of yacon for people with diabetes, this herb is also beneficial for others who require controlling their blood cholesterol levels. Findings of a number of studies have demonstrated that eating yacon tubers generally helps to reduce the levels of fasting triglyceride as well as low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad cholesterol"). This means that the polysaccharides called fructooligosaccharides, which form a major constituent of yacon, are helpful in lowering the lipid levels as well as putting off the LDL form accumulating inside the blood vessels. This, in turn, is effective in preventing an assortment of heart problems, especially coronary heart disease.

Benefits And Nutrition Of Yacon (Smallanthus Sonchifolius) For Health
Yacon (Smallanthus Sonchifolius) Root Picture

Benefits of yacon for Weight Loss Aid

Several researchers have asserted that consuming yacon may possibly help in augmenting weight loss. However, this is a highly debated topic in some circles. Unlike many tubers, yacon does not contain starch and, hence, consuming the sweet tubers of this plant makes you feel filled, but does not provide you with too many calories to be burnt. As a result, it is believed that consumption of yacon helps to reduce your weight in general. However, yacon possesses mild laxative properties owing to its reasonable content of dietary fiber and this may be the other reason why consuming it helps in reducing body weight. Moreover, when you consume yacon, you feel satiated which prevents one from overeating.

Benefits of yacon for 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.

Benefits of yacon for Bone

Aging has many drawbacks, not the least of which is bone loss. While people advancing in years try their best to rely on calcium supplements and specially formulated milk products, losing bone density is more or less inevitable. This is something that Yacon can rectify, with regular use as its natural properties facilitate the fortification of bones, particularly the spine. As a result degenerative conditions such as scoliosis, osteoporosis, and osteoarthritis can be effectively prevented if not significantly delayed.

Benefits of yacon for Cancer Prevention

Potential anticancer benefits of yacon were demonstrated in a tissue culture study of human cervical cancer cells published in the October 2011 issue of the journal "Fitoterapia." Yacon compounds inhibited the growth and reproduction of cancer cells and promoted early cell death. In a tissue culture study published in the December 2010 issue of the journal "Chemistry and Biodiversity," a fungus that grows on the roots and leaves of yacon demonstrated anticancer benefits against skin cancer, colon, nerve and blood cancers.

Benefits of yacon for 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.

Benefits of yacon for Immune System Function

The human body’s immune response is its first line of defense against infections, which makes it a very important system to maintain. Since poor nutrition and other less than healthy habits tend to weaken the immune system, it is necessary to take appropriate steps to fortify it. Yacon supplement is known to build up and protect that body’s defenses so that it can defend itself against diseases, especially ones that cause degenerative effects on one or more organ systems.

Benefits And Nutrition Of Yacon (Smallanthus Sonchifolius) For Health
Yacon (Smallanthus Sonchifolius) Root Picture

Dietary Uses

Fresh yacon has a slightly sweet taste and a crunchy texture similar to that of an apple, while its flavor is close to that of watermelon. South Americans eat the tubers, which can range from yellow to purple, as a fruit, with lemon juice and honey, or they add it to fruit salad. You can also stir-fry, roast or bake yacon as a vegetable. Use yacon leaves, also high in inulin, to wrap other foods as you would cabbage or grape leaves, or brew them to make an herbal tea. Yacon syrup and powdered yacon supplements are also available.

Yacon (Smallanthus Sonchifolius) Side effects and cautions

Yacon leaves have shown to possess the aptitude to bring down the levels of blood sugar. However, people suffering from diabetes should consult their physician prior to using yacon for their condition. In addition, they need to keep an eye on the levels of their blood sugar regularly because it may be necessary to adjust the medications for diabetes. Taking yacon leaf formulations together with other diabetic medications may have an affect on insulin and other diabetic drugs.

While it is a rare incident, there have been a number of reports that state that consumption of yacon roots have resulted in allergies.