Have you gotten to taste yacon—that crunchy tuber with a sweet applewatermelon taste? If you already had, most likely you were first curious about its much-hyped low-calorie content despite its sweetness.
But then again, did you know that yacon may not only be good for weight-watchers but also for those wanting optimum overall well-being too?
A recent study led by Dr. Evelyn B. Rodriguez, a Professor at the Institute of Chemistry at the University of the Philippines Los Baños, showed that the tuber from yacon (Smallanthus sonschifolius (Poepp. an Endl.) H. Robinson)— a perennial crop closely related to the sunflower and grown in several areas in Northern Luzon and Mindanao—has more benefits than what people may know.
Through a grant given by the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD) of the Department of Science and Technology(DOST), various phytochemicals in yacon were isolated, identified, characterized and quantified by Dr. Rodriguez’ research group.
Phytochemicals are compounds naturally occurring in plants and are considered as health promoters. According to the study’s results, yacon being grown in the Philippines is very rich in phytosterols, phenolics and fructo-oligosaccharides.
Fructo-oligosaccharides is a type of carbohydrates produced in plants that is sweet but not metabolized by the human body. This makes yacon a good alternative snack or dessert for those who have “sweet-tooth” and even for diabetics as well.
Several bioassays were also conducted to determine the potential contribution of these phytochemicals to health and wellness.
The study showed that the phytosterols of yacon tuber and leaf oils were found to lower blood serum cholesterol, indicating potential for helping lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
The study also showed that the phenolic compounds found in yacon leaves and tubers exhibit potent antioxidant, anti-angiogenic and anti-inflammatory activities.
These results suggest that, like quercetin, the phenolic compounds from yacon can help prevent carcinogenesis and other chronic diseases.
Dr. Rodriguez’ study solidifies yacon’s place in the map of “functional foods”—foods which are highly considered for health and wellness not only because of their nutritive value but for their physiological benefits to the human body as well.
Yacon, according to the findings of Dr. Rodriguez’ research group, could form part of a person’s diet, and in combination with other healthy and functional foods such as fruits and vegetables, may help reduce the risk, delay or even prevent the occurrence of chronic and degenerative diseases in people.
about the author: Florante A. Cruz is the Coordinator of Information Management and Technology Utilization Section, Office of the Vice-Chancellor for Research and Extension, University of the Philippines Los Baños. Tel: (049) 536-5326, email: [email protected] Visit UPLBRDE News Service, Journals Online, Research Videos, R and E Database