Maca, a food once specific to a small area in the Andes mountains, has hit the mainstream. But what is maca? And is it really that good for you? Make sense of the craze with this useful guide.
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What is Maca and How is it Used?
It is native to the high plateaus of the Andes mountains, and is a member of the crucifer family, meaning it’s related to cabbage and broccoli. A root vegetable, the taproot portion of maca grows beneath the soil while the green fragrant stems spurt above the ground, giving it an appearance that looks a bit like a cross between a radish and a parsnip. While most maca roots are white or cream in color, four varieties of maca have been separated by root color, and include half purple, purple, black and cream-yellow.
In Peru, it has historically been considered a delicacy, an aphrodisiac, and powerful healing food. It is most often dried and ground into a powder for consumption, which natives have often used it to make porridge. It’s also often cooked with other vegetables in soups, jams, pancakes, empanadas, and other foods. There’s even a fermented maca root beer¹, if you’re into that kind of thing.
What are the Health Benefits of Maca?
Now, it has become more ubiquitous, and you can find the ground powder version of the root in many health food stores. It is frequently praised for it’s healing powers, and many incorporate it into their diets in hopes that it will aid with hormonal balance, increase energy and mental focus, improve sexual function and increased libido, and for it’s touted to support the immune system. It is also considered an “adaptogen,” meaning it is considered an herb that may contribute to adapting to stressors.
But is Maca Actually Good for You? What Does the Science Say?
Maca and its health benefits have been studied by scientists around the world. There is some data to suggest the root does, in fact, increase libido², improve semen quality³, and improve sexual function,4 and has beneficial effects on menopausal symptoms;5 however, many of these studies were done with small sample sizes or used animal models, have limited evidence, and it’s generally believed that more research needs to be done before sweeping conclusions can be made.
It also has some data6 to suggest a positive impact on SSRI antidepressant induced sexual dysfunction, and some mouse data7 to support claims that the root has anti-depressant and oxidative stress-reducing powers. Studies in postmenopausal women8 further support the use of it as an antidepressant.
Regardless of if you’re trying to achieve hormonal balance, or if you believe more research needs to be done, it is a highly nutrient-dense, plant-based food and makes an excellent addition to the human diet. It contains 8 essential amino acids, high levels of calcium, magnesium potassium, copper, zinc, iron, and selenium, and is rich in Vitamins B1, B2, C, and E.
It’s also packed with fiber and protein, making it the perfect satiety-increasing addition for smoothies and baked goods. Maca9 also has promising antioxidant properties, and can help fight potentially damaging free radicals in the body.
Where Can I Find Maca?
Maca powder is sold in health food stores and online, and is slowly being incorporated into many health beverages and snack foods for an added boost of nutrients. You can even find it in Clean Lean Protein Chai Turmeric + Maca, giving you a delicious, plant-based, shortcut to incorporate both the benefits of this superfood and an added protein-boost to your daily diet.