Recently, there has been an explosion in popularity of Maca Root powder, particularly among fitness buffs and athletes. It’s popping up in pouches and supplements all over the place. But is this earthy tasting powder deserving of its ‘superfood’ status?
What is Maca?
The Maca plant is a hardy root vegetable that grows at high altitudes in Peru and comes from the same family as broccoli and cauliflower. Also known as Peruvian Ginseng, the roots of the Maca plant have traditionally been used to improve stamina and energy, but are also associated with fertility and sex drive.
The plant has a long history of medicinal and culinary use in Peru, but in recent years has gained popularity worldwide as a dietary supplement, usually sold in powder form. It is thought to have a number of benefits, although scientific research is fairly limited at the moment.
The main benefit of Maca is its nutritional value. It is low in fat, but high in carbs and protein, with a healthy dose of fibre thrown in for good measure. It also contains high levels of Vitamin C, along with Iron, Copper, Vitamin B6 and amino acids, so is undeniably a useful dietary supplement.
Just one 5g teaspoon of Maca powder provides almost 5% of our recommended daily amount of iron (for people aged 19-50), and it also contains 10% of the recommended amount of copper. Copper and iron go hand in hand, because they are both important in the production of blood cells.
It is also thought that Maca has antioxidant properties and could even be used as as topical protection from the sun, but further research is needed on this.
Getting jiggy with it
Maca has commonly been marketed on the basis that it is a natural libido booster and fertility enhancer. Studies revealed that both men and women had improved sexual desire after around 6-8 weeks of taking Maca powder as part of their diet. And, some small pieces of research have demonstrated that men who take Maca for around 4 months or more, have improved sperm production which can help with fertility.
Energy and mood boost
People who regularly use Maca powder have reported that they feel more energised and awake as a result, and early clinical trials seem to back this up.
Initial research has indicated that Maca can help to relieve the symptoms of depression by regulating mood and energy throughout the day. The plant also contains flavonoids which are natural compounds that are partly responsible for supporting positive mood and memory.
Maca has been particularly associated with decreased anxiety and depression in menopausal women and is known to help regulate the female hormones that can contribute to low mood or mood swings. For this reason, it is also thought to be effective in relieving some common menstrual and menopausal symptoms too, such as cramps, night sweats and hot flushes.
Maca is known as an ‘adaptogen’, which means it naturally helps the body to adapt and protect itself from stressors, such as a busy schedule, demanding job or illness. This could be another reason why it is good at supporting positive mental health and possibly also a contributor to increased levels of endurance or energy.
Other Maca miracles
There are a number of other possible benefits of Maca, although most remain untested. For example, bodybuilders may claim to take Maca to improve their strength or muscle bulk. And, Peruvian children are often given Maca to help improve their memory and learning capacity at school.
Certainly, as a good source of dietary nutrients, Maca will help to support the healthy functioning of body and mind, but the jury is out on whether all of its ‘superfood’ claims are entirely true.
How to use Maca
It is easy to introduce Maca into your diet. It is available in powder, liquid and capsule form, so you can either take it directly as a supplement or add it to your favourite foods. It is recommended that you start with the equivalent of 1-2 tablespoons of Maca a day.
In a powder form, it’s really easy to add a small spoonful to smoothies, porridge, flapjacks, brownies or energy bars. Maca powder has a slightly earthy, nutty taste but the flavour can vary slightly depending on the type of Maca (black is the most bitter and white or creamy coloured Maca tastes sweeter).
Check out these Maca Powder recipes.
(Note: Maca contains goitrogens, which can affect the function of the thyroid gland, so if you have thyroid problems, seek advice from your GP before taking Maca).
Other interesting reading:
- Why drinking tea is good for your health
- Nightime nosh to help you sleep well
- The 5 different types of tiredness
Share your thoughts
Are you a regular Maca powder user? What is the main reason you take it and what benefits have you noticed as a result? Perhaps you are a qualified nutritionist who advises your clients to introduce Maca into their diets? Whatever your thoughts, we’d love to hear from you. Pop your comments in the box below.