What is Maca: Benefits, Nutrition and Uses
Exploding in popularity, maca root has been hailed as a new superfood that can both treat and help in a range of ailments and boost a number of positive hormones in the body. While looking somewhat unappealing, when made into maca powder the benefits of taking this nutritional dynamo are wide ranging and loved by many.
So, just how do you take maca powder and what can it do for you? And is it really as good as they say? To find out the answers to this, and many more of your frequently asked questions, read on.
What Is Maca Powder?
Maca powder comes from maca root, which is known by many names – from the standard maca to the more colloquial maino. The Peruvian ginseng hails from the Andes mountains and is related to the much more common broccoli, kale and cabbage. Having been grown there for thousands of years, it has locally been the source of many a tale in which it has cured everything from memory loss to fertility problems.
The average maca root is made up of up to 75% carbohydrates, 13% proteins and 8% fiber, while being very low in fat (up to 0.9%). This alone makes it a great choice for athletes and a very healthy addition to the diet. It is also very high in copper, manganese, Vitamin B1 and iron, adding to the belief that is a beneficial supplement for almost anyone, whether you are an athlete or not.
There are lots of different types of maca root, the three most popular being yellow, black and red. Yellow maca is the most commonly sourced and cheapest of all three options, while red is one of the rarest (and often comes in red, pink and purple colored varieties) but has been shown to have a greater concentration of beneficial nutrients. Meanwhile, black maca is said to be the best for men, as it has a more specific range of benefits which are said to best be suited to men’s chemical makeup, although this is widely disputed.
As maca is generally a dry supplement, it can be used as a powder over your food or added to water. If you prefer your tablets, however, you’ll be pleased to know that maca powder is also available as a gel or capsule.
What Are the Benefits of Maca Powder?
While the results of maca powder depend on the type of maca root chosen, as well as any processing the root has undergone before being packaged and sold, the benefits of maca powder are said to include:
- Increased libido
As a common problem in adults and maca powder has been heavily researched – and marketed – as an aphrodisiac thanks to its libido-boosting properties. Indeed, research has concluded that participants in studies have shown an increase in sexual desire, in as little as 6 weeks.
- Improved stamina
Popular with bodybuilders and athletes alike, maca root is said to improve the stamina and endurance performance in animals. Likewise, one study found that the time taken to finish a 25-mile race in 8 male cyclists was significantly reduced after using maca powder regularly for 14 days.
- More energy
In a similar fashion to the results shown to increase stamina, maca powder has shown indications of improving the energy of those who consumed it regularly. Because of this, it is entirely possible that the feelings of increased energy have, in turn, helped with the improved libido of participants, as well as many other benefits of taking maca powder.
- Reduces feelings of depression
Maca powder is packed full of flavonoids, which have been shown to aid in the improvement of low mood and anxiety. One study actually found that maca reduced the signs and symptoms of depression in women and this study has been proven again in later results across the globe.
- Balances hormones
In a study by Australian scientists, maca powder was found to significantly effect the production of hormones, having a balancing effect that led to an improved mood and better overall health. Affecting everything from the production of lipids to blood pressure, this study has shown that maca powder has many positive effects across the entire body.
- Cancer prevention
Red maca powder in particular has been shown to increase levels of glucosinolates, which are known to hold cancer-fighting properties. In particular, this has been shown to be beneficial to men who suffer, or are likely to suffer, from prostate enlargement or benign prostatic hyperplasia. Interestingly, however, black maca is said to have no effect on this.
- Improved bone density
Being rich in calcium, maca powder is able to help improve the level of bone density in your body. Adding a little maca powder to your daily diet is said to improve the strength of your bones, while preventing the likelihood of osteoporosis.
- Delayed aging
Some studies have suggested that applying maca powder to the skin can reduce the level of sun damage caused by UV rays. This, as well as the substantial evidence regarding the benefits of maca’s nutritional makeup, indicates that maca powder can improve the overall skin condition through it’s abundance of Vitamin K.
- Improved metabolism
Being rich in amino acids and packed with vitamins and minerals, maca powder is able to improve the overall metabolism of those who consume it regularly. Indeed, one study in Frontiers in Pharmacology found that a considerable number of the bioactive compounds found in the maca root were able to target 16 proteins involved in metabolism disorder – allowing their participants to improve their overall metabolism.
- Increased fertility
A study into the effects of maca powder on sperm has shown that regularly taking maca root raises the concentration of sperm and improves the motility of sperm in healthy adult males. These increases in movement and number of sperm available are therefore able to indicate an increase the level of fertility shown by men who took maca powder frequently, over a period of time.
- Improved memory and learning ability
Research thus far has provided evidence for an improved level of concentration, memory and overall learning ability in animals. This, along with current anecdotal evidence, shows that regularly taking maca powder may be able to help improve the overall level of learning and ability to hold information in humans. This is particularly interesting as it shows promise in the area of treating Alzheimer’s.
- Powerful antioxidant
Being packed full of enzymes and bioactive components, including phenols, glucosinolates, alkamides and polysaccharides, maca powder is able to increase the levels of antioxidants in the body. This, in turn, helps to improve the overall health of cells in the body, allowing you to feel more energetic, happier and with an overall improved feeling of health.
How to Use Maca Powder?
Generally speaking, maca powder is best ingested raw as cooking the maca root or adding it to hot dishes tends to impair the beneficial qualities it possesses. Instead, it’s recommended that you use maca powder in raw baking, mixed into drinks or even sprinkled over your usual food. Luckily, the flavor of the maca root is actually quite pleasant – with a nutty, almost butterscotch type of flavoring, so doing this shouldn’t impair the flavor of your meals significantly.
How Much Maca Should I Take a Day?
Maca that comes in a tablet or capsule format will usually come with their own instructions, as the dosages of these can vary, depending on the manufacturer. In these cases, it is always best to follow the instructions given. If you have chosen the powdered variant, however, it is generally best to consume between 1.5 and 2 grams of powder per day, in line with studies showing the beneficial effects of this plant.
It’s important to note that there is no standard dosage for maca powder as the effects have not been thoroughly researched. Thus, it is crucial to talk to your doctor if you are thinking about adding maca supplements to your diet and are currently taking medication for any other illness.
Risks of Taking Maca Root
Although this plant has been grown and eaten for hundreds of years, studies are still relatively new and therefore the full effects of maca powder haven’t yet been discovered. However, knowledge of the nutritional makeup does allow for some risks and considerations when using maca powder. For example, if you take any blood thinners, it is recommended that you do not use maca root, as the abundance of Vitamin K (the vitamin that allows and helps you to produce blood clots) will undo the good work of your medicine.
There has also been no research into the effects of maca powder during pregnancy and breastfeeding. So, if you’re planning to get pregnant, are pregnant or are currently breastfeeding, it is generally not advised to start taking maca powder.
- The health benefits of maca powder – BBC Good Food
- Maca Powder: Benefits, Nutrition And Uses – HuffPost
- 9 Benefits of Maca Root (and Potential Side Effects) – Healthline