You may have seen maca popping up at a local coffee shop or as an addition at a smoothie bar, but this trendy superfood is nothing new.
Maca is an age-old herb that has been hailed as an aphrodisiac and fertility aid.
But before you order a maca latte and go crazy, we’re here to tell you what this magic root is all about.
What is Maca?
Maca — not to be confused with matcha — is in the Brassicaceae family that includes cruciferous root vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage.
He was grown and used in Peru for more than 1,300 years as food and medicine.
There are three types of maca (scientific name Lepidium meyenii): red, black and yellow, the latter being the most common and sought after and commercially preferred variety.
Although maca root is what you’ll find in nature, you’ll likely find it sold in stores as maca powder, which makes for quick and easy consumption.
Some people claim it’s a superfood wonder because it’s touted around the world for its potential fertility benefitsability to improve endurance and athletic performance, antidepressant-like qualities, help women manage menopausal symptoms, and more.
We reached out to the experts and sifted through the studies to find out how science-based this is.
Benefits of Maca
As with many superfoods, research suggests maca has great health potential, but it’s definitely not a panacea.
“It’s not something that will cure all your ailments or help you lose weight quickly,” says registered dietitian Andrea N. Giancoli, MPH, RD.
But there are some potential benefits of this superfood, which is rich in amino acids, vitamins and minerals.
For women, maca has potential estrogenic activitywhich can be beneficial in some cases.
“In women, maca appears to be most beneficial for relieving menopausal symptoms such as night sweats, hot flashes, depressionor sleep dysfunction,” says Mascha Davis MPH, RDN, registered dietitian in private practice at Nomad Nutrition.
As for men, “Maca has traditionally been used to increase libido, boost testosterone levels, and support prostate health,” says Davis.
Maca Side Effects
Maca is generally considered safe in small amounts, but no research tells us it’s safe for children or pregnant or breastfeeding women.
People with hormone-sensitive conditions might want to stay away because it can potentially act like estrogen, Davis says.
Although it’s rare to eat it in any other form in the United States, it’s best eaten in its cooked state (which is how you’ll find it in powdered form).
“Fresh, raw maca can give you stomach pains,” says Giancoli.
Can Maca Help You Lose Weight?
“There’s not a lot of research on maca for weight loss or weight maintenance,” says Giancoli, “but there’s little research on rats that found they didn’t gain weight. when they were taking maca supplements – so he may maintenance assistance. »
Its potential to help people lose or maintain weight may have more to do with its ability to lift our spirits.
“It can give you more energy,” says Giancoli. “And if you feel more energetic, it can help you train better.”
Davis agrees: “Maca doesn’t directly help you lose weight, although it can boost your energy levels and increase your motivation to be active,” she says.
How to use maca
Maca is described as having a bitter taste and pungent smell – which doesn’t make it the most palatable.
But the good news here is that its less than pleasant flavor profile may keep you from consuming too much.
Currently, there is no long-term research on how much of this superfood can be safely consumed each day.
According to one study, “Up to three grams (of maca powder) per day is safe for four months — beyond that, we don’t know,” says Giancoli.
But there are plenty of ways to incorporate those three grams into your diet.
You can use maca in recipes or sprinkle it on your food: “It can be put on cereal or a salad, or in a smoothie or soup,” says Giancoli. “It’s pretty versatile.”
Where can I buy Maca?
You can most often find maca powder in health food stores, some grocery stores (like Trader Joe’s) and online.
You can also find gelatinized maca powderwhich may be easier for some people to digest because its indigestible starch is removed during the gelatinization process.
But be sure to look for maca grown and processed in its region of origin, the Andes Mountains of Peru.
Because the popularity of this superfood has grown so rapidly over the past 20 or so years, it’s not always grown and manufactured as it was hundreds of years ago.
Depending on where you get it, it may have been grown with fertilizers and pesticides, which can change the quality and safety of the final product.
Not every maca health claim has scientific evidence to back it up.
More research is needed before we can say for sure that this is the superfood supplement we crave.
That said, can a teaspoon of quality maca powder here and there be part of a healthy lifestyle? Sure! Don’t think of it as a miracle food.