Maca (also known as Peruvian ginseng) is a cruciferous root vegetable in the same family as broccoli, kale, and cabbage. It grows in the Peruvian mountains where the soil is rich in minerals, which contributes to its impressive nutrient profile.
Maca is rich in protein as well as fiber. The fiber feeds the good bacteria in your gut as well as promotes regularity.
Due to the soil it grows in, maca is packed with 31 different minerals. It’s especially high in:
Maca also contains vitamins, fatty acids, and 60 different phytonutrients. Two specific bioactive compounds worth mentioning include alkaloids and glucosinolates.
Many pharmaceutical drugs are derived from alkaloids, including digitalis (heart medication), morphine and codeine. Thus, they have significant therapeutic effects. And glucosinolates are sulfuring containing compounds most well known for their ability to prevent cancer.
Potential Health Benefits of Maca Root
Maca has historically been used in Peru as food and medicine. Specifically, it used for boosting fertility and building courage and endurance. But it’s been gaining attention in Northern America mostly due to several potential health benefits, which include:
- Balance and regulate hormones
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Boost energy and stamina
- Increases fertility and libido
Because of its reported hormonal balancing effects, many women use maca as a natural alternative to hormone replacement therapy.
How to Add Maca to Your Diet
You’ll need to discuss using maca root therapeutically with your health care practitioner. But in terms of nutrition, it’s a no brainer.
Maca is highly digestible and easily assimilated. It’s most often sold in a powder form, which can simply be added to many foods. The flavor is often described as earthy and mildly nutty.
When shopping for maca, you’ll probably come across two different types. And they each have pros and cons.
- Raw: Raw maca root is simply dried and ground into a powder. It’s never heated above 115 degrees, which preserves its natural enzymes and maximizes nutrition.
- Gelatinized: Gelatinized maca is heat treated to remove the starch content. As a result, it’s easier to digest and the nutrients are more concentrated. Thus, you need less. But while the heat makes some nutrients more bioavailable, it also makes others less effective, such as glucosinolates. And the glucosinolates are what some believe are associated with its hormone balancing effects.
Most often people add maca powder to smoothies, but you can also add it to:
- Nut milks
- Hot chocolate
- Coffee drinks
- Chia pudding
- Sauces and dips
- Soups and stews
- Healthy homemade treats
The standard American diet is highly refined and nutrient deficient. Thus, adding nutrient dense foods such as maca root (as well as moringa, seaweed, and spirulina) is a great way to get your daily dose of vitamins and minerals.
Wang, Y., Wang, Y., Mcneil, B., & Harvey, L. M. (2007). Maca: An Andean crop with multi-pharmacological functions. Food Research International,40(7), 783-792. doi:10.1016/j.foodres.2007.02.005
Gonzales-Arimborgo, C., Yupanqui, I., Montero, E., Alarcón-Yaquetto, D., Zevallos-Concha, A., Caballero, L., . . . Gonzales, G. (2016). Acceptability, Safety, and Efficacy of Oral Administration of Extracts of Black or Red Maca (Lepidium meyenii) in Adult Human Subjects: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Pharmaceuticals,9(3), 49. doi:10.3390/ph9030049
Gonzales, G. F., Gonzales, C., & Gonzales-Castañeda, C. (2009). Lepidium meyenii (Maca): A Plant from the Highlands of Peru – from Tradition to Science. Forschende Komplementärmedizin / Research in Complementary Medicine,16(6), 373-380. doi:10.1159/000264618