Maca (Regular Maca, Red Maca, Maca Extreme)
A staple in the Peruvian Andes for thousands of years, this adaptogenic superfood increases energy, endurance, strength, and libido. Maca is a favorite of raw-foodists, vegetarians, adventurers, extreme athletes, dessert chefs and food alchemists.
Dried maca powder contains more than 10% protein, nearly 20 amino acids, and 7 essential amino acids. As a root crop, maca contains five times more protein than a potato and four times more fiber. Although maca is not a complete protein, it is such a great source of hormone precursors and amino acids that it provides many of the same benefits created by a high-protein diet. Maca invigorates; rejuvenates the endocrine system; benefits the thyroid, the sexual organs, and the adrenals; supports brain health and good neurochemistry; helps fight feelings of depression – in short, it is one of the most incredible foods on the planet. Not only does maca include a ton of nutrients, amino acids, fatty acids, but it also increases fertility. If you are having trouble conceiving a child, maca is a great food to add to your diet. Maca is also excellent for combating menopausal symptoms.
What is Maca?
Maca is a traditional staple superfood-food-herb from the harsh cold climates of the high Andes in Peru that has been used for thousands of years. Maca grows at an elevation of 11,000-14,000 feet, making it likely the highest altitude food-herb crop in the world. The character and properties of maca developed due to these extreme growing conditions. This makes Maca an excellent food-herb choice for individuals living in cold climates and/or at high altitudes and/or with extreme lifestyles.
Maca is a member of the cruciferous family of plants. It is a distant relative of the common radish. The maca plant produces leaves that grow close to the ground and the plant produces a small, off-white flower typical of the cruciferous family. The main part of interest for this plant, however, is the radish-like tuberous root.
Historical and Traditional Use of Maca
Archaeological evidence revealed that maca was domesticated over 2,000 years ago by the predecessors of the Incan people. Even today, for many indigenous inhabitants of the Andes, Maca is still one of the most vital and valuable of all commodities.
The maca root has been used over the ages for its nutritional and herbal qualities. Once harvested, the maca root was traditionally dried, then powdered. And once powdered, it was eaten or traded for other commodities. Often times cacao nibs and beans (raw chocolate) from the jungle were traded for the maca. These two foods (maca and cacao) have a unique affinity and history which is evident when one tries eating them together. Both cacao and maca were used as money by ancient indigenous peoples.
Maca’s Remarkable Reputation
Maca’s reputation as a powerful strength and stamina enhancer as well as libido-enhancing food-herb stretches back into prehistory. Maca, like goji berries and ginseng, is a powerful adaptogen, which means it balances and stabilizes the body’s systems (cardiovascular system, nervous system, musculature, lymphatic system, etc). As an adaptogen, maca can provide more energy if it is needed, but if it is not, it will not overstimulate. Adaptogens also boost immunity and increase the body’s overall vitality by 10-15%, according to most studies. Rather than addressing a specific symptom, adaptogens are used to improve the overall adaptability of the whole body to diverse and challenging situations and stress.
During the height of the Incan Empire, legend has it that Incan warriors would consume maca before entering into battle. This would make them fiercely strong. But after conquering a city the Incan soldiers were prohibited from using maca, to protect the women from excessive sexual impulses.
The Scientific and Health Properties of Maca
Dried maca powder contains 60% carbohydrates, 9% fiber, and slightly more than 10% protein. It has a higher lipid (fat) content than other root crops (2.2%), of which linoleic acid, palmitic acid and oleic acid are the primary fatty acids, respectively. Maca is rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sulfur and iron, and contains trace minerals, including zinc, iodine, copper, selenium, bismuth, manganese and silica, as well as vitamins B1, B2, C and E. Maca contains nearly 20 amino acids and seven essential amino acids. Maca is also a rich source of sterols, including sitosterol, campestrol, ergosterol, brassicasterol, and ergostadienol. As a root crop, maca contains five times more protein than a potato and four times more fiber.
Peruvian researchers claim that maca improves memory, increases oxygen in the blood, improves the function of neurotransmitters and increases libido. One of the researchers heading current studies on maca, Peruvian biologist Gloria Chacon de Popivici, Ph.D., suggests that maca alkaloids act on the hypothalamus-pituitary axis and the adrenals. She has theorized that by activating these endocrine glands maca is able to increase energy, vitality and libido. Other researchers indicate that the effect of maca is more basic and that when the body is well-nourished, libido rises and depressing attitudes lower. Maca’s nutrient value could explain some of these purported actions.
Maca’s actions on sexual function are better researched than its effects on mood and memory. One study showed that maca increased fertility in rats. Then came studies of guinea pigs, rams, and cows, each of which corroborated maca’s libido-enhancing effects. For example, maca significantly increased ram semen volume and sperm count.
Researchers consider plant sterols, isothiocyanates, macamides and glucosinolates to be maca’s active constituents.
How to Consume Maca
Maca is generally purchased as a dried, raw, organic root powder. You may use a tablespoon or more of this powder in smoothies, teas, nut milks, coffee or just about any natural beverage you can think of. Maca is a great addition to desserts and sweet treats.
As previously mentioned, maca has an unusual relationship with cacao. Mix maca into all your favorite raw chocolate treats and experience real culinary magic.
Additionally, maca may be added to homemade jams, broths, puddings and fresh juices.
Maca has a slightly malted flavor and other flavor notes that are sweet and full. It has some minor taste qualities reminiscent of other cruciferous vegetables; these add some mildly spicy elements.
Can you eat too much maca?
Yes, if course! Maca is a powerful superfood-food-herb and should be consumed in moderation.
If you really love maca, use 1-2 tablespoons each day and it is recommended that you take a week off during every month of consistent use.
Are there any side effects or interactions to overeating maca? In toxicity studies conducted in the U.S., maca showed absolutely no toxicity and no adverse pharmacological effects. In animal studies, the more maca animals consumed, the stronger and more sexually active they became. Despite these findings, moderation is advised.