Fantasy stories come to life in the form of Maca Powder. It is a plant that is highly revered by a close-knit community high in the mountains. They use it to prepare herbs, powders, and poultices as a kind of cure-all.
Maca is a cruciferous Peruvian plant. They are related to cabbage, broccoli, and kale. What makes maca unique to other cruciferous vegetables is the fact that its roots and leaves are edible. What’s more, is that the Maca powder root provides a lot of health benefits.
The Maca plant’s appearance closely resembles a cross between a potato and white radish. To cultivate them successfully, requirements in climate must be met. They would only grow in an area that is thousands of feet above sea level and under frigid conditions. It is grown in Peru’s Andes Mountains primarily. However, it has found its way to other countries recently due to its rise in popularity.
Growing and Preparation
It takes around 3 years to grow and harvest the Maca plant, 2 years for the production of seeds and 1 year to grow the plant. To make Maca powder, the roots are sun-dried for 3 months and are turned into powder for another 3 months. The Andeans, those who live in the Andes Mountains, upheld their ancestors’ traditions when it comes to growing the maca plant. Whenever they would grow maca plants on a plot of land they would wait for 10 years before they would use this plot of land for the same purpose again.
When prepared as food, raw maca plant’s roots can be prepared the same way as you would with potatoes. They have a nutty and butterscotch-like taste. Maca root is often turned to Maca powder because they have a longer shelf-life. The powder can then be boiled with milk to create a porridge. Another way of extending the shelf-life of the maca root is to ferment them and turn them into a beverage. The Andeans have done this for a long time, they call this fermented Peruvian beverage ‘maca chicha’.
A well-spring of Nutrition
Similar to most cruciferous vegetables, maca powder root contains a lot of vitamins, minerals, and beneficial plant compounds. It contains glucosinolates which are converted to isothiocyanates when they are broken down through the mechanical action of chewing. Isothiocyanates have known anti-cancer effects. Besides this, it contains minerals like vanadium, zinc, copper, manganese, silica, sodium, magnesium, and calcium. Furthermore, they contain alkaloids, phytosterol, lignans, carbohydrates, proteins, ascorbic acid, riboflavin, and thiamine. All of these play a role in the maca powder benefits which are discussed in further details later on.
As mentioned, the Andeans have been using the Maca root as traditional medicine and a food supplement. Recently, this superfood, which was hidden away in the Andes Mountains, has now reached most health food stores. People consume maca root powder with the intent of improving their sexual performance and fertility and treating anaemia and other conditions. Maca benefits animals as well, maca root powder is given to livestock to increase their fertility. However, are there enough pieces of evidence to support these claims?
Different ways to prepare Maca
Maca root can be prepared in various ways. You can boil it as you would with a potato, fermented into a beverage, and dried into a powder. The powdered version of Maca root is quite versatile. It can easily be mixed into various smoothies, cereals, protein shakes, or any other drink. Besides this, it can even be used as a flour. Have caution when using Maca on your foods and dishes. Although it has a pleasant butterscotch-like earthy flavour, its strength can easily overwhelm your tongue. Majority of those who consume maca powder frequently would say that it takes some time to get used to the taste. But after you have acquired the taste for it, you can enjoy it on just about anything.
Differences in Maca varieties
There are many phenotypes, observable physical characteristics, of maca but all of them would fall under three general varieties; the yellow maca, red maca, and black maca.
The yellow variety of maca is the least potent among the three. It provides the same health benefits as the red and black maca varieties but at a weaker strength. They are usually used as a food supplement for correcting hormonal imbalance as well as a plant-based steroid.
The Red maca variety is primarily used for female reproductive issues; specifically, the undesirable effects that come with menstruation and menopause. This maca variety is a more effective hormonal balancer, which is why it is better at dealing with these issues. There are men who would use the red maca to treat prostate enlargement. However, we do not recommend it as there is no sufficient information regarding its positive and possibly negative effects on prostate enlargement.
The Black maca variety is the best maca variety when it comes to treating sexual dysfunction and low energy levels. It is taken by a lot of athletes for it is believed to boost energy levels during training.
All three maca varieties have the same health benefits. However, one variety may be more effective than the others for treating certain health issues.
Maca Powder Benefits
There are promising pieces of evidence that support maca powder’s health benefits. However, most of the research regarding maca powder’s health benefits are still insufficient, further studies are required.
1. Enhances Sexual Performance and Desire
Improving libido and sexual performance, this is what Maca Powder is widely known for. Even before maca powder root became widely known, the Andeans have been using this as an aphrodisiac for many years. Recent research studies reveal that Maca might be a viable natural aphrodisiac.
One study reported improvements in sexual performance and sexual desire in men who were given 1500 to 3000 milligrams of maca powder root daily. Furthermore, and perhaps the best health benefits of maca root for men, better arousal, and improvements in erectile dysfunction. A different study conducted in 2002 using the same maca dosage showed similar results. Studies which involved women instead of men as the participants also showed similar results. One study showed improvements in the libido of their female participants despite experiencing anxiety and depression. This study was conducted over the course of 12 weeks and all of the participants were taking Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. A similar study was conducted years later in 2015, their results revealed that maca root may help postmenopausal women who have sexual dysfunction and are taking antidepressant drugs. In 2010 a review on several research papers regarding maca’s effect on libido was conducted. The review highlighted two randomized clinical trials which were the basis of their conclusion; maca does, in fact, have a positive effect on sexual performance and sexual desire on both men and women.
2. Resolves Reproductive Problems
When a woman reaches her premenopausal age, her reproductive hormones would begin to fluctuate and would begin to experience the symptoms of this fluctuation such as hot flashes and night sweats. Fortunately, studies have shown that maca root can be used as a natural remedy for these symptoms. This may be due to the fact that Maca is an adaptogen or a plant that naturally possesses properties that aid the body in adapting to external stress triggers. As an adaptogen, maca has the ability to bring hormonal fluctuations back to normal. This hormone balancing effect was demonstrated in a 2006 study.
For men, there are pieces of evidence that support the benefits of using maca powder for fertility issues. In 2015, 20 male volunteers were given 1.4 grams of maca powder or a placebo fertility enhancer. After 12 weeks of clinical trials, the results of this study showed that those who took maca powder had better sperm motility and concentration. A year later, a review of published studies regarding maca’s effect on male fertility was conducted. Results of the review showed that there is some evidence that supports the idea that maca powder can improve semen quality in both infertile and fertile men.
3. Improves Energy Levels
Through unknown mechanisms, maca root seems to improve energy levels. Due to this, athletes and bodybuilders take maca root as a supplement to get more energy for training. There are only a few studies which investigated maca roots’ energy-boosting effects. One 2009 study, in particular, involved giving maca extracts to cyclists for 14 days. The researchers then compared their performance with the other cyclists who received a placebo performance-enhancing supplement. Results of this research showed that those who took the maca powder root supplements performed slightly better than those who took the placebo. However, the difference was not significant.
4. Improves Mood and Cognitive-related Issues
As mentioned earlier, maca powder can improve symptoms of sexual dysfunction in depressed women who are taking antidepressants. It turns out, maca may help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression as well. A 2015 study showed that maca is capable of reducing symptoms of depression as well as blood pressure in their postmenopausal Chinese women. This depression-alleviating effect may be attributed to the flavonoids present in this plant-based food.
5. Enhances antioxidant status
There are at least 25 plant compounds in maca root and maca leaves which were identified by the research team at Kyung Hee University’s Department of Food and Nutrition. The plant compounds can be grouped into three, one group consisting of the saponins, another group consisting of phenols, and the last one consisting of flavonoids. The amount of saponin, phenol, and flavonoids present in maca roots and leaves are 6.09, 6.09, and 0.23 mg QE/ 100 g dry weight respectively. These findings suggest that maca root can enhance our antioxidant status by introducing a lot of plant-compounds with antioxidant effects on our body.
6. Improves your nutrient status
Maca powder contains a lot of insoluble plant fibres which is beneficial for your digestive system. Aside from this, maca powder contains a lot of vitamin C. 28 grams of the maca powder may contain enough vitamin C to supply 133% of your daily vitamin C needs. Aside from this, maca powder contains a significant amount of calcium and iron.
Currently, there’s still no definite maca powder dosage. A person’s age and weight dictate how much maca root is safe for them. However, there’s still no reliable literature to suggest a definite dosage which takes those variables into account. Depending on the manufacturer, the maca capsule may contain maca in powder or liquid form at a dosage of 450 milligrams to 3000 milligrams. Capsules which contain 1000 milligrams or less are usually taken three times per day, taken with meals. Capsules containing 2000 milligrams and above are usually taken once a day. For now, most health experts have settled for a 3000 milligram per day maximum maca powder dosage. So far, no one has reported any adverse effects from taking 3000 milligrams of maca root per day. Taking capsules which contain maca powder root is the best option for those who have not developed the taste for this superfood.
In general, consuming maca is safe as long as you don’t exceed a dosage of 3 grams per day for up to 4 months. Since there are still a lot of unknowns regarding the effects of maca on the body, pregnant women, nursing women, children, and people with kidney or liver diseases are advised not to consume maca just to be on the safe side. For those who take blood thinners for whatever reasons are strongly advised not to consume maca. This food contains high levels of vitamin K which may inhibit the effect of the blood thinner. Males who have prostate issues and have high amounts of Prostate-Specific Antigen or PSA are also strongly advised not to consume maca. It has been observed that maca extracts may act like estrogen. Thus, people who have hormone-sensitive conditions such as prostate enlargement, prostate cancer, breast cancer, ovarian and uterine cancer are strongly advised to avoid this food item as well.
Food Recipes with Maca Powder
Some of the plant compounds which are responsible for maca powder’s health benefits are sensitive to heat. To ensure that your maca powder retains its potential health effects, it is highly recommended that you add the powder into food only after cooking them. For example, you can sprinkle them on top of cupcakes after they are baked. This way, they are not exposed to the oven’s heat. Another suggestion is to add them to foods that are not hot like smoothies.
1. Maca Spinach Banana Smoothie
Maca powder in smoothies is a great idea. Smoothies are cold which means the plant compounds present in the maca powder would remain intact.
- One-fourth of a cup of almond milk or water (your choice)
- One-third to one-half of a cup of yoghurt
- One cup of loose fresh spinach leaves
- One teaspoon of maca root powder
- One scoop hydrolyzed collagen (optional)
- One tablespoon peanut butter or Two tablespoon peanut powder (optional)
- One medium-size banana peeled and sliced into small circular pieces
- Bring out your blender and place the ingredients inside in the order that are listed above
- Turn it on and blend all of the ingredients to your desired consistency
- The hydrolyzed collagen is optional because it is only there for the added health benefits, the smoothie may still work without it. The peanut butter and peanut powder are also optional because some of you may be allergic to it.
2. Maca Energy Bars
The secret to making this no-cook nutrient-packed energy bars is a food processor. All of the ingredients need to be chopped finely by a food processor until they have an acceptable consistency.
- One to Two tablespoon of maca powder
- One cup of macadamia nuts or cashews soaked in water for 8 hours and then oven-dried at 95 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit
- One cup of dates
- Half a cup of shredded coconut flesh
- One-fourth of a teaspoon of vanilla extracts
- Apple Cinnamon Flavour
- One to Two tablespoon maca powder
- Half a cup of walnuts soaked and dried like the macadamia nuts or cashews
- Half a cup of almonds soaked and dried as well
- One cup dates
- One cup dried apples
- One and a half of teaspoon of cinnamon
- One to two teaspoon of water
- Gingerbread flavour
- One to two tablespoons of maca powder
- One and a half cups cashews soaked and oven-dried
- One and a half cups of dates
- Three-fourths to one and a half teaspoon of finely ground ginger
- Three-fourths of a teaspoon of cinnamon
- A quarter of a teaspoon of cloves
- One to Two tablespoon water
- Lemon-lime flavour
- One to two tablespoon of maca powder
- One cup crispy cashews soaked and then oven-dried
- One cup of dates
- Half a cup of shredded coconut
- Three tablespoons lime zest
- Two tablespoons lime juice
- Cacao Cookie flavour
- One to Two tablespoons of maca powder
- Two cups of crispy cashews soaked and oven-dried
- One cup dates
- Two teaspoon vanilla extract
- Two tablespoons Cacao nibs
- One tablespoon water
- Bring out your food processor and put all ingredients inside the food processor. Start the food processor and blend the ingredients until it has a coarse but pasty consistency. You can check if it’s of the right consistency by picking up the mixture and rolling it in the palm of your hands. If the mixture sticks together then they are ready to be shaped into Energy Bars. If it is still crumbly, it still needs more blending. If you think the problem is that it is very dry, add a teaspoon of water while the mixture is blending. Continue on adding a teaspoon of water until you get the right consistency.
- If the mixture is of the right consistency, press it onto a wax paper and shape them into bars. Wrap each bar with the wax paper and store in the freezer to harden and to extend its shelf-life.
3. Hot Maca Chocolate drink
Sometimes you can’t just help but crave for a warm chocolate drink. Great news, you can make your favourite cocoa drink even more nutritious by adding maca powder. Although we mentioned that maca powder is better consumed in low temperatures, mixing the powder in a warm beverage doesn’t necessarily eliminate all of its plant compounds.
- One and a quarter cups of water
- A quarter of a cup of full-fat coconut milk
- Two tablespoons of raw cacao powder
- One teaspoon of maca powder
- Half a teaspoon of cinnamon
- Two tablespoons maple syrup
Simply mix all of the ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat the mixture slowly in low heat as the ingredients are known to burn easily. You may use a blender to thicken the texture of the drink and to cool it a little bit.
Frequently asked questions about Maca Root and Maca Powder
1. How to use maca powder?
Maca powder is quite versatile and can be used in a variety of ways. They can be incorporated into a lot of recipes, you just simply add the powder. For example, you can add it to any smoothie of your choice. They can be added to yoghurt. They can also be boiled along with milk to create a porridge but they are better eaten uncooked to retain most of its beneficial plant compounds. If you’re not a fan of maca powder’s taste you can simply take maca powder capsules along with every meal.
2. When is the best time to take maca root?
There’s still no definitive answer for this but most maca root supplement manufacturers would suggest taking the supplement after meals. So the best time to take maca root supplements is after your meals.
3. What does Maca do for the body?
Maca is a kind of adaptogen. Although the mechanisms behind its action on the body are still unknown, they enable the body to handle external stressors. For example, they are capable of returning balance to fluctuating hormone levels.
4. Can Maca make you gain weight?
The adaptogenic properties of maca act as a double-edged sword. While it helps to return balance to your hormones, this process may cause your body to burn up a lot of calories which increases your appetite. If you’re not careful with your calorie intake or if you don’t exercise. You may gain weight. If you do decide to exercise, you may gain muscle mass and may gain weight because of that.
5. What are the side effects of Maca?
There are still no known side effects of consuming maca. As long as you are not taking blood thinners, are not pregnant or breastfeeding, or have hormone-sensitive conditions such as uterine fibroids, endometriosis, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer, then taking maca is safe.
6. How long does it take for maca root to work?
There’s still no definitive time frame as to when maca powder benefits would start to take effect or appear. However, in the aforementioned study concerning its effects on libido, it took around 12 weeks before improvements in sexual performance and sexual desire were observed.
Like a plant of legends, the maca plant is tucked away high up in the Andes Mountain Range. It is still cultivated the same way the Incas cultivated them. In recent years, the Maca plant came out of seclusion and into the shelves of health food stores due to its aphrodisiac effects. Due to this, it has attracted the attention of the scientific community and research was conducted to investigate its health claims. Although some studies show promising results, it is still too early to say for certain that the maca plant provides the health benefits that it claims it does. Nevertheless, partaking this plant is still worth a try.