You may have seen maca cropping up as an add-in at the local coffee shop or smoothie bar, but this trendy superfood isn’t new.
Maca is a centuries-old plant recognized as an aphrodisiac and fertility aid.
But before you order a maca latte and start your frenzy, we’re here to tell you what this magic root is.
What is Maca?
Maca — not to be confused with matcha — is there Brassicaceae The family includes cruciferous root vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage.
It has been cultivated and used as food and medicine in Peru for over 1,300 years.
Three types of maca (scientific name Lepidium meyenii): red, black and yellow, the last being the most common and most researched variety and the commercial favourite.
Although you can find maca root in nature, you’ll likely find it sold in stores as maca powder, which allows for quick and easy use.
Some claim it’s a wonder superfood, as it’s touted worldwide for its potential fertility benefits, ability to improve endurance and athletic performance, antidepressant-like qualities, help women manage menopausal symptoms, and more.
We reached out to experts and sifted through research to find out how much of it is based on science.
Benefits of Maca
Like many superfoods, research suggests maca has great health potential, but it’s certainly 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 to this superfood, which is high in amino acids, vitamins and minerals.
It is considered an adaptogen, meaning it can help the body adapt to stress. Studies suggest that maca can also help people with fatigue and anxiety.
For women, maca has potential estrogenic activity, which may be beneficial in some cases.
“For women, maca appears to be most beneficial in relieving menopausal symptoms such as night sweats, hot flashes, depression, or sleep dysfunction,” says private practice dietitian Mascha Davis MPH, RDN, of Nomadista Nutrition.
For men, “cacao has traditionally been used to increase libido, raise testosterone levels and support prostate health,” says Davis.
Maca side effects
Maca is generally considered safe in small amounts, but there is no research that tells us it is safe for children or pregnant or breastfeeding women.
People suffering from hormone-sensitive conditions may want to stay away from it because it could potentially act like an estrogen, Davis says.
Although it is rare to eat it in any other form in the US, it is best eaten cooked (which is what you get as a powder).
“Fresh, raw maca can give you an upset stomach,” says Giancoli.
Can Maca Help You Lose Weight?
“There’s not a lot of research on maca for weight loss or weight maintenance,” Giancoli says, “but a limited study in rats showed that they didn’t gain weight when they took maca supplements—so it’s may be Help with maintenance.”
It’s potential to help people lose or maintain weight has more to do with its ability to make us happy.
“It can make you feel stronger,” says Giancoli. “And if you feel more energized, it can help you exercise 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-pretty flavor profile can keep you from overdoing it.
At this point, there is no long-term research on how safe this superfood is on a daily basis.
According to one study, “up to three grams per day (of maca powder) is safe for four months — beyond that we don’t know,” Giancoli said.
But there are many ways you can incorporate those three grams into your diet.
You can use maca in recipes or sprinkle it over your food: “It can be put on top of cereal or salads or smoothies or soups,” says Giancoli. “It’s pretty versatile.”
Where can I buy Maca?
You can usually find maca powder in health food stores, some grocery stores (such as Trader Joe’s), and online.
You can also find gelatinized maca powder, which may be easier for some people to digest because the indigestible starch is removed during the gelatinization process.
But make sure you’re looking for maca that’s grown and processed in its native region, the Andes Mountains of Peru.
Because this superfood’s popularity has grown so rapidly over the past 20 years, it’s not always the same way it was grown and made hundreds of years ago.
Depending on where you source it, it may be grown with fertilizers and pesticides, which can alter the quality and safety of the final product.
Not every maca health claim necessarily has scientific evidence to support it.
More research is needed before we can say with confidence that this is the superfood supplement we’ve been dreaming of.
That said, can a teaspoon of quality maca powder here and there be part of a healthy lifestyle? Sure! Don’t look at it as a miracle food.