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Maca root: what is it & what are its benefits?

Laura Harcourt

Written byLaura Harcourt

heeral-patel-bio

Reviewed byHeeral Patel

maca root powder - a small bowl with a spoon against ceramic tile surface
When trying to improve our health, we know that changing our diet is one of the best places to start. Whether that’s choosing rice cakes over crisps or yoghurt over ice cream, certain food groups offer more health benefits than others, making them essential to incorporate into your day-to-day eating habits.

However, while some foods may often steal the limelight, other ingredients may also make a big difference to your overall health and wellbeing. Maca root, for example, has been used for centuries in some parts of the world because of its potential nutritional effects.

In this article, we take a closer look at this plant and highlight some of the potential benefits that incorporating maca root into your diet may offer.

What is maca root?

Also known as Peruvian ginseng or Lepidium meyenii, maca is a potent superfood that grows exclusively in the central Andes. Its roots boast a rich blend of fibre, protein, carbohydrates, and amino acids, as well as vitamins and minerals like iron and calcium.1 

Celebrated for centuries by indigenous populations in South America, maca is widely recognised for its various anecdotal health benefits.1 
Maca belongs to the Brassicaceae family – the same family as vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower – and this powerhouse plant is largely believed by locals to boost factors like sexual dysfunction and stamina. However, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support these benefits.2,3 

Some studies have also shown maca may support hormonal regulation. This may help reduce the severity of the hormonal-related symptoms you often experience during menopause. However, due to possible reporting biases and variation in the studies, researchers have suggested further research is needed.4 While there isn’t enough scientific evidence for these health benefits, maca root still has plenty of culinary uses and is rich in amino acids!1

How is maca powder made?

Since maca root is quite hard and dense in its raw form, it’s often converted into a powder to increase its shelf life, make it easier to consume, and improve its digestibility. 

Here’s how the process works:
  1. harvesting: after being dug by hand, the maca roots are then sun-dried for ten to 15 days
  2. selection and cleaning: once dried, the best quality roots are selected based on their size and appearance before being weighed, cleaned, disinfected, and cut into segments 
  3. dehydration: each segment of maca root is carefully dehydrated to remove any excess moisture and preserve the roots over the long term
  4. milling: once completely dried out, the dehydrated segments are finely milled into powder, reducing the roots into a fine consistency suitable for consumption 
  5. packaging: the resulting maca powder is packaged and sent out for distribution1

What potential benefits can maca offer? 

While there’s some conflicting evidence, certain studies (done in the lab or on rats) have shown that incorporating maca root into your diet may offer various health benefits.3,4,5 

Some of these potential health benefits include: 
  • boosting your energy levels: packed with vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and iron, maca powder may serve as a natural energy booster,6 reducing fatigue and supporting immune function
  • supporting your muscles: high in protein and containing an active ingredient known as triterpenes, maca powder may promote the growth, maintenance, and maturation of muscles, possibly enhancing both your workout performance and recovery7
  • improving brain function: maca has been shown in mouse studies to improve cognitive function and motor coordination, and may even be effective in slowing down age-related cognitive decline.8 This study would need to be repeated in humans to see if it would have the same effects
  • increasing bone strength: maca powder also contains zinc, which helps support normal strong and healthy bones, ensuring your skeletal system remains robust9
  • increasing sex drive: often associated with sexual health by indigenous populations, maca root has been shown in some studies to increase sexual desire.10 However, more rigorous studies are needed to confirm this link11
  • supporting men’s health: while more research is required, studies have shown that maca can have a positive impact on not only reducing erectile dysfunction in men but also increasing the quality of semen in both fertile and infertile men12,13
Please note scientific evidence for maca root is very limited and although there are some emerging studies, more clinical research needs to be conducted. Please speak to your GP before taking any new products.

How to add maca powder to your diet

Now you know what maca root is, how it’s made, and the various health benefits it may offer, you may be wondering how you can now actually incorporate it into your diet. Don’t worry – we’ve got that covered too. 

As maca is available in powder form, it’s incredibly easy to add it to a wide range of recipes to suit your own tastes and preferences. We’ve highlighted a few of our favourite ideas below.

Create delicious maca smoothies 

One of the best ways to incorporate maca powder into your diet is by adding it to your smoothies. While you can do this with more or less any of your favourite smoothie recipes, maca is naturally sweet and malty so goes well with nuts, chocolate and caramel flavours. 

Here’s a tasty recipe to harness the potential power of maca powder and give you that health kick you're looking for.
Ingredients: 
  •  150ml of your preferred milk (this could be soya, almond or dairy) 
  • one scoop of protein powder (vanilla, chocolate or unflavoured)
  • one medium banana
  • one tablespoon of maca powder
  • two teaspoons of cacao powder
  • a few ice cubes 
 Method:
  • combine all the ingredients in a blender 
  • blend until they’re smooth and creamy 
  • pour the smoothie into a glass, kick back, and enjoy!

Other maca-based recipe ideas

If you’re not keen on smoothies or are looking for further recipe inspiration, here are some alternative (yet equally delicious!) ideas to do just that.
  • Refuel with a maca energy bar: by adding maca powder to your favourite energy bar recipes, you can create a healthy snack to refuel with during busy days. 
  • Start your day with maca pancakes: enhance your breakfast pancake batter by adding a sprinkle of maca powder and start your day off right.
  • Sip on a maca latte: maca's naturally creamy and malty taste goes perfectly with coffee, so why not add a spoonful of maca powder to your morning cup?
  • Relax with a maca hot chocolate: if coffee isn’t your thing, adding maca powder to hot chocolate or warm milk will have the same effect, offering a potential energy boost without the need for any extra sugar or caffeine. 
  • Elevate your morning oats: since maca powder pairs well with chocolate and peanut butter, try adding a sprinkle of it to your porridge to enhance its overall flavour and nutritional profile.
  • Take maca to the gym: you can easily support your post-workout recovery and replenish your energy levels by adding maca powder to your protein shakes. 
For further information or advice on adding maca as part of your diet, consult your doctor. They’ll be able to discuss the various benefits and risks of maca in more detail, working with you to find effective ways to safely add it to your diet.

The final say 

 From boosting energy levels to increasing your sex drives, maca root may offer several health benefits to improve your overall health and wellbeing. While the evidence is still growing regarding these health benefits, why not try adding it into a smoothie for its butterscotch-like malty taste? 

Highly versatile and rich in important nutrients, it’s easy to add to your diet and incorporate into your day-to-day routine.

Sources

  1. Gonzales, G. 'Ethnobiology and Ethnopharmacology of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), a Plant from the Peruvian Highlands'. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:193496. doi: 10.1155/2012/193496.
  2. Yang, J., et al. 'Anti-Inflammation and Anti-Melanogenic Effects of Maca Root Extracts Fermented Using Lactobacillus Strains'. Antioxidants (Basel). 2023;12(4):798. doi: 10.3390/antiox12040798.
  3. Meissner, H., et al. Hormone-Balancing Effect of Pre-Gelatinized Organic Maca (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon): (I) Biochemical and Pharmacodynamic Study on Maca using Clinical Laboratory Model on Ovariectomized Rats. Int J Biomed Sci. 2006;2(3):260-272. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614604/.
  4. Bower-Cargill, C., et al. 'A systematic review of the versatile effects of the Peruvian Maca Root (Lepidium meyenii ) on sexual dysfunction, menopausal symptoms and related conditions'. Phytomedicine Plus. 2022;2(4):100326. doi: 10.1016/j.phyplu.2022.100326.
  5. zJivad, N. et al. 'A review study on medicinal plants used in the treatment of learning and memory impairments'. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine. 2014;4(10):780–789. doi: 10.12980/APJTB.4.2014APJTB-2014-0412.
  6. Stone, M., et al. 'A pilot investigation into the effect of maca supplementation on physical activity and sexual desire in sportsmen'. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2009;126(3):574–576. oi: 10.1016/j.jep.2009.09.012.
  7. Dong, Y., et al. 'Effects of Maca on Muscle Hypertrophy in C2C12 Skeletal Muscle Cells'. Int J Mol Sci. 2022;23(12):6825. doi: 10.3390/ijms23126825.
  8. Guo, S., et al. 'Preservation of Cognitive Function by Lepidium meyenii (Maca) Is Associated with Improvement of Mitochondrial Activity and Upregulation of Autophagy-Related Proteins in Middle-Aged Mouse Cortex'. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016;2016:4394261. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5018343/.
  9. Amin, N, et al. 'Zinc supplements and bone health: The role of the RANKL-RANK axis as a therapeutic target.' Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology. 2019;2020:126417. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0946672X19304134.
  10. Bansal, R., et al. 'Menopausal Hot Flashes: A Concise Review'. J Midlife Health. 2019;10(1):6–13. doi: 10.4103/jmh.JMH_7_19.
  11. Gonzales, G., et al. 'Effect of Lepidium meyenii (MACA) on sexual desire and its absent relationship with serum testosterone levels in adult healthy men'. Andrologia. 2002;34(6):367–372. doi: 10.1046/j.1439-0272.2002.00519.x.
  12. Shin, BC., 'Maca (L. meyenii) for improving sexual function: a systematic review'. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2010;10:44. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-10-44.
  13. Zenico, T., et al. ‘Subjective effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) extract on well-being and sexual performances in patients with mild erectile dysfunction: a randomised, double-blind clinical trial'. Andrologia. 2009;41(2):95–99. doi: 10.1111/j.1439-0272.2008.00892.x.
  14. Lee, MS., et al. 'The use of maca (Lepidium meyenii) to improve semen quality: A systematic review' Maturitas. 2016;92:64–69. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2016.07.013.
 
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