Legend has it that Inca warriors ate the maca root before going into battle to give them energy and stamina. For two weeks, we put that rumour to the test to see if maca is as much of a superfood as it’s hyped up to be.

Thanks to Gwyneth and her website Goop, superfoods have infiltrated our palates over the past couple of years. Everyone from Beyonce to McDonald’s are using these so-called miracles, but with the increasing saturation of “health” food, it’s hard to see which ingredients are truly beneficial. Recently, we were introduced to the cruciferous plant maca, a relative of broccoli and cabbage that is cultivated only at high altitudes. 

WHAT IS MACA

According to the National Institutes of Health, the maca root is about the size of a turnip and is native to the harsh, dry climates of the Andes mountains.  It has been a traditional food and medicine plant for Peruvians for centuries, thought to have energy-instilling properties and be densely nutritious. In order to safely consume it, you must heat the roots of the adaptogen to release its medicinal qualities, either by boiling or roasting the whole root. Most people will consume it in powder form. 

There are three types of harvested Maca, distinguished by their colour: yellow, red, and black. You’re likely to find a mixture of all three in powder products at your local grocery or health food store. 

Nutrition-wise, maca is packed full of benefits. One half-teaspoon (2.5 grams) is only 10 calories and covers 10% of your recommended daily iron and vitamin C needs and 15% of your copper needs. It is also chock-full of essential vitamins, such as B1, B2, and E, and minerals like calcium and zinc. Plus, it has eight essential amino acids – these are important to have in your diet, as our bodies need them for growth, digestion, and tissue repair, but we cannot produce them ourselves. 

THE BENEFITS OF MACA

While only preliminary research has been conducted, the root is thought to be a natural energizer that increases libido, balances hormones, improves fertility, and regulates the immune response. After a little over two weeks of testing, I have to concur. Not only did I feel more energized throughout the day, I felt like I was able to concentrate better on my work and felt balanced. 

My experience echoed that of various studies. Maca is thought to aid in bringing back homeostasis throughout the body, increasing efficiency to demonstrate a feeling of overall wellbeing. Maca doesn’t contain hormones or change blood hormone levels, but it acts upon the endocrine system to improve communication between the brain and pituitary gland, as well as the adrenals. Because of the high nutritional value, the compounds in Maca help to restore both physical and mental energy levels, building stamina, endurance, and overall strength. 

According to Christy Brisette, R.D., president of 80 Twenty Nutrition, research has shown that men and women have found a libido boost after taking one and a half to three grams of maca a day for one to six months. Other research saw that an improvement in sperm count and motility in men when using maca, and early research even suggests that it may improve sexual dysfunction in women who are taking antidepressants. University of Michigan Health System found that in a double-blind study, maca increased sexual desire in young and middle-aged males. While these findings come from small studies, limiting their reliability, it may be worth a try.   

HOW TO USE

Because of maca’s strong malty flavour, it’s easier to incorporate the powder into your diet with other tasty foods. Hardcore superfoodies love to blend it with shilajit and chaga to create a natural sweetener that tastes similar to butterscotch coffee. The simplest way to use it is in a smoothie, as seen at health hotspots like Revitasize in Toronto and Juice Press in New York City. 

 

We used this recipe by Dr. Joey Shulman

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