If it's 3 p.m. and you're in need of an afternoon pick-me-up. Which of these do you reach for: a cup of coffee or a small root resembling a turnip?
The root, of course—if that root is maca. Maca, the newest superfood from Peru, not only makes us wonder if there are any non-super foods in Peru but also gives us the energy to Google the answer.
Maca, otherwise known as Peruvian ginseng (although it has no relation to ginseng) is a root that can be baked and eaten fresh or (more typically) dried and stored. It comes in red, white, and black varieties and has been used by the natives of Peru for centuries in food and folk medicine to increase energy, lift mood, and to treat maladies from anemia to menopause.
Legend has it, Incan warriors would consume maca before a battle to make them strong. Today, you don't have to roast or dry your own maca root to reap the benefits; it comes in much more convenient forms including powder, liquid and capsules. Maca powder has a sweet, nutty smell and a malty, butterscotch-vanilla flavor that has been described as “toasty” and “earthy.”
Adding a spoonful of maca to smoothies, juice, hot cocoa or coffee will pump up the flavor. The powder can also be used in desserts, puddings, and soups, or as a flour in baking: try it in cookies, cakes or bread.
With an illustrious family tree that includes superfood relatives like broccoli, mustard and Brussels sprouts, this ancient root has some pretty big shoes to fill. It has a reputation for treating anemia, chronic fatigue, boosting memory, enhancing fertility, energy, stamina, and athletic performance. The wide ranging effects of maca are thought to come from its plant sterols, glucosinolates and macamides and its influence on the endocrine system. While there is no conclusive studies pointing to its effectiveness, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence and some small scientific studies which indicate a positive impact on health. Here are the top five benefits attributed to maca:
1. Increased energy
Maca provides an energy boost to get you through the day as well as extra oomph at the gym. As a sports supplement maca may improve strength and endurance—those who consumed the root before working out performed better in exercise tests.
2. Fewer free radicals
The maca root contains glucosinolates which scavenge free radicals, protect cells from oxidative stress, and stop cancer from gaining a foothold by inactivating carcinogens.
3. Lower stress
While it won’t actually lower your stress levels, maca may help prevent stress from doing too much harm. The root is thought to be an “adaptogen”, a medicinal plant which generally protects the body and mind against the damaging effects of stress.
4. Decreased symptoms of menopause
Maca’s plant sterols may help maintain a hormonal balance which lowers anxiety, depression, and sexual dysfunction associated with menopause.
5. Increased desire
It's not just women who benefit from the hormone balancing effects of maca. It has widely been consumed by men to increase sexual desire.
Maca is generally thought to be safe for healthy people and is generally well tolerated up to 3 grams per day.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont