Over the past few years we’ve seen Quinoa, Chia and other nutrient-packed superfoods dominating the health food market, and for good reason. These superfoods are wildly popular and great for overall health and wellbeing. Now there’s a new superfood on the market and this time it’s a herb.
Maca is slowly making its way to the top of the list of beneficial foods and has even been the subject of several research studies. Maca is now being categorised as a superfood thanks to its ability to fight diseases. But, what are superfoods and what are their capabilities?
Superfood is the categorisation of certain types of food that are nutrient-dense and are proven to help combat various diseases. Although it is not widely recognised as a scientific categorisation of food, some countries are already allowing the labelling of products as “superfood” as long as it is backed up by extensive research.
Superfoods can be categorised based on the following classifications:
- ORAC values (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity Value)
- ANDI (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index System)
- pH balance
- Nutrient density
If a particular food meets the nutrient requirements of these categories it can be classed as a superfood.
Maca is also known as Peruvian ginseng and was originally found in the Andes. For years it has been known as a miracle food and the latest trend is to include maca powder in smoothies.
Maca is part of the broccoli and radish family and just like its famous superfood counterparts chia and quinoa, the use of maca originated from the ancient civilisations of the Incas and Peruvians. It has an earthy, nutty flavour and is low in calories. Ancient people labelled maca as the food of the gods, a natural Viagra and a magical, miracle drug.
At first, it was cultivated as a vegetable crop. The crop itself can survive low temperatures, as it grows at a high altitude where only alpine grasses and bitter potatoes can survive.
The scientific makeup of compounds in maca helps to boost energy without natural caffeine. However, eating maca in any form should be done with lots of water. The right amount of maca with water may increase energy while too much of it and not enough water can cause fatigue, dehydration and an increase in potassium levels.
More people are now straying from pharmaceutical products; rather they would choose to maintain a healthy diet and incorporate superfoods. Thanks to the popularity of superfoods like maca, scientists now feel obliged to study these nutrient-packed foods to understand their contents and possible health benefits.
A sprinkle of powdered Maca in your daily smoothie can do amazing things for your health and energy. The herb contains phyto-chemicals or plant chemicals known to benefit health and adaptogens which are metabolic regulators.
Here are a few known benefits of maca:
#1 Boosts energy
Maca boosts energy as well as vitality and stamina. The adaptogens increase vitality and support the cardiovascular system. Maca has the ability to support circulation and keeps blood well oxygenated. The ancient Incan warriors ate maca before going to war and it was also fed to Spanish horses during the colonisation of America in order to improve their breeding.
#2 Improves sex drive
Maca improves sex drive according to a study conducted at Britain’s Northumbria University in 2009. It is said that 2 grams a day can increase sexual desire.
#3 Boosts fertility
According to a study published in Asian Journal of Androgyny in December 2001, a consistent intake of maca may help increase sperm production and mobility among men. Another study published in Andrologia stated that maca helps improve sperm count even after just one day of treatment.
Maca is also said to help women become more fertile even later in life, providing more egg follicle development. Read study summaries here: Benefits of Maca Root on Fertility.
#4 Helps to ease migraine
Debilitating headaches caused by migraine may be eased using maca. Since it has the capacity to encourage the body to produce hormones regularly, it may help balance regulating glands thus prompting the levelling of oestrogen and progesterone, effectively reducing the severity of migraine headaches.
#5 Improves memory
According to this study, black maca enhances memory and learning. It has the ability to do so because it targets the hippocampus of the brain (where memory is located) and improves its activity.
#6 Contains vitamins
Maca roots contain vitamins b1, b2, b12 and C. It also contains traces of zinc, amino acid, calcium and phosphorus among its 55-phyto chemicals.
#7 Heals wounds
Maca roots have the capacity to improve circulation and blood oxygenation. This in return helps quicken the wound healing process and helps blood clotting.
#8 Boosts immune system
This ancient food contains 22 fatty acids. These fatty acids contain fungicide and act as a local antiseptic. When taken in, it may act as natural vitamin C, helping to improve body’s immunity.
#9 Reduces stress
Maca, as we said, is an adaptogen that brings balance to the body through the regulation of common stressors. Since it improves energy levels, maca has the ability to perk you up and bring the body back to a perfect balance. Maca is also said to reduce adrenal stress.
#10 Helps osteoporosis
Since calcium is the most needed element to fight osteoporosis, maca seemed to be the best candidate to help fight the condition. Maca contains large amounts of calcium; more than the amount found in milk. The right calcium content in the body may help form strong bones and teeth and may help prevent osteoporosis later in life.
#11 Benefits the thyroid, pancreas and thymus
For thyroid, maca contains alkaloid extracts which help boost calcitonin hormones (secreted by thyroid and parathyroid), regulating the metabolism of calcium and phosphorus. For the pancreas, maca keeps blood sugar levels in balance. For the thymus, maca has natural vitamin C and zinc elements which help boost the immune system and protect the thymus gland.
Maca has been the subject of various studies, however, the most notable ones are those that pertain to maca and its effect on the endocrine system and sexual performance.
One study investigated the effect of maca on menopausal symptoms and bone loss. Among postmenopausal women, maca may ease anxiety and depression (3.5 grams of powdered maca for six weeks). The study was published in the journal Menopause. The full text can be read here: study abstract from PubMed.
Another study highlighted the phytochemical benefits of maca in terms of nutrition, fertility, memory and mood regulation. Black maca is said to have the best effects on sperm production while red maca is said to most effectively reduce prostate size. Although it increases energy and sperm production, the study states that maca does not in any other way affect the serum levels of the hormones. The study can be read here: Lepidium meyenii (Maca): a plant from the highlands of Peru–from tradition to science.
Maca also provides potential benefits for skin protection from ultra violet rays. The maca plant can survive high altitude habitats even with the onslaught of UV rays. In a study conducted by researchers from the University of Peru, it was found that the aqueous extract present in maca provides better protection compared to conventional sunscreens.
The maca diet
Incorporating maca in your diet is easy. The most popular way to eat maca is through smoothies. It is simply blended into your usual healthy smoothies and tastes great. Some people choose to eat maca in its gelatinised form.
Another way to include maca in your diet is by incorporating it in your oatmeal breakfast or making the ultimate maca snack bars.
Two to three tablespoons of maca also works well sprinkled on a fruit salad or over a spicy maca soup. If you are a baker, you can incorporate it in your cakes or in a simple pudding. The possibilities are endless! However, as mentioned above, maca consumption must be limited to avoid dehydration.
For those who don’t like the taste, maca has also been developed into capsules as a supplement.
Other superfoods on the market
Berries and vegetables like kale and broccoli are also good sources of disease-fighting compounds. Other superfoods include grapefruits, coconut water, spirulina, beets, cocoa, flax seeds and moringa.
Some of the most well-known seafood superfoods include salmon, tuna, krill and calamari for their omega-3 content.
Have you tried maca? Let us know what you think in the comments below!