Maca – What is it and why would you want to eat it?
Maca has been highly regarded for centuries as a miracle food so it’s no surprise it has become a recent addition to the “must have” nutrient list for smoothies. Although it’s part of the broccoli, radish, and watercress family and even looks like a very robust radish, it has an earthy taste with a nutty flavor, making it a perfect complement to smoothies. Like the rest of the roots in the cruciferous family, it’s low in calories – one teaspoon of maca powder has only 10 calories.
Native to the Andes Mountains, maca is the superfood of one of the oldest, and once most advanced civilizations on earth – the Incas and Peruvians. Over the centuries maca has been called “magic, the food of the gods, a natural Viagra, and a miracle drug” for a reason. It works. For centuries people have been using it for everything from enhancing their fertility to boosting their immune system or libido, but most people simply love the non-caffeinated burst of energy they get from putting maca in their smoothies.
Most people report a subtle, but noticeable, non-jittery type energy boost within minutes to hours from adding just one teaspoon into their smoothie.
It’s not because it’s magical, but because of the root’s very real and very scientific makeup and how it affects everything from circulation to the endocrine system. To date there are no known toxic side effects from using maca. As a matter of fact, scientists say that repeated use of maca is like repeatedly exercising – the body not only adapts, but also gets stronger over time each time you use it.
While maca does have side effects they aren’t toxic. High doses are considered to have a relaxing effect on the heart, rather than a tension creating effect like caffeine. High doses can also increase fertility in men and women and may disrupt some forms of birth control, although researchers aren’t sure about this. Maca can also cause more frequent menstruation in some women, although women report it’s also helped with the hot flashes and problems women who are menopausal or pre or post-menopausal experience.
If you do take high does it’s important to make sure you get plenty of water. While taking the recommended dose can increase your energy, high doses can sometimes cause fatigue due to dehydration and heightened potassium levels.
Because the benefits are noticeable immediately, and because they accumulate over time with regular use, maca helps re-enforce the benefits of a healthy smoothie habit. As powerful as the results of taking maca can be, it’s not a drug. It’s a plant. Maca contains over 55 beneficial and naturally occurring phyto-chemicals (plant chemicals). Those chemicals play critical roles in the hormonal health of our body, including affecting our thyroid gland, immune system, reproduction system and brain.
Health Benefits of Maca
Just one teaspoon in your smoothie once or twice a day can do amazing things. Here are just a few of the things you can expect maca in your smoothie to help with:
Energy: Most people feel their mood and energy level lift almost instantly. Users report their energy, stamina and endurance.
Sex Drive: Maca has been shown to increase not only the male sex drive, but the production of sperm as well.
Fertility: Maca increases fertility in both men and women.
Migraines: If you suffer from migraine headaches you might want to try maca. Because most migraines are related to an imbalance in hormone levels, or fluctuating hormone levels, maca works by leveling out those levels. Maca doesn’t create any hormones in the body – it just helps the body produce them more consistently and effectively. It helps balance the body’s production of estrogen and progesterone. Maca also helps restore balance to the hypothalamus and pituitary glands – the body’s master gland system.
Memory: Maca enhances memory as well as our ability to learn and process mentally. It makes us more alert and aware.
Wounds: Maca speeds wound healing and benefits the circulatory system as well.
Vitamin packed: Maca includes 55 phyto-chemicals, including vitamins B1, B2, B12, and Vitamin C, zinc. It has amino acids, calcium and phosphorus as well.
Immune Booster: Maca’s 22 fatty acids function both as a fungicide and as a local antiseptic. These actions, along with the natural Vitamin C and zinc are believed to help aid in overall immunity enhancement.
Stress: For people with adrenal stress from work, disease, exercise or PTSD, maca can reduce the effects of cortisol on the adrenal glands and other organs so impacted by a “Type A”, high pressure lifestyle or job. Athletes, executives and anyone with an active life will appreciate how maca helps address the destructive actions of mental, emotional and physical stress on the body. Maca can help lower high blood pressure and how the body burns and utilizes food.
Thyroid: The Thyroid gland controls the rate at which the body produces energy from nutrients. Maca contains an alkaloid extract which activates the body’s natural calcitonine hormones, which regulate the metabolism of calcium (Ca) and phosphorus (P) in the blood. The hormone is secreted by the thyroid and the parathyroid. It acts in the intestines, bones, and kidneys to increase the (Ca2+) in the plasma. It also aids in wound healing through blood clotting. (Dr. Chacon — Peru)
Pancreas: Maca also boosts the work your pancreas does in keeping your blood sugar levels even. The pancreas is a vital part of the digestive process. If the duct from the pancreas become blocked for some reason the digestive fluids of the pancreas may digest the pancreas itself, or lead to pancreatitis, or pancreatic cancer.
Thymus: Your thymus is the organ responsible for the health of your immune system. It produces the T-cells that fight off infection and disease, especially important if you are getting treatment for HIV, AIDS or cancer. Maca contains vitamin C as well as trace elements of zinc. Researchers found out years ago that C and zinc, when taken together, help boost the immune system function of the thymus gland. Part of maca’s adaptogenic value may be its ability to enhance the thymus’ cell mediated immunity.
You’ll often hear various terms, such as “phyto-chemical”, or “adaptogen” used when describing Maca. Here is a list of the most common terms and what they mean:
Phyto-chemical – Phyto means “plant,” and “phyto-genisis” is the study of plants and “phyto-chemical” is the study of the chemical compounds that occur naturally in plants. For instance, the substance that gives blueberries their dark blue color is a phyto-chemical. Scientists generally use the term to refer to those plant chemicals that may have a biological significance, but are not yet established as essential nutrients.
Adaptogen – An adaptogen is a new class of metabolic regulators (such as maca) which increase the ability of an organism (people or animals) to adapt to environmental factors (stress, diet, toxins, disease etc) and to avoid damage from such factors without causing any side effects from its use. Ginseng, a very popular root herb around the world, is another example of an adaptogen. The concept and name is accepted and used among mainstream researchers as well as many medical professionals.
No one blog post or website can answer every conceivable question about maca, but here are some of the most frequently asked questions people have about maca:
How long will it last?
Maca will keep up to a year if kept in a cool, dry, dark place, but like most supplements and herbs, fresher is better and more potent. Use it within a few months of ordering if you’re using it at home. If you’re adding it to smoothies at a smoothie bar, chances are it’s very fresh since it’s something most smoothie bars go through quickly since it’s in high demand.
Is it a liquid, powder, tablet, gelatin or capsule and which is best to use?
Maca comes as all of the above, and it’s recommended that you use whatever form best suits you and your life style and preferences. Powder or liquid forms are best if using it in a smoothie. If you use a preferred method (liquid for instance) over a recommended method (powder) you’re more likely to take it consistently. It only works when you take it, so use a form you’re most likely to be comfortable with taking over time. Consider things like taste and how you plan to take it. Many people like to put it in a smoothie; others prefer to dissolve it in water, while others like to take it in pill or capsule form. People react to different forms differently. Some people feel no difference on the liquid and respond well to the powder. It’s up to the individual. The price may vary as well – with powders being less expensive than liquid for instance.
What is the difference between cooked, raw, and gelatinized maca?
In Peru, maca root is traditionally cooked before it is used. Peruvians roast maca roots or boil and mash them like potatoes. One benefit to using cooked maca is that it is easier to digest than the raw root. If you try raw maca and find it upsets your stomach, you can find a supplement or powder that comes from cooked maca. Another option if raw maca irritates your stomach is the gelatinized form. The process of gelatinizing maca uses low heat and pressure to separate out the fibrous parts of the root. This makes the maca more digestible.
Is there a difference between raw and organic?
Yes, depending on the supplier there is a difference, notably in the way it is handled. Organic doesn’t necessarily mean raw. Some manufacturers lightly heat their maca, and cooking, even slightly, means the maca is not raw. If raw is important to you, ask your supplier or smoothie bar owner about their maca. Lightly heating it makes it easier for some people to digest, but does not impact the potency of the root.
What does it taste like?
Different people say different things about the taste, and raw maca tastes different than dried but in general, maca has an earthy taste that is mildly nutty with a hint of butterscotch. It’s easily blended into superfood smoothies, various milks, chocolates, or mixed into flour for dessert recipes and doesn’t have a strong taste when combined with other foods or liquids. Although people in Peru and some restaurants do cook with maca bread, soups etc. Maca is used as a tea, as a spice, in yogurt, chocolate bars and as a supplement.
How often should I take it?
Just as with any exercise, herb, supplement or product, it’s wise to cycle, or take some time off from time to time so your body doesn’t become so used to it that the benefits lapse. Typical schedules vary. You may want to take it for a week then take a week off. Or you can do a month on, a month off and so on. Listen to your body and follow a schedule that works best for you! If you’re asking if you can have a couple of smoothies a day, the answer is probably, depending on how much you put in the smoothie and how your body responds to it. If you find yourself staying awake, unable to sleep, or feeling very alert, you might want to cut back.
Maca Smoothie Recipes
It’s been my experience that maca goes well is just about every smoothie imaginable. Many of the smoothie recipes posted on this site recommend using maca as an add-on for all the benefits listed above.
As with any new smoothie ingredient, vitamin, or supplement, start out with a smaller dose and work your way up. One teaspoon of maca is a good starting point, but you can easily work your way up to 2 tablespoons per smoothie.
For a smoothie where maca is the main ingredient, check out this Maca Superfood Smoothie Recipe.