What are your thoughts on maca?
I’m not exactly clear of its benefits.
— Susy (Last name withheld)
If this is the first time you hear of maca, Susy is referring to a cruciferous root vegetable native to the highest altitudes of the Andes mountains in Peru.
In the United States (and most of the world), maca is sold as a powder, much like cocoa. You can find it at Whole Foods, health food stores, or from online vendors (I am familiar with the Navitas Natural brand).
I personally love maca’s unique flavor (it’s somewhere between coffee, cocoa powder, almonds, and nutritional yeast) and often add it to smoothies, yogurt, and oatmeal.
Maca is a great source of many minerals — especially magnesium, manganese, and selenium — and contains its own share of unique phytonutrients and antioxidants.
Since maca is not a popular food, studies on it are limited. However, this small-scale study published in science journal Andrologia by Peruvian scientists concluded that maca supplementation appeared to increased sexual desire (scientific term: libido) among healthy adult males.
In case you’re wondering why that was the focus of the study, it was mainly to determine if anecdotes of increased sexual desire as a result of consistent maca consumption were fact or fiction.
Not surprisingly, I have seen many unsubstantiated health claims for macca on the Internet, ranging from promises of improved memory to eliminating fatigue, all of which sounds more like hype than fact to me. General well-being has much more to do with general eating patterns than the inclusion of one or two specific foods.
That said, maca offers a great nutrition profile and I certainly would not discourage someone from adding it to a healthy diet.
Keep in mind, though, that maca is not a magic potion. There are literally hundreds of foods you can introduce to your diet if you seek unique phytonutrients and antioxidants — pretty much any fruit, vegetable, legume, nut, or seed!
What sometimes bugs me about these products is the way in which they are “exoticized” in their marketing, complete with references to ancient warriors and “hidden powers”. To Peruvians, maca is as common as apples are to someone from Washington state.