Maca is a cruciferous root vegetable that looks a lot like a common turnip, if turnips came in yellow, red and black. It grows high up in the Andes Mountain region of Peru in rocky soil. It thrives in heat, wind or cold conditions that would make other plants curl up and quit living. Maybe that is partly why maca gives us so much energy and vitality when we eat it? It’s a strong plant with a pleasing flavor.
Maca is known as an adaptogen because it helps us to handle stress better, ward off disease and increase our stamina, among other positive effects. Mark Amet, owner of the Maca Team, says he got started with maca over 20 years ago when he tried a sample. He found it gave him energy and elevated his mood so much that he sought out a Peruvian source and started giving it to family and friends. Registered dietitian Kerri Schwartz says her clients use maca in the morning instead of coffee. They get that much energy from taking it.
Maca is full of minerals, even zinc, calcium and magnesium. More surprising is maca root has 19 essential amino acids, making this plant a nice source of protein. Let’s take a closer look at maca root benefits—and different ways to use it!
5 Maca Root Benefits
1). Alleviate Depression
One study began looking into maca root as an aphrodisiac, and found something else instead— it elevated people’s moods more than it gave them an instant boost in attraction (1). Other studies have also concluded that, along with other benefits, maca may reduce symptoms of depression (2).
2). Enhance Libido
Even though it’s technically not an aphrodisiac, some studies have shown that maca may enhance sexual function (3). Maca might not put you in the mood, but it can give you the energy and stamina to enjoy being with a partner. Studies also have shown that maca can even enhance sexual desire in those who are taking anti-depressant medications (4, 5).
Maca’s benefits are life enhancing. Studies have revealed that maca can help increase sperm count and sperm motility in men (6) and may enhance fertility (7). It makes sense that it could be easier to conceive, the more one has vitality and energy.
4). Improve Memory
In two animal studies, maca was shown to improve memory impairment in mice (8, 9). Much of this seems to be due to its high antioxidant content. While black maca has shown the most significant results, evidence suggests that all the colors—black, red and yellow—can benefit memory.
5). Alleviate Menopause and PMS
Research has revealed maca’s ability to balance female hormones. That’s great news for PMS sufferers and those who suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (10, 11). Maca may also be effective in relieving menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes and mood swings (12). One animal study even suggested that maca extract could be effective in preventing postmenopausal osteoporosis (13).
Types of Maca Root
Red maca is the sweetest, yellow is the most common, and black just might have an edge when it comes to studied benefits. Men might find black maca to give them a bigger boost, while women might find similar results with red maca. Yellow is the easiest to find and isn’t lacking in benefits, but the other varieties can be a little more powerful.
You’ll find maca in both powder and pill forms. The powders are the most versatile and easiest to adjust the dosage and enjoy the flavor. Most health practitioners will tell you it’s always best to get as close to eating your supplements as you can, because the body is designed to start the digestive process in the mouth. You absorb certain aspects of foods better from mixing them with saliva.
There are two types of powders available. Gelatinized maca has had the starch removed for better digestion. The other type is raw maca. Both work equally well when it comes to maca root benefits.
Maca extracts are another option to consider. You might go with an extract if you want to take your maca on the go, since powders are simply too messy. Extracts often get into the system quickly as well.
For now, these are the main ways you’ll be able to consume maca easily without taking a trip to Peru.
How to Use Maca Powder
You can mix maca powder into a smoothie or milk for a malted milk effect, or try it in your golden milk, coffee drink, or cocoa. There is nothing saying you can’t eat maca off the spoon, or pour it over ice cream. You can also cook with maca—it is a root after all. With as little as one teaspoon, you can get all of the positive effects of maca. The recommended serving of maca is between one and three teaspoons per day. For those who want to determine whether a higher quantity yields greater benefits, there do not seem to be any reported overdoses or adverse reactions from consuming larger amounts of maca powder.
Here, we tried using maca in pancakes. It may seem like a mysterious powder, but maca is a vegetable. Some people claim the effects of maca appear to be more pronounced when used in cooking, even though that hasn’t been studied yet.
Maca Oat Milk Pancakes Recipe
Yield: 12 medium pancakes
Prep time: 6 minutes
Cook time: 12 minutes
All-purpose flour doesn’t get in the way of the malty maca flavor. Oat milk adds to the fluffiness of these traditional pancakes with a superfood twist. The recipe is easy to double or triple, depending on how many pancakes you want to make!
Maca Root Side Effects
For the most part, taking maca can be extremely beneficial. If you have a history of thyroid problems, however, you might want to check with your doctor first. Some patients have claimed that it increased their hyperthyroidism symptoms (14). Registered dietitian Schwartz says that in her practice, a couple of clients felt it sped up their metabolism and prompted weight loss.
You should also speak with your medical provider if you have a history of heart problems, are pregnant, or take medications that directly affect your hormones. Keep in mind that the adaptogen and hormone-balancing abilities of maca are different for each individual.