Revitalize with Maca
Maca is a nutritional powerhouse that serves to increase energy and stamina, boost libido, and more. And it’s delicious! Bryn Cory explains the many benefits of maca and how to incorporate it into your diet. (Maca truffles anyone?)
For various reasons, lots of us in the United States have nutritional deficiencies that can lead to diminished energy levels and chronic imbalances. We aren’t always able to eat as well as we’d like; even when we do, there are conflicting opinions about what is healthy. Much of our food is grown in soil that has significantly less mineral content now than several decades ago, so our food is probably not as nutrient-dense as it once was.
As a result of these deficiencies, many of us are looking for ways to increase our energy and stamina. I look first to supplements that are close to foods or food-like and provide broad health benefits. With regular use, these supplements can help resolve or alleviate health issues such as menstrual irregularities, mild depression, joint pain, and gum disease (to name a few common complaints). One of my favorite examples of such a supplement is maca.
Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a root in the brassica family that looks like a turnip or a radish. According to the company Herb Pharm, maca is “the only edible food crop that flourishes at the high altitudes of Peru’s central highlands. [It] has been grown and consumed there as far back as 1600 BC.”
Here in the United States, this food is found prepared as a medicinal herb with broad benefits. Maca is a tonic, meaning it nourishes the entire body and provides the greatest benefit with long term use. Tonics by definition are nontoxic and unlikely to produce unusual or unwanted effects as long as they are used sensibly. Maca is also an adaptogen, meaning it acts on the hypothalamus/pituitary/adrenal (or HPA) axis in the body. Its nutrients fuel the endocrine system, a collection of glands that produce hormones essential for body function.
Maca is a nutritional powerhouse, as you might expect since it’s a primary food source for people who live in the particular region in Peru where it thrives. It’s rich in minerals, including calcium and magnesium; trace minerals, including iron, iodine, copper, zinc, selenium, and manganese; protein; and fatty acids. The alkaloids in maca support the function of the pituitary, thyroid, and parathyroid glands, while the Vitamin C and zinc aid the immune system function of the thymus.
Like most tonics, maca boosts energy and stamina, but it has particular benefits for the male and female libido and reproductive systems. Herbalist David Winston notes that sperm counts have fallen 50% over the past 50 years due to toxic compounds in the environment. Maca boosts sperm count and motility and can be helpful in cases of erectile dysfunction. It also stimulates graafian follicles, which release female ovum at ovulation. Maca can also provide good support during perimenopause and menopause, relieving hot flashes and boosting low libido.
Maca is available as a liquid extract, in capsules, or as a loose powder. Look for a product that is cooked or gelatinized. Gelatinization is the process by which tough fiber is separated and removed from the root using gentle heat and pressure. Peruvians never consume raw maca. Cooking the root improves its digestibility, improves its taste, and neutralizes thyroid-suppressing compounds found in all brassicas. As with all herbs, look for a reputable company that has a personal relationship with growers to be sure you’re consuming a sustainable, healthy, and fairly traded product.
In powdered form, maca is one of the easiest herbs to add to your diet. Simply follow the guideline of one or two teaspoons per serving. Add it to baked goods by substituting it for an equal amount of flour. (If, for example, you’re making a cake that serves eight, add eight teaspoons of maca and reduce the amount of flour by eight teaspoons.)
Maca does not contain gluten so it can be added to gluten-free recipes. It tastes great stirred into oatmeal and other hot cereals and can easily be added to smoothies, shakes, yogurt, and hot chocolate. Maca’s flavor combines nicely with ginger, chocolate, coconut, and vanilla. I have also had guacamole made with maca! Have fun experimenting when looking for ways to incorporate this nutritious, tasty food into your diet, and enjoy the boost to your well-being. In case you prefer using a recipe, I’ve included a couple tasty ones.
Strawberry Maca Smoothie
1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk
1 tbsp maca powder
2 cups strawberries
1 tsp honey
1 tsp coconut flakes
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp lime juice
1 cup ice
Thoroughly blend all ingredients except ice. Add ice and blend again until smoothie reaches desired thickness. Pour into glasses and enjoy! Serves 3. Recipe courtesy of Gaia Herbs.
1/2 cup maca powder
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup almond butter
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp cinnamon
1 dash vanilla
1 pinch sea salt
1 pinch cayenne pepper
Mix almond butter, honey, and vanilla in food processor. Combine dry ingredients separately, then add and process everything together (or mix by hand). Roll into balls and dust with cocoa powder, then chill. Makes about 20 truffles. Recipe adapted from MindBodyGreen (www.mindbodygreen.com).
Bryn Cory is a women’s self defense instructor and avid baker. Since 2006 she has worked at Community Pharmacy, where her passion for whole foods and interest in nutrition inform her approach to body care and supplements.