Maca: One Sweet Superfood
Posted by Andrea Nakayama
Maca is one of those foods that can be shrouded in controversy…
Is it a goitrogen?
Will it mess with estrogen metabolism?
Hey, I just don’t do superfoods!
But let’s back it up and see where we can introduce a little goodness with a sprinkling of this powerful root.
What is maca?
Maca is a root that grows in the Peruvian mountains, about 13-14,000 feet above sea level. It’s primary botanical name is Lepidium meyenii, and it typically grows in the Andean plateaus, where no other food can easily grow. Its sheer ability to thrive in these conditions is what gives it its adaptogenic qualities.
A food that can survive in unusual circumstances can help us do the same!
For humans, consuming adaptogenic foods & herbs provides the actual ability to adapt—to balance hormones and provide the equanimity to manage our stressful lives.
In Peru, maca is prized as a medicinal herb and has been used for centuries in therapeutic care. It’s known to increase energy, endurance, strength, decrease anxiety, and even increase libido. Though it’s not a complete protein, it does contain nearly 20 amino acids, 7 of them being essential—including tryptophan, methionine and threonine. (Reminder: essential amino acids are those we can’t make and need to get from the food we eat!)
Maca also has plenty of ﬁber, as it comes from a root. And it contains easy-to-assimilate minerals that the body needs, such as iron, magnesium, and calcium, along with one of our favorite B vitamins (B6) and vitamin C.
What’s the evidence say?
- Maca has been shown to reduce prostate size in rats.
- It’s thought to improve sperm production, sperm motility, and semen volume.
- Maca has been shown to have neuroprotective effects with action in memory enhancement and mood stabilization.
- It has been shown to have antioxidant activity and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Historically, maca has been used for supporting female hormone balance, especially in relation to PMS and menopause.
- One study reported maca’s effectiveness in treating women with amenorrhea due to hypoestrogenic states, and premature ovarian failure.
- Chemical research shows maca contains a chemical called p-methoxybenzyl isothio-cyanate, which has reputed aphrodisiac properties.
My personal evidence (meaning my own body’s response) appreciates the lift and balance it provides when I add a teaspoon to tablespoon to my morning elixir or smoothie.
Goitrogens, estrogens, iodine…. oh my!
While maca is a root vegetable, and may be eaten in Peru like we eat potatoes and other tubers, we typically don’t consume it like that. You’ll likely find maca as a powder in several different forms. My favorite maca (and I prefer to buy it in bulk from my local Co-Op) smells like a cross between peanut butter and burdock root, earthy and sweet.
This is to say, you are likely not sitting down to a dish of roasted maca root or eating eggs with a big side of morning maca-browns. So while maca is a brassica (the lepidium portion of maca’s botanical name actually speaks to this), it does not need to be goitrogenic (i.e., disrupt thyroid function).
You just don’t need to (and likely won’t) eat that much!
When it comes to estrogen, the effects of maca are not direct. This means it doesn’t have a direct impact on increasing or decreasing one or another hormone, but instead has a more general and supportive effect on hormones. When it comes to food, and we’re talking about eating maca, not taking it as an encapsulated supplement, we are usually addressing the terrain, not playing (hormonal) target practice.
So what about iodine? Again, remember the dose makes the poison. The amounts of iodine in maca, and the quantity being used should be breast, immune and thyroid supportive. That said, if you are looking to do a low iodine diet for any particular reason related to your own journey, then table the maca for now.
Red. Yellow. Black. Raw. Gelatinized. Roasted.
I will admit that I am not a maca expert… I just like it so very much!
But I do know that there are several different kinds and forms. The different colors come from roots of the same color: red, yellow and black. While the yellow is more common and easier to find, the red maca is the one most associated with hormone support (for men and women) in clinical studies. And the black maca is usually connected to energy and performance outcomes.
It is the dried and powdered form of maca root that is thought to have the greatest medicinal properties, as the drying is purported to accentuate the chemical constituents that give maca its goodness. Raw maca is dried and powdered and has a bit more of a bite to it. This root should be added to foods when cooking, like soups or quinoa porridge. Gelatinized maca is dried and powdered from an already cooked root. This can be added to juices or smoothies without cooking. There is a traditional Incan tea that includes a mix of cinnamon, cloves, and maca, along with fruits like apple or pineapple.
Experiment! Don’t be shy. See how you feel and try different recipes. In fact, I’ve got one for you that is a perfect mix of fat/fiber/protein to keep the blood sugars balanced, with a sprinkling of maca, of course!
Maca Cacao Tartlets
nut crumb crust:
- 1-1/2 cups nuts (Raw or sprouted almonds, cashews, or roasted hazelnuts work nicely.)
- 5 Tbsp raw cacao powder
- 1/2 cup pitted and chopped dates
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp vanilla extract or 1/2 tsp vanilla powder
- 1/4 – 1/2 tsp sea salt
maca cacao filling:
- 1 cup gently melted coconut oil
- scant 1/2 cup raw honey
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 cup carob powder
- 1/2 cup cacao powder
- 2 Tbsp maca
- 1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk
- shredded coconut & pinch nutmeg
- alternate toppings = goji berries or cacao nibs
- Grease a mini muffin tin with coconut oil.
nut crumb crust
- Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until desired consistency is obtained. (I like it crumbly, like you’d think of a graham cracker crust.)
- Scoop rounded tablespoons into the palm of your hand and form into a ball. Press the ball into the crevice of the muffin tin and, using fingers, press into a crust shape with a good sized impression for the filling.
- Place the muffin pan in the freezer while preparing the filling.
maca cacao filling
- Mix all ingredients into melted oil in a bowl.
- Work the ingredients to be sure they are well integrated and there are no clumps of carob, cacoa or maca. The consistency will be like a thick frosting.
- Remove the muffin pan from the freezer.
- Spoon rounded teaspoons of the filling into the tartlet shells. You could use a mini ice cream scoop or just spoon it right in and leave the top looking like frosting.
- Sprinkle coconut mixture or topping of choice atop the filling and stick the entire pan in the freezer for about a half an hour.
- Remove tartlets from the pan by running a knife around the edge of each crust and popping out.
- Store the tartlets in the fridge before serving.
Forsch Komplementmed. 2009 Dec;16(6):373-80. Epub 2009 Dec 16
J Chromatogr B Analyt Technol Biomed Life Sci. 2018 Nov 1;1099:25-33. doi: 10.1016/j.jchromb.2018.09.010. Epub 2018 Sep 10.
Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine: Alternative Therapies and Integrative Medicine for Total Health and Wellness by Tori Hudson, ND
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