What is maca and how is it usually consumed?
Maca is a cruciferous vegetable that is native to Peru, and is related to broccoli, cauliflower and kale. The root, which is the edible part of the vegetable, looks similar to a cross between a parsnip and a radish with green leaf tops, but it is usually consumed as a ground powder and its taste is quite earthy and nutty.
What is the nutritional profile of maca?
Maca is often touted as a ‘superfood’ because of its strong nutritional profile. It contributes certain minerals including potassium and calcium, as well as some B vitamins including B3 (niacin).
One teaspoon (5g) of maca powder also contains about 20% of the RDA of copper for adults. Copper is needed to help trigger the release of iron to form haemoglobin which carries oxygen around the body, as well as being involved in the production of both red and white blood cells.
How well researched are the benefits and risks of maca?
There is very limited research on maca at the moment, but those studies that have been done include a very small trial in 2015 that was carried out on 29 Chinese women who were postmenopausal. Over a period of 12 weeks the women took 3.3g of maca a day, compared to a placebo group, and at the end of the trial it was concluded that maca appeared to reduce both blood pressure and depression.
A test tube study in 2014 found that maca has a high antioxidant content which could be of benefit to health with more research as a bioactive compound. This has been further supported by another in-vitro study in 2017, which found an extract from maca leaves to have potentially neuroprotective benefits. More research is required before we can confirm this is of benefit to humans, but it’s a positive start.
Are there any side effects of maca powder?
Based on 1 teaspoon (5g) of maca a day there doesn’t appear to be any immediate side effects, but always check with your GP first if you are concerned or are taking any prescription medication.
However, high doses of maca may provide too much of certain nutrients and so should be used cautiously if you are exceeding more than one teaspoon a day. 100g of maca powder provides almost 200% of your RDA for iron in men and women over the age of 50 years old, which could cause some stomach pain and constipation. This amount of maca would also provide around 400% of your RDA of copper which may cause liver and kidney damage if used over a prolonged period and is therefore not advised.
Being a cruciferous vegetable, maca powder may be problematic for those with a thyroid problem or on thyroid medication, as it contains substances known as goitrogens which may interfere with normal thyroid function and therefore should be avoided.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should check with their doctor first before consuming maca.
Maca powder recipes
If you want to add maca powder to your diet, an easy way would be to add one teaspoon (5g) to your favourite smoothie or energy bites. Be inspired by our delicious recipe ideas…
This article was reviewed on 22 March 2018 by Kerry Torrens.
Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.
A qualified nutritionist (MBANT), Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).
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