Maca is the edible root of the plant called Lepidium meyenii, which grows primarily in Peru. It is grown on the steep slopes of the Andes, in the Puna zone (about 4000 m above sea level). It is one of the few plants in the world grown so high.
Rich in protein, but also in carbohydrates
Maca is considered a good source of valuable protein. In 100 g there is even about 14 g of protein, including almost all essential amino acids. Due to their content maca is similar to other vegetables like beans, soybeans, or lentils.
Although it is sometimes recommended as a weight loss aid, including it in your diet may not give you the desired results. It is true – it contains some fiber (about 7%), and at the same time has a relatively low glycemic index (GI = 43). However, it is also quite calorific (100 g is 320 kcal), and also rich in carbohydrates (Maca contains approximately 70% of carbohydrates).
To strengthen the body and mind
There is a reason why Peruvians consider maca a food that strengthens both body and mind. The root is full of immunity-boosting vitamin C. Approximately 25 g of Maca contains the equivalent of an adult’s daily requirement of this component. The plant also provides quite a lot of B vitamins, which take care of the proper work of the nervous system, including B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), and B6 (pyridoxine).
Maca is also useful for people struggling with anemia and people following a vegetarian diet. It is full of iron, needed for the production of red blood cells, and copper, necessary for its metabolism. In 100 g there is about 15 mg of iron (150% of RDA – recommended daily allowance for an adult) and 6 mg of copper (600% of RDA). Maca is also known for its high content of potassium, calcium, and manganese.
Maca is not for everyone
Maca is commonly described as a superfood. This term is used to describe foods that not only provide valuable nutrients but also help the body to fight at least some diseases.
Although maca is considered an aphrodisiac and a libido booster, there are no reliable scientific studies to prove that it actually works. However, experiments conducted on rats showed that animals fed with maca increased the number of offspring by 25%, compared to those that ate food without it. Researchers say that as a product with high nutritional value, maca may have the effect of increasing sperm count and improving semen quality.
The Peruvian root (like flaxseed) also contains phytosterols, which act similarly to female hormones – estrogens. For this reason, maca is recommended, among others, as a food soothing the ailments accompanying menopause, such as hot flashes. Due to its high content of protein, iron, and calcium, maca is also useful for people who do not eat animal products, e.g. vegetarians and vegans.
However, eating Maca is not beneficial for everyone. People with hypothyroidism, in particular, should be careful. Because maca is a plant of the cruciferous group, it contains goitrogens – anti-nutrients that interfere with proper iodine absorption.