At SmartyPants, we’re all about simplifying health. In this series, we’re breaking down those healthy foods and phrases that are suddenly everywhere, to give you the five-minute scoop on why they’re all the rage.

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What if we told you that there was something you could eat that would boost your energy, improve your mood, and ramp up your sex drive all in one go? This seemingly magical substance is maca powder, and you’ve probably seen it appearing as the Instagram smoothie ingredient du jour, or on shelves at your local health food store. But does it really live up to all the hype? Let’s find out.

WHAT IS MACA?

Maca is a root that’s native to the Andes of Peru. You’re most likely to see maca sold as a powder, but you can also find it in capsule, liquid, or extract form.

WHAT MAKES IT SO GREAT?

Maca has gained a considerable following thanks to its reported ability to boost energy, mood, and, most notably, libido. Maca has even been called “Nature’s Viagra,” as it’s been used as an aphrodisiac for hundreds of years by populations living in the Andes.

 These “boosting” effects have been attributed to maca’s ability to restore hormonal balance. In the natural health community, maca is believed to be an “adaptogen,” or, a substance that helps stabilize a physiological process and promote homeostasis within the body. An adaptogen helps bring your body into balance. For example, if production of a certain hormone is too high, an adaptogen can help bring it down, and vice versa. Many believe that maca works as an adaptogen to support adrenal and thyroid function – two systems which play a major role in regulating feelings and mood.

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WHAT DOES SCIENCE SAY?

According to the European Medicines Agency, the concept of an adaptogen requires additional clinical research, and, therefore, is not currently an accepted terminology. As far as maca goes, there’s not a ton of research. However, one study did show that maca – black maca in particular – had positive effects on sperm production, mobility, and volume. Additionally, a 2008 study reported maca’s positive effects on menopausal women’s moods. As for the sexy time? A handful of studies do indicate that maca may lead to an increase in sexual desire, but the total number of trials, sample size, and the quality of the studies is, at the moment, too limited to draw firm conclusions (insert obvious joke here).

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THE NUTRIENT FACTS

While the feel-good effects of maca may need more investigation, the ancient root’s nutritional merits are indisputable. Maca is rich in vitamins and minerals, including over 20 amino acids, 20 free-form fatty acids, vitamins B-1, B-2, C and E, magnesium, potassium, copper, zinc, manganese, phosphorous, selenium, it has more calcium than milk, and it’s an excellent source of plant-based iron.

Maca also has powerful antioxidant properties. It’s been shown to boost levels of glutathione – our body’s master antioxidant – and SOD (superoxide dismutase), which both help promote a healthy immune response.

 WHAT DO WE THINK?

More research is needed to reveal exactly how maca affects the body, but the general consensus of both the medical and holistic health community is that maca is safe for most people. Traditional cultures have been consuming it for hundreds of years, and, while we love a good double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, we also believe in the wisdom of our ancestors. Just because science hasn’t figured out exactly WHY something is beneficial, doesn’t mean that it’s not. If you decide you want to give it a try, we suggest a quick check in with your doctor or dietician you trust.

WHERE TO GET IT

While all forms of maca are thought to be beneficial, we recommend looking for a brand that ensures its maca is 100% pure, and, ideally, organic and raw, as heat processing could diminish its antioxidant properties.

HOW TO EAT IT

When eaten straight, maca powder tastes kind of like stale graham cracker crumbs. Not a five-star culinary experience, but most find it pleasant enough. Its slightly nutty, mostly nondescript taste means that you can add it to basically anything. Since heat may destroy some of maca’s health-promoting properties, we recommend adding it to warm, room-temperature, or cold foods – it’s ideal in smoothies.

There is no particular recommended serving size, but more is not always more. Start small, about 1 tablespoon daily, and always check with your healthcare practitioner first.

Try substituting your morning coffee with our
Ultimate Energy Smarty Smoothie:

  • 1 Tbs Raw, organic Maca (we love maca from The Maca Team)
  • 1 Tbs Raw, organic cacao powder
  • 1 Scoop of your favorite protein powder
  • 1 Pinch high-quality sea salt
  • 1 Tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup –1 cup water, milk, or un-sweetened non-dairy milk (to taste / desired thickness)
  • 1 Medium ripe banana (to sweeten OR you can also add a bit of raw honey)
  • 1 Tbs nut butter of choice (we love macadamia nut butter!)

Blend, top with a sprinkling of cacao nibs, and enjoy!

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Posted on August 7, 2017