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The health benefits of maca powder

Maca root is rich in minerals, but does it deserve its supposed ‘superfood’ status? We discuss the benefits and potential side effects of maca powder.

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 is high in certain minerals including potassium, calcium, magnesium and zinc as well as some B vitamins including B3 (niacin).

Maca powder is also a good vegan source of iron, with just one 5g teaspoon providing almost 10% of the RDA for men and women over 50 years old, and 5% RDA for women aged 19-50 years old.

One teaspoon of maca powder also contains about 10% of our 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 maca 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.

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