If you keep up with food and wellness trends, you would have heard of (or tried) maca powder. The powder made from maca root is often added to smoothies, raw desserts, protein powders and hot chocolate from health cafes.
Maca root is hailed by many for helping to balance hormones and increase energy and libido. But are these claims backed up by science?
To find out all about maca -- including its nutritional profile, benefits and ways to use it -- HuffPost Australia spoke to two health experts.
What is maca powder?
Maca powder is ground from the maca plant, which has grown in Peru for thousands of years. Peruvians use ground maca to make cold and hot drinks, cakes, cookies, pies, bread, soups and stews.
Maca has a predominantly earthy, nutty taste with hints of malt and caramel.
Most commonly available in powder form, maca powder has recently become popular as a healthy food to add to smoothies and protein powders.
Maca powder benefits
Although anecdotally maca powder seems to help with energy, mood and sexual function, there is currently not enough quality scientific research to concretely back this up, accredited practising dietitian and performance dietitian Jessica Spendlove explained.
"[Maca] may benefit our hormonal health by regulating the endocrine system -- the collection of glands that produce hormones to regulate metabolism, growth, sexual function, reproduction, sleep and mood," Spendlove told HuffPost Australia.
"But there is limited evidence to support these claims that maca causes improved sexual function and increased energy."
Maca may help to:
- Increase energy levels
- Regulate hormones
- Increase libido
- Increase mood
- Enhance fertility in men and women
From a nutritional perspective, maca root is a good source of carbs and protein, as well as a fair source of fibre and iron.
"Maca is high in a number of nutrients including over 20 amino acids, vitamin B, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium and copper, just to name a few," nutritionist Steph Lowe of The Natural Nutritionist told HuffPost Australia.
Is maca safe?
Although maca has been consumed safely for thousands of years, further research is required to determine long-term safety, interactions with medication and suitability to specific health conditions.
"Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid maca as there is minimal data on the safety of herbs and foods like maca in pregnancy," Spendlove said.
People with thyroid conditions may need to avoid maca, Spendlove explained, as well as athletes due to maca root products being rated as a "Category D substance" (that is, not to be used by athletes) by the Australian Institute of Sport.
"Maca root is not currently a prohibited substance in itself, but there is a high risk of contamination," Spendlove said.
"If you're concerned about the impact maca may have on your health, speak to your GP before making it part of your diet."
How do you use maca powder?
Maca is available in various forms including powder and capsules.
Popular ways to use maca powder:
- Raw desserts
- Hot chocolate
- Overnight oats
- Waffles and pancakes
Here are six delicious recipes, including truffles and granola, made with maca powder.