What Is Maca? – Uncovering the Truth About This New Food

what is maca powder
Dr. Lindsey Mcilvena, MD

In her day job, treating patients living with chronic disease, nutrition and lifestyle are not after-thoughts, they’re central to helping her patients get well. She’s also our go-to expert on plant-based diets.

Maca, in the brassica family, has been getting a lot of attention lately in health and nutrition circles. You may have seen it in powdered form displayed prominently at your local health food store.

But what is maca, and is it really as good for you as some people attest? Let’s check out the science.

Maca is a cousin to other brassica members such as mustard greens, cabbage, water cress, and turnips. It’s traditionally grown at high altitudes in South America and especially in Peru. Maca, and it’s tuberous root, has long been used as a medicinal plant in that area—uses range from being a mood stabilizer to a fertility aid.

There isn’t much available evidence on maca at this point. Some studies have pointed to a potential for maca to help with the symptoms of menopause, though the studies were mostly small. There have also been anecdotal cases of physician’s seeing improvement in their menopausal patient’s symptoms. Other studies looking at maca and libido have failed to show an increase in sexual desire.

Maca can be safely added to your smoothies—it does have a good amount of B vitamins, fiber, and protein.  Maca is often hailed as an adaptogen—able to help the body withstand various stressors and bring homeostasis. Again, there isn’t much evidence yet to say definitively that maca works.

Our recommendation would be to think of maca like a nutrient booster—not only because the evidence thus far is scant, but also because the availability of maca is mostly in powdered form. You can’t chow down on roasted maca root like you would a roasted turnip or braised head of cabbage.

So feel free to incorporate it into your lifestyle if you want, but don’t forget that what’s filling your plate every day — and getting chewed by your teeth — is what matters most.

Sources: National Institutes of Health,, BMC

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