Have you ever heard of a new superfood or natural beauty ingredient and thought to yourself WTF is that?! Well, this happens to me all the time. And my naturally curious nature loves to delve in and learn all about it, experiment with ingredients, and then share what I've learned. So, I started a little blog series I'm calling #WTFriday, where each Friday we explore anything that's had us scratching our heads and thinking WTF is that...why is it good for me...and how am I supposed to use it?!
This week's topic is maca! A year ago I don't think I'd even heard of maca, but somewhere along the way, it came onto my radar, so the next time I spotted it at the store, with no idea what it was or how to use it, I made sure to snag a bag. Since then I've been experimenting and coming up with some of my own favorite ways to use it.
So, #WTF is maca?!
Maca is both a starchy root vegetable and a tonic herb. About the size of a radish or turnip, maca is, surprisingly, a member of the cruciferous family (like broccoli, cauliflower, and kale) and native to the high Andes of Peru and Bolivia. The maca root is usually sun-dried and then powdered. The flavor of maca is nutty, earthy, and comforting, with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Its aroma reminds me of cozy fall and winter flavors and pairs well with berries, coconut, chocolate, oats, and cinnamon.
Maca has long been used as a natural medicinal herb with some pretty awesome properties. Most notably as an adrenal and hormone balancer. Maca is in a special class of plants known as adaptogens (1).
Plants and herbs with adaptogenic properties cause a normalizing, or balancing, effect on the body. They are neither over-stimulating nor inhibiting of normal body function, but rather promote homeostasis, a.k.a. a state of equilibrium. Think of it like this - when you are overly stressed (known as adrenal fatigue) your body is in a mini state of fight-or-flight. Priorities for the body switch from optimal digestion and regular cleansing functions, to the necessities getting your body ready for a fight. Think increased heart rate, muscles contracting, saliva production reduced, stomach halting digestive functioning, glycogen converting to glucose so it's ready to use in case of physical threat. (2) The trouble is, we frequently put our bodies into smaller degrees of fight-or-flight with our modern chronically stressful lifestyles. So the more things we can do to relax, physically (I see you, yoga!) and through foods, the better our digestion, and in turn, our overall health will be.
When we eat foods with adaptogenic properties, they help pull our body back into its healthy, optimal state. They not only help regulate fight-or-flight hormones, but also sex hormones. That's why maca is revered for its hormone-balancing properties for both men and women - regulating both testosterone levels in men and estrogen levels in women. Hence why maca is such a powerful helper in everything hormone-related; from libido (increased energy and stamina - hello aphrodisiac!), to fertility, to PMS and menopause symptoms. In men, maca has been shown to improve sperm production, mobility, and volume (3). In both sexes, it has been shown to boost mood and energy, and decrease levels of anxiety and depression.
Maca is also a rich source of phytonutrients. "Phyto" (plant) nutrients are the thousands of natural chemicals contained in plant foods. These chemicals help protect plants from germs, bugs, fungi and disease, and have a similar effect on us when we eat them! (4) (i.e. they give our bodies the same abilities to fight off threats). More than 25,000 phytonutrients are found in plant foods, and nature gives us clues to different phytonutrients by the various plant colors, from red, to yellow, to blues and purples. This is why they say to "eat the rainbow!" - it ensures we are getting an array of phytonutrients.
As with an 'superfood' you don't need to overload on quantity. They are called 'super' for a reason - you don't need a lot. Think of them as a delicacy, like...gold or caviar...the beauty is in the scarcity. Not that I have heard of any reports of overdosing on maca, but keep in mind there is such thing as too much of a good thing. For this reason, it's best used as a sprinkle or garnish in or on your dishes.
My favorite way of using maca is in smoothies and smoothie bowls (recipe link below) and as a garnish on oatmeal. It would also be great in little energy bites, like this recipe - Maca Cacao Bliss Balls.
You can support me, by clicking through, below, on my Amazon affiliate links to buy some maca for yourself!
I hope you have learned some fun facts about maca this week. If you want to check out last week's post on Activated Charcoal, click here.
Thank you so much for reading!