Maca is one of those foods that can be shrouded in controversy…
Is it a goitrogen?
Will it mess with estrogen metabolism?
Hey, I just don’t do superfoods!
But let’s back it up and see where we can introduce a little goodness with a sprinkling of this powerful root.
Maca is a root that grows in the Peruvian mountains, about 13-14,000 feet above sea level. It’s primary botanical name is Lepidium meyenii, and it typically grows in the Andean plateaus, where no other food can easily grow. Its sheer ability to thrive in these conditions is what gives it its adaptogenic qualities.
For humans, consuming adaptogenic foods & herbs provides the actual ability to adapt—to balance hormones and provide the equanimity to manage our stressful lives.
In Peru, maca is prized as a medicinal herb and has been used for centuries in therapeutic care. It’s known to increase energy, endurance, strength, decrease anxiety, and even increase libido. Though it’s not a complete protein, it does contain nearly 20 amino acids, 7 of them being essential—including tryptophan, methionine and threonine. (Reminder: essential amino acids are those we can’t make and need to get from the food we eat!)
Maca also has plenty of ﬁber, as it comes from a root. And it contains easy-to-assimilate minerals that the body needs, such as iron, magnesium, and calcium, along with one of our favorite B vitamins (B6) and vitamin C.
My personal evidence (meaning my own body’s response) appreciates the lift and balance it provides when I add a teaspoon to tablespoon to my morning elixir or smoothie.
While maca is a root vegetable, and may be eaten in Peru like we eat potatoes and other tubers, we typically don’t consume it like that. You’ll likely find maca as a powder in several different forms. My favorite maca (and I prefer to buy it in bulk from my local Co-Op) smells like a cross between peanut butter and burdock root, earthy and sweet.
This is to say, you are likely not sitting down to a dish of roasted maca root or eating eggs with a big side of morning maca-browns. So while maca is a brassica (the lepidium portion of maca’s botanical name actually speaks to this), it does not need to be goitrogenic (i.e., disrupt thyroid function).
You just don’t need to (and likely won’t) eat that much!
When it comes to estrogen, the effects of maca are not direct. This means it doesn’t have a direct impact on increasing or decreasing one or another hormone, but instead has a more general and supportive effect on hormones. When it comes to food, and we’re talking about eating maca, not taking it as an encapsulated supplement, we are usually addressing the terrain, not playing (hormonal) target practice.
So what about iodine? Again, remember the dose makes the poison. The amounts of iodine in maca, and the quantity being used should be breast, immune and thyroid supportive. That said, if you are looking to do a low iodine diet for any particular reason related to your own journey, then table the maca for now.
I will admit that I am not a maca expert… I just like it so very much!
But I do know that there are several different kinds and forms. The different colors come from roots of the same color: red, yellow and black. While the yellow is more common and easier to find, the red maca is the one most associated with hormone support (for men and women) in clinical studies. And the black maca is usually connected to energy and performance outcomes.
It is the dried and powdered form of maca root that is thought to have the greatest medicinal properties, as the drying is purported to accentuate the chemical constituents that give maca its goodness. Raw maca is dried and powdered and has a bit more of a bite to it. This root should be added to foods when cooking, like soups or quinoa porridge. Gelatinized maca is dried and powdered from an already cooked root. This can be added to juices or smoothies without cooking. There is a traditional Incan tea that includes a mix of cinnamon, cloves, and maca, along with fruits like apple or pineapple.
Experiment! Don’t be shy. See how you feel and try different recipes. In fact, I’ve got one for you that is a perfect mix of fat/fiber/protein to keep the blood sugars balanced, with a sprinkling of maca, of course!
nut crumb crust:
maca cacao filling:
nut crumb crust
maca cacao filling
Functional nutritionist and educator Andrea Nakayama (FNLP, MSN, CNC, CNE, CHHC) is leading patients and practitioners around the world in a revolution to reclaim ownership over our own health. Her passion for food as personalized medicine was born from the loss of her young husband to a brain tumor in 2002. She’s now regularly consulted as the nutrition expert for the toughest clinical cases in the practices of many world-renowned doctors, and trains a thousand practitioners online each year in her methodologies at Functional Nutrition Lab. Learn more about Andrea here.