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Diet Q&A: Maca

Could it be the next hot superfood? Is it actually good for you? We consulted an expert to find out.

It’s hard to keep up with all the "superfoods" out there these days. Every time you refresh your Web browser, it seems like there’s a new magic supplement on the market—some you should stay far away from and others, like maca, you should give a real go. What is it and do you really need it? Maria-Paula Carrillo, R.D.N., L.D., gave us the facts.

What exactly is maca? 

Maca is a root that grows in the highest altitudes of the Andes mountains of Peru. It is in the same plant family as watercress, broccoli, and radish. Maca has been called "Peruvian ginseng" by some. Despite being cultivated in that South American region for thousands of years, it has been rediscovered as a supplement.     

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What are the health benefits?

Maca is packed with many nutrients, including fatty acids and amino acids. It is an excellent source of protein, vitamin C, calcium, iron, and fiber. As a food, it can be roasted or baked and many ferment it to make it into a beverage called "maca chicha."

Maca has been suggested to provide several health benefits, including:

- stress relief
- improve libido and fertility in males and females
- prevent/maintain osteoporosis (due to its high calcium content)
- increase energy and stamina
- improve cognition
- help with constipation and maintain regularity (due to its high fiber content)

Should men be including it in their diet regularly? If so, how much? 

If using it as a supplement, avoid taking maca in large amounts. The studied doses of maca root powder are 1,500-3,000mg per day. It mixes well in smoothies and oatmeal. Maca seems to have a low potential for toxicity, but there are not enough studies to support using this supplement regularly for its attributed benefits. More research is needed before health-related recommendations can be given.

If you take blood-thinning medications (i.e., warfarin/Coumadin, aspirin) talk to your physician before taking maca.

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