What is Maca?
Maca, also known as Peruvian ginseng or Lepidium meyenii, is a cruciferous vegetable (e.g. broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and cauliflower) from Peru. It is primarily found in the Andes mountain at high altitudes and has a history of use in Peruvian cuisine and medicine – including as a fertility enhancer. The plant is mostly harvested for it’s root which is usually dried and ground into a powder so that it can be consumed within another food or drink such as a smoothie or porridge. The root itself ranges from black to white and is purported to have a nutty taste.
Benefits of Maca
It is believed that maca has the ability to increase libido (sex drive) in both men and women. Due to reduced sexual desire being a common problem among adults, interest in herbs and plants that naturally boost your libido is high – maca is on of these. There is even an old folktale that when the Spaniards came to the Andes long ago, they noticed that their animals had a lower libido and were not reproducing what was expected (due to the altitude), but they then gave maca to their animals and their libido was restored and their animals began reproducing as expected. Maca is marketed as being able to improve sexual desire and a review from 2010 which included four randomized clinical studies with a total of 131 participants they found evidence that maca improved sexual desire after 6 weeks of ingestion.
Maca root powder is a good source of carbs, low in fat, contains a fair amount of fibre and many bioactive plant compounds called flavonoids. It’s also high in some essential vitamins and minerals (rich in a number of nutrients), such as vitamin C, copper and iron. The root is also a popular supplement among bodybuilders and athletes as it has been claimed that maca root can help you to gain muscle mass, increase your strength and boost your energy. Some animal studies indicated that it may improve exercise performance as well as protecting bone health and a small pilot study found that eight male cyclists improved the time it took them to complete a 25 mile bike ride after half a month of supplementing with maca extract but there is currently no scientific evidence that maca offers any benefits for muscle mass or strength.
It is also believed that maca can improve brain functions (i.e. learning and memory) and has been traditionally used by the indigenous people of Peru to improve children’s performance at school. Additionally, in animal studies it was seen that maca was able to improve the learning and memory of rodents with memory impairment – specifically, it appears that black maca is more effective than other verities. Furthermore, it is also believed that maca can improve your mood by reducing anxiety and symptoms of depression.
The natural decline in estrogen that occurs during menopause can cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, sleep problems and irritability. Some studies have found that maca is able to alleviate these symptoms in menopausal women such as hot flashes and interrupted sleep. Additionally, as mentioned previously, maca can improve your mental well-being and promote bone health which is important more menopausal women by improving their mood as well as reducing anxiety and depression – by promoting bone health maca could help to prevent osteoporosis which women have a higher risk of post-menopause.
According to multiple research sources, no adverse or toxic levels were reported in animal or human trials involving the consumption of maca. Maca also contains adaptogens which is a substance that brings balance on your body during stressful times and also a substance that has little scientific research into the detriments and benefits on pregnant women. Furthermore, in a 1968 study, it was found that maca increased the estrogen levels of pregnant women but it seems no one knows whether this is ultimately beneficial to the pregnancy or not. Therefore, it is not recommended to start taking maca while pregnant without having discussed it with your GP or midwife first. However, one German doctor claims that there is evidence that taking maca during pregnancy can prevent a miscarriage. (You can read more about this here: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.602.9299&rep=rep1&type=pdf)
For men, maca may also be beneficial as it has been suggest by the results of animal studies that maca has the ability to reduce prostate size. Typically, as men age their prostate gland will enlarge (benign prostatic hyperplasia) which can result in problems passing urine due to the prostate surround the tube through which urine flows. Some studies indicate that red maca in particular reduces prostate size which may be caused by it’s high amount of glucosinolates, substances also thought to reduce the risk of cancer. Some further evidence shows maca root may increase fertility in men by improving semen quality and concentration (both very important for enhancing male fertility) in both infertile and healthy men.
Maca is easy to incorporate into your diet and can be added to other food items or taken in supplement form and is available in either powder, (500mg) capsule or liquid extract form – the dosage of maca root used in studies generally ranging from 1.5-5 grams per day. Also consider that, while yellow maca is the most widely found type, there are other types of maca such as red and black which contain different properties. Maca is generally considered safe for most people, however, if you have thyroid problems then you should probably avoid maca as it contains goitrogens which can interfere with the normal function of the thyroid gland and if you already have an impaired thyroid gland then these compounds will more likely have an affect on you.
What is Lucuma?
Also from South America is the Pouteria lucuma tree which grows a fruit, known as lucuma, that has seen use in traditional medicine and as a powdered supplement – due to it’s anitbiotic, antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Lucuma trees are found in the valleys of the Andean mountains. The fruit itself is sweet, yellow and dry with a hard, green outer shell – it’s flavour being considered somewhat similar to a sweet potato. Lucuma can easily be added to your diet as, although fresh lucuma can be hard to find, lucuma powder is widely available to be added to your meals.
Benefits of Lucuma
Lucuma is full of healthy carbohydrates while also being packed with vitamins and minerals. Healthy, unrefined, whole food sources of carbohydrates (and healthy fats) are an excellent source of fuel for the body, particularly the brain, which needs the energy to function at it’s best. Lucuma also has plenty of beta-carotene, zinc, iron, vitamin C, niacin (B3), fibre, essential trace minerals (14 of them), and enough calcium that it’s equal to roughly the same amount found in a glass of cow’s milk. Vitamin C, specifically, is a nutrient with antioxidant properties that plays many important roles in your body including strengthening your vision, immune system and heart. Lucuma has a rich antioxidant content which means it helps to fight and prevent diseases (such as heart disease and certain cancers) as well as slowing the aging process; research shows that lucuma is particularly rich in two groups of antioxidants, polyphenols and carotenoids, which are known for their anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting properties. Lucuma is also especially high in xanthophylls, which give it it’s yellow colour, and are thought to promote eye health and good vision. Additionally, one of the antioxidants lucuma has, polyphenols, are beneficial plant compounds which strongly protect against chronic conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease.
Due to containing 75% less sugar in addition to having more nutrients that table sugar, lucuma can be used as a healthier sugar alternative and, due to it’s sweet, fruity taste, it’s also used as a sweetener. Furthermore, lucuma powder has about half the carbs of table salt and a good amount of fibre, both soluble and insoluble – both important in keeping your gut healthy and aiding in proper digestion. Additionally, lucuma is believed to have a low GI (glycemic index) sweetener which means it raises blood sugar levels to a much lesser extent than other sweeteners (like pure sugar) which makes it safe for diabetics and good for everyone to keep a stabilised blood sugar (important for cell function) and even out energy levels. Most of the carbs in lucuma are also complex which have also been shown to promote healthy blood sugar levels while the soluble fibre may improve insulin sensitivity and prevent blood sugar spikes that are caused after are meal or snack – this is because of the alpha-glucosidase enzyme. Finally, test-tube research shows that lucuma may be comparable to certain antidiabetic drugs in it’s blood-sugar lowering mechanisms.
In Peru, lucuma is a very popular flavour and ingredient in food and is in fact the most popular flavour of ice cream in the country. Lucuma can also be used to make a delicious smoothie or, due to being a good sugar alternative, it can be used to make healthy caramel treats. Of course, you can also use Lucuma on other food products to sweeten them up; consider sprinkling some lucuma powder on your breakfast. When adding lucuma to your food, as a substitute for sugar, it can be added in a 2:1 ratio to regular sugar (e.g. 1 spoon of regular sugar = 2 spoons of lucuma powder).
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