Maca, a traditional Peruvian crop, offers a wide variety of health benefits for those who consume it on a regular basis.

Health benefits of maca: the centuries-old staple crop you probably haven't heard of

Maca is also called "Peruvian ginseng," although it is unrelated to ginseng and is instead a member of the mustard family. This root vegetable has been cultivated by native Peruvians for at least 3,600 years, serving both food and medicinal purposes. The potato is the only other crop that grows in the low temperatures, unforgiving winds and rocky soils of the Andean shrublands, making maca an important staple crop for many native communities. The maca tuber resembles a radish is said to have a tangy, sweet, nutty taste. Modern science is beginning to recognize the same health benefits of maca that folk medicine has purported for centuries.

1. Maca is rich in vitamins

Since maca is only one of two crops that will grow in the harsh conditions of the Andes, it's fortunate that it's extremely nutritious. 100 grams of maca flour contains one milligram of vitamin B1 (100 percent daily value), 760 micrograms of riboflavin (45 percent daily value), three milligrams of vitamin C (five percent daily value) and 35 milligrams of niacin (175 percent daily value).

2.  Maca may aid in hormone balance

Maca is traditionally believed to help balance hormones. According to Peruvian folk medicine, it may be helpful in helping to protect against certain hormone-related conditions.

3. Maca has many beneficial amino acids

The Top Seven Health Benefits of MacaAnother one of the health benefits of maca is that it contains nearly all essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. Consuming all the necessary important amino acids is necessary to ensure that your body has all the components it needs to build new proteins. A lack of amino acids can lead to frequent sickness and lack of energy.

4.  Some evidence suggests maca can help improve libido-related sexual function

Folklore says that maca improves libido and fertility. A report published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2010 found that maca may have a positive effect on libido-related sexual function. Another study, published in CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics in 2008, found that maca may help promote healthy sexual function in people who have lost some of their sexual function due to the use of SSRI medications. Yet another study found that four months of taking maca supplements supported healthy sperm.

5.  Maca contains many necessary minerals

100 grams of maca contains 450 milligrams of calcium (45 percent daily value), 220 milligrams of phosphorus (22 percent daily value), 104 milligrams of magnesium (26 percent daily value), 1500 milligrams of potassium (43 percent daily value), five milligrams of copper (250 percent daily value), 12 milligrams of zinc (80 percent daily value), two milligrams of manganese (400 percent daily value) and 25 milligrams of iron (139 percent daily value). Maca also contains iodine and boron.

6.  Maca can help improve mental health

Science supports the notion found in folk medicine that maca is good for mental health. A study published in the journal Menopause in 2008 found that post-menopausal women who took maca for six weeks had lower levels of anxiety and depression than those who took a placebo.

7.  Maca provides tannins

Tannins are chemical compounds also found in nuts, berries, pomegranates, herbs, chocolate, legumes, beer and wine. Eating a diet that provides plenty of tannins can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

How can I incorporate maca into my diet?

Traditionally, maca flour is made into bread, cakes, pancakes and porridges. The whole vegetable is often chopped and used as an empanada filling or soup component. Maca is even fermented and made into a weak beer called chicha de maca, and the black variety of maca is made into a liquor. You can use traditional recipes like these to incorporate maca into your diet, or you can go a more modern route and add the powdered root or a quality maca supplement to your smoothies and shakes. Liquid maca extract is available, which can be added as a supplement to any recipe, letting you easily receive the health benefits of maca.

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