As a foodie and skin care buff, it’s always rewarding to eat super foods and add them to my skin care routine. Following Eastern thinking, the Japanese for example think that beauty and health are intrinsically linked. So you could deduce that what’s great for you inside must be great for you outside too, right? Indeed it is. And there are certain nutrient-dense foods that people call super foods, because they are great for your health and well-being. One of them is the maca plant.

Maca’s having a moment. Not only is it used in anything and everything from smoothies to supplements. It’s also taking root in the beauty industry. You may have seen it in your local health store and wondered what it is and what it does.

A little bit on the ingredient

If a radish and a potato would have a child, it would look like maca. Farmers have cultivated it in the Peruvian Andes mountains for more than 3000 years. Did you know that it’s one of the few edible plants that can survive the harsh weather conditions above 4000 meters?

Its official scientific name is Lepidium meyenii. But it goes by many names, including maca-maca, maino, ayak chichira and ayak willku. It’s also called Peruvian ginseng because it also has a reputation for giving big boosts of energy just like ginseng.

Just know that the name Peruvian ginseng is misleading because it’s not related to ginseng at all. Ginseng is a herb but maca is a vegetable. It belongs to the Brassicaceae family. These types of vegetables are also called cruciferous vegetables. Typical cruciferous vegetables are broccoli and kale (which are also considered super foods in their own right).

Maca plant, photo by Vahe Martirosyan

The maca plant has green, fernlike, fragrant leaves that grow close to the ground. The part that’s eaten is the tuber underneath. The root portion comes in a range of colours, from tan, red, purple, and even black.

Traditionally, the ancient Inca have farmed maca as food and as a natural medicine to treat various ailments. It’s still used as food nowadays. It can be eaten raw, cooked, or drunk as tea. It can also be dried and then ground into flour for baking. The vegetable has an earthy, sweet, and slightly bitter aroma if it’s black maca. It smells similar to butterscotch.

Why is maca considered a super food?

A study in 2011 has found that maca has potential as an adaptogen. An adaptogen is an agent that supports your body’s ability to accommodate varying physical and emotional stresses. In other words, it helps your body adapt and deal with stress, anxiety, depression, or whatever it’s going through. But science has not discovered yet how exactly maca works on the body.

Since maca is such a hardy plant that it can grow in high altitudes, it produces a high concentration of unique protein and nutrients called macaenes and macamides. These bioactive compounds aren’t found in any other plant. It’s rich in

  • Calcium
  • Potassium
  • Iron
  • Iodine
  • Copper
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine) and vitamin B2 (riboflavin)

Vitamin C for example boosts immunity, calcium is important for your bone health, and iron carries oxygen around your body.

Remember how that maca root can have different colours, from creamy-gold to black? Different levels of the plan compound anthocyanins are responsible for the colour varieties. The more anthocyanins, the darker the colour. These plant compounds are powerful antioxidants and research has shown that they may protect against inflammation and help protect against cancer, heart disease, and other chronic diseases.

And for your skin?

Overall, maca, especially the darker variations is an excellent source for antioxidants. Applying antioxidants to your skin is always a good idea.

Ward off environmental damage

Your body produces free radicals when it digests food as part of the normal metabolism. But lifestyle factors such as being exposed to pollution, radiation, sun, or cigarette smoke can increase free radicals.

Even though free radicals have a very short lifespan of a fraction of a second, they can do a lot of damage to your body. It can damage the cells in your body and even the molecules such as DNA. Damaged DNA can read to mutations that again can lead to a multitude of ailments such as cancer.

It’s not to say that free radicals are bad – full stop. Your body can use free radicals for good. For example, it uses them to kill pathogens. But having too many radicals may increase inflammation in your body. And you probably have heard that inflammation is the root cause of many ills – also for your skin.

Antioxidants in your food and applied as skin care can help neutralise unstable molecules and so help reduce the risk of damage. The more purple or darker maca is, the more anthocyanins – the plant antioxidants can be found.

Reduce effects of ageing

Unfortunately as is with many things in life, the older we get, the lower the levels of collagen found in our skin. Decreasing collagen translates into skin looking aged, lined, and saggy.

Maca root contains many nutrients that improve your overall complexion. Take vitamin C, for example

  • It stimulates collagen synthesis
  • It strengthens collagen links
  • Higher collagen density means less lines and sagging

Even out skin tone

Vitamin C has so many benefits. As a potent antioxidant, it shields your skin from environmental damage. Then it boosts collagen production for firmer skin. Lastly, it helps you get lift dark spots and get the glow.

This vitamin is probably the other holy grail besides vitamin A in skin care. Aside from the already mentioned, it helps

  • Brighten up
  • Reduce the appearance of dark spots
  • Even skin tone
  • Reduce redness
  • Hydrate
  • Heal wounds
  • Maintain and repair damaged skin

Danger zone?

Currently, there are no known risks linked to maca. People living in the Andes mountains have been consuming it for literally millennia. They consume up to 100 g of per day.

To steer on the safe side, make sure you check with your doctor first, especially if you’re on regular medications or have any health conditions.

How to add it to your routine?

Maca is available in many forms. You can find it in capsules, powders, or as a root vegetable at your specialists’ grocers. You can cook it just like a turnip or radish. If you find the powder, the easiest way is to work it into your smoothies or lattes.

You can find more and more beauty products popping up with maca in their formulation. Just look for its scientific name Lepidium meyenii in the ingredient list.

In closing

Maca is a caffeine-free, plant-based super food. It can help you deal with stress. Then it’s packed with many healthy nutrients and powerful antioxidants. It’s hard not to like maca.

As a rich source of antioxidants, maca can smooth over fine lines and stimulate cell renewal. It’s suitable for all skin types, but may be particularly beneficial for tired-looking or mature skin.

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