The root could help you kick your coffee habit

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As so-called “superfoods” become more common in everyday life, it feels important to know what’s really in that supercharged, dust-filled latte that all the "wellness" people seem to be slurping. One ingredient I’ve seen pop up more regularly is maca, a root that is touted to possess energy- and endurance-increasing properties. Often classified as an adaptogen (herbs and plants that help the body adapt to stressors) like ashwagandha or reishi, maca is concentrated into a powder that can be used in beverages or baking.

The maca plant, or Lepidium meyenii, is native to Peru, and is technically characterized as a cruciferous vegetable like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. Once the root is dehydrated and ground into a powder, it tastes nutty with slight caramel notes.

Since the 1990s, a number of small-scale studies have been performed to test maca’s energy-enhancing capabilities, where it has performed to increase mental and physical stamina. As many people find the side effects from caffeine to be uncomfortable, many incorporate maca into their diets as a coffee or tea replacement.

Maca is rich in antioxidants, and other small-scale studies have found the root to potentially help reduce risk of chronic disease as well as protect against neurological damage.

Maca is also believed to increase libido and fertility. In fact, it’s one of the main ingredients of Los Angeles-based holistic wellness company Moon Juice’s Sex Dust, a blend of adaptogenic herbs, which the maker claims can “help combat the effects of stress to ignite your creative energy, in and out of the bedroom.” Though these claims have not yet been substantiated scientifically, maca has been used medicinally for fertility in humans and animals by Andean people in Peru for centuries.

Ultimately, while maca is likely to be no more harmful than any other supplements, and you could probably order a superfood latte at your local cafe, it’s best to discuss the root with a health professional before adding regular doses of the adaptogen to your diet.