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Nutrition of Maca

Maca, first described in 1553, serves as a dietary staple of native Peruvians, particularly in its dried hypocotyl (tuber) format at >20 g daily (1). In the mid to late 17th century, it was reported that Peruvians revered maca for its nutritional content (2). As a traditional Peruvian food, it is roasted, commonly added to soups, and made into a fermented beverage called “maca chica.” It can be ground into a powder for smoothies, juices, coffee, chocolate, or oil preparations (3). One study published in 2013 found that Peruvians who regularly consumed maca (25.8 ± 3.2 years) experienced several health benefits compared to those who did not regularly consume maca. Benefits included higher levels of estradiol and testosterone, lower systolic blood pressure, and lower serum levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), suggesting lower inflammation, as well as an improvement in chronic mountain sickness and better performance on a lower-limb strength test (4).


The main edible portions are the hypocotyl (tuber) and tap root, commonly referred to as hypocotyl and root in the literature (5). The aerial parts consisting of the leaves, flowers, stems, and its seeds (contained in a silicle) are less utilized (5). Generally, hypocotyls are the plant part of maca harvested and processed for food and supplements, rather than the leaves, which are sometimes used for animal feed (6). In comparison to the other parts of the plant, the hypocotyls are higher in glucosinolates, macaenes, and macamides, while the leaves are noted to have greater beta-sitosterol and total phenols (6).


There can be variability in maca’s nutrient levels depending on several factors

  • the color (or phenotype) (7)

  • the location grown (7–9)

  • its size and weight (10)

  • the part of maca tested (11)

  • postharvest conditions involving drying, storage, and maceration (5,7)



Maca’s macronutrient composition as a dehydrated powder includes carbohydrates (55–73%, mostly starch), total dietary fiber (8.2–25.6%), protein (8.9–21%), and fat (0.6–2.2%) (1,8,12). Additionally, as a fresh root, maca contains more than 80% water (8,12,13), whereas maca root powder contains 6.7-10.4% water (7).


The overall macronutrient (protein, carbohydrate, fat, fiber) composition between the four main maca phenotypes (black, purple, red, and yellow) was within relatively similar ranges for the Peruvian maca analyzed, with one exception for elaidic acid (10). Conversely, researchers analyzed three colors of Chinese maca and found yellow maca was highest in carbohydrates, black maca was highest in protein, and violet maca was highest in antioxidant capacity (14). Another study indicated red maca had higher protein and potassium content but less soluble reducing sugars, riboflavin, and iron than black maca (15).


Carbohydrate and Fiber

The predominant starchy nature of the maca tuber resembles the high carbohydrate content (70–85%) in other root vegetables such as potato, sweet potato, and cassava, as well as grains like wheat and maize (8). This starch content in maca is relatively easy to gelatinize, altering its solubility and making it less shelf-stable (8).


Carbohydrate and fiber content varies based on the location grown and the color of the maca analyzed. As an example, black maca from the Junín region of Peru contained significantly higher (p<0.05) amounts of carbohydrates and fiber compared to yellow, red, and purple maca grown in the same area (10). Another study found that yellow maca grown in Peru contained higher amounts of fiber compared to yellow maca grown in Yulong, China, while having a similar fiber content to maca grown in the Pamirs region of China, and contained less fiber than samples analyzed from three other regions of China (12).


Protein and Amino Acids

Protein concentrations in maca range from 8.9-21% (12,13), with the location where maca is cultivated and the color impacting these concentrations (12). Likewise, the amount of amino acids, ranging from 189-313 mg/g of protein, that have been identified in maca vary based on location and color (12).


Early in his maca research, Dr. Henry Meissner detailed the amino acid composition in Lepidium peruvianum Chacon grown in Junín, Peru.

Screenshot 2024-03-21 at 2.33.39 PM.png

Translated from: Meissner, H.O. The Unique Powers of the Maca Tuber: Scientific Facts behind Traditional Wisdom. (in German “Die Einzigartigen Krafte der Maca-Wurzel. Wissentshaftliche Facten Hinter Traditionallem Wissen”), 1st ed.; Michaels Verlag & Vertrieb GmbH: Munich, Germany, 2014; p. 231.

A proprietary formulation of Lepidium peruvianum, known as Maca-GO, was compared to a 10:1 concentration maca extract from the U.S. and a 4:1 maca extract from Europe, both of which supersede raw maca powder and gelatinized maca. (Figure 1)


This analysis measures all essential and non-essential amino acids. Arginine (sample number 2) and proline (sample number 5) were used as controls (reference standards). The results show there is a higher concentration of every amino acid in Maca-GO (sample numbers 1 and 6) when compared to the two standardized extracts (sample numbers 3 and 4). 

Key: Amino Acid Analysis                                             

1. Maca GO                                                

2. Arginine – standard                                            3. 10:1 maca extract                                           

4. 4:1 maca extract                                             

5. Proline – standard                                          

6. Maca-GO 

Figure 1: Amino acid concentration of different Lepidium peruvianum samples, including Maca-GO®, a 10:1 concentrated extract, and a 4:1 concentrated extract. (16)

Fatty Acids

Researchers at Jinzhou Medical University have suggested that essential oils, lipids, and polysaccharides are the biologically active constituents in maca (15). However, 101 bioactive phytochemicals have been identified, highlighting the complexity of the maca constituents (17).


These structurally diverse secondary metabolite compounds encompass a wide range of secondary phytometabolites such as glucosinolates, isothiocyanates, flavonols, phytosterols, polysaccharides, fatty acid derivatives (2-oxononadecanoic acid, anandamide, oleamide), and alkaloids (17). Meissner et al. provided the profiles of fatty acids found in four colors of maca, yellow, black, red, and purple, and found there were no statistically significant differences except for C18:1:1n9 (elaidic acid), which was nearly 100% higher in yellow maca compared to black, red, or purple maca. However, the implication of this higher concertation is unknown (10). 



Maca is naturally rich in many vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, boron, calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, niacin, sodium, potassium, and zinc (10–12,17–19). Additionally, the various phytonutrient constituents of maca include anthocyanins, glucosinolates, isothiocyanates, polyphenolics (i.e., epigallocatechin [EGCG]), flavonoids, lignans, amino acids, fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fatty acids.


The origin of maca may impact the micronutrient density. For example, one study (18) found that select phenotypes grown in a particular area of China had a wide range of sodium content (less than 30 to 2600 mg/kg dry weight). In contrast, Peruvian maca had a lower sodium concentration range (110–190 mg/kg dry weight). Conversely, another study (12) showed negligible differences in sodium content in maca from different locations.


Complete nutritional profiles

As noted, the location where maca is cultivated and its color will determine its complete nutritional composition.


For consideration, two examples of the nutritional profile of maca are detailed below.



Screenshot 2024-03-21 at 2.42.06 PM.png

Example #1: The U.S Department of Agriculture has reported the following nutrient composition for 100 grams of a non-specified brand of maca powder: (20)

Example #2: Meissner et al. provided a comprehensive analysis of the nutritional composition al. 100 grams of a pre-gelatinized Lepidium peruvianum (maca) root powder known as Maca-GO: (21)

Screenshot 2024-03-21 at 2.42.25 PM.png

In summary, maca has a rich nutrient profile that can vary based on its color, size, the location in which it is grown, and post-harvesting methods.



Written by: Kim Ross, DCN

Reviewed by Mona Fahoum, ND

Last Updated March 14, 2024



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