Stomach Cramps & Digestive Issues—Here’s Why I Don't Take Maca Powder Raw
I remember finding out about about maca powder when Miranda Kerr mentioned it in her superfood “Goddess Smoothie”. Keen to experience all the health benefits myself, I was bitterly disappointed when I only suffered unbearable stomach aches every time I tried to take it.
After much research and experimenting I think I’ve worked out why I face these issues and found a way that works for me to take maca. So if you’ve had a hard time with raw maca powder, hopefully my tips and tricks can help you overcome your symptoms too! I just want to clarify that by no means am I a doctor or a nutritionist—this is just what I’ve learnt from my own experience works for me.
What is maca
Sometimes referred to as Peruvian ginseng, maca is an ancient superfood native to the Incan empire. A powerful adaptogen, it is mainly known for its ability to enhance energy levels and balance hormones. Some benefits of maca are that is it able to help:
Relieve menopausal symptoms
Boost libido in both men and women
Enhance strength, energy, stamina and endurance
Relieve stress, fatigue and anxiety
Improve memory and brain function
Maca powder is made from the dried root of the maca plant which grows underground and has a unique earthy, malty flavour. A lot of people dislike it’s distinct flavour, but I personally don’t mind it!
My experience with maca
I tried maca for the first time while I was in the UK—I bought a small bag from my local whole foods store and started adding it to my smoothies and porridge. I remember very clearly one afternoon adding a huge spoonful to my smoothie (the more the better right? WRONG). I ended up lying in bed with excruciating stomach cramps for a few hours. I don’t think I even managed to finish my smoothie.
After that episode, instead of having maca raw, I just had it with my porridge and found I didn’t have such bad issues. I would usually only stir it in at the end to try not to ‘cook’ it too much as I had heard the best way was to eat it raw so the nutrients wouldn’t be destroyed.
Last year I was experimenting and added raw maca powder to my Matcha Almond Latte. The maca isn’t exactly cooked in the latte as the almond milk is only slightly heated. After drinking it, I experienced the same tummy tying cramps that had me bed-ridden for a few hours!
Why I don’t eat maca raw
I stayed clear of maca for a while until recently when I decided to look into it further and found a few answers. The best way to explain why I don’t take maca raw is to understand how it is traditionally consumed.
In Peru, maca has historically been eaten as food and medicine, but consumed very differently to how it is today.
As Dr. Corin Storkey of Seleno Health explains “For the people of Junin in Peru maca has been used as a medicinal remedy to prevent and treat health conditions for over 2000 years […] If you ask any of the Incan descendants how to prepare maca they all answer the same way “It must be cooked or boiled to extract the medicine”. So why in our western culture are we suddenly changing 2000 years of tradition and deciding to consume raw maca powder?”
Traditionally maca has been cooked, boiled, baked, roasted or fermented and eaten as part of a meal alongside other Andean food, but not eaten raw. Raw maca contains enzymes which inhibit the digestion and assimilation of the food—which explains the stomach cramps and digestive issues.
No matter how nutritious a food is, if the body is unable to break it down and absorb it, you probably won’t be able to reap the benefits. I like to understand traditional ways of food preparation as they are usually based on generations of knowledge. For example, in China soy was not consumed until they were able to ferment it. This understanding of traditional practices help contextualise food and maximise its benefits.
How I like to eat maca
After all that hassle, you might wonder why I even bother with maca? While it’s not a necessity, it’s a nutrient powerhouse and a potent superfood. Lack of energy and hormonal imbalance are struggles I’ve always faced so I feel maca powder is a great supplement to my diet.
The symptoms of discomfort I initially experienced make a lot sense to me after understanding about how maca has been traditionally prepared and eaten. With that in mind I’ve done a few experiments and found ways I can take maca without the agonising digestive issues.
1. Cook it
To help with digestion and to break down the enzymes, I cook my maca. I use Organicule Superfoods Raw Maca Powder, and usually add it to my porridge in the morning. Instead of just stirring it in at the end, I now add it at the start to make sure it’s fully cooked through. While my concern before was that heat would destroy the nutrients, studies have shown that cooking maca actually makes it more bioactive.
You can also use gelatinised maca (a type that is pre-cooked), but it is quite hard to find in Malaysia.
2. Eat small quantities
Sometimes when something is good, we think the more the better. But because superfoods are extremely nutrient dense foods and are so potent, we usually don’t need a lot of them at once to experience their benefits.
The mistake I made the first time round was piling in heaped tablespoons of maca to my smoothies. Nowadays I find just half a teaspoon is enough for me.
3. Eat something before
Not sure if this genuinely helps, but because I read traditionally maca is eaten with other food and as a part of a meal, I try to munch on something first so I’m not having maca on an empty stomach. Nothing huge, usually just a banana or some papaya.
I know this blog post is long but it’s one I’ve wanted to write for over a year now, so I tried to get as much information in as possible. The purpose of this post isn’t to scare you away from raw maca powder, but just to share what I’ve learnt from my experience. Hopefully if you’ve faced similar issues this can help you understand how you can enjoy the amazing benefits of maca too.
It can be easy to get lost in all the health trends, superfoods and adaptogens on the market, but there are 2 most important things to remember:
1. Understand how foods are traditionally eaten
Food has been used for healing for generations throughout the world. A lot of the time when new health trends emerge, the traditional context of the food is forgotten. Traditional practices are usually there to help get the most of the food, so start there if you feel you’re missing something.
2. Each body is different, listen to your own
Just because everyone on Instagram is vouching for something doesn’t mean it will work for you too. One person’s medicine can be another’s poison. Be intuitive with your body and try to notice how certain foods make you feel rather than follow what everyone else is saying.