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YQA: Maca Edition

Without maca, there might not be a Navitas Organics! Maca Powder was the very first product that launched our company back in 2003 and it served as the inspiration for our entire product line. (For more about our origin story, you can check out our brand video here). This month, we tackle some of the most common questions that we get on this rootsy superfood. For more Q&A, visit the maca section of our help center here.

1. Is maca powder safe for everyone?

Maca powder is a superstar in the superfood world. But at its root (pun intended!), this humble member of the mustard family is just that—a simple root that was used as a staple food source by Peruvians of all ages and genders for centuries. It was historically enjoyed in soups, heated with milk to make a pudding, and even fermented into a lightly alcoholic brew for a different kind of boost!

However, there is undeniably more to this brassica than to, say, the common turnip. Growing in some of the most inhospitable climates of the Andes, maca is credited with increasing fertility, boosting libido, and smoothing out the rough edges of menopause. It was consumed by Incan warriors to increase their vitality before battle, and was fed to indigenous and Spanish livestock to boost their fertility during the breeding season. This is because maca is an adaptogen, meaning it’s one in a rare class of plants that contain a special blend of nutrients that help regulate, balance and support the endocrine system, thus improving energy, mood, sexual health and immune function.

So which is it: common root vegetable or powerful adaptogen? We say it’s both. One of the beauties of superfoods is that they’re natural, whole foods that can be consumed by all ages, and maca is no exception. While some parents opt not to include it in their children’s diets because of its potential role in hormone regulation, others have credited it with improving focus and mood (we recommend reaching out to your nutritionist or other health professional with specific questions on this topic).

Please note that as with any food, maca is not for each and every one of us and some individuals may be especially sensitive to maca’s effects. When adding an adaptogen, it’s best to introduce it gently and pay attention to how your body responds.

2. What’s the deal with raw vs. gelatinized maca, and which should I choose for my pantry?

Maca, a starchy root vegetable, is typically sold in two forms: raw or gelatinized. Raw maca is made by dehydrating the root and then grinding it into a fine powder; gelatinized maca undergoes a further processing step involving water and heat, causing the complex starch granules within the root to break down into smaller pieces. This makes the powder easier to digest and imparts a slightly toastier flavor to it.

Both can be used interchangeably, so which one you decide to purchase depends on personal preference—do you follow a raw diet?—and how your digestive tract handles starch. While many people enjoy raw maca daily, some find that it causes digestive discomfort or gas. In these cases, gelatinized maca is a better choice.

Another consideration is usage. With its slightly toasted taste, gelatinized maca can add a welcome flavor profile to baked goods like cookies, brownies, and quick breads. Gelatinization also increases the solubility of maca powder, so if you prefer your maca in wellness latte form, this option might be best. Primarily a smoothie lover? Both raw and gelatinized maca have an earthy, malty flavor that’s delicious with cacao, banana, and creamy flavors like vanilla, almond and coconut.

3. Why is there a Proposition 65 warning on your maca?

The fine print on a Prop 65 warning is scary. Cancer? Birth defects?! Yikes! However, these warnings are not meant to be prescriptive. Instead, they’re there because of a California right-to-know law established in the late 80s that requires companies to inform the public if their product or service might expose a consumer to trace amounts of one (or more) of over 900 chemicals, either natural or manmade.

The Prop 65 label warns of either reproductive harm or cancer. The amount of a chemical that triggers the reproductive harm label "is determined by identifying the level of exposure that has been shown to not pose any harm to humans or laboratory animals [and] then requires this 'no observable effect level' to be divided by 1,000 in order to provide an ample margin of safety.” The amount of a chemical that triggers the cancer warning is established as “the level of exposure that would result in not more than one excess case of cancer in 100,000 individuals exposed to the chemical over a 70-year lifetime.”[1] These levels are determined by an analysis of the most recent and accurate studies available.

In other words, this warning must be applied even when an organic food contains far less of a chemical than is considered a health hazard by any nutrition governance. However, because companies are not allowed to include on the label why the chemical occurs or in what amount, it’s up to the consumer to contact the company for more information about the product in question.

In the case of our superfoods, the Prop 65 warning occurs due to trace amount of lead (or cadmium, for cacao). Remember, heavy metals are geologic substances found in organic soils all over the world and not necessarily the result of human contamination. This is one of the many reasons that we seek out smallholder farms cultivating organic foods in traditional growing regions.

All of our superfoods are tested by third-party, independent labs to ensure that any heavy metal amounts occur within a natural range. In most of our superfoods, heavy metals are non-detectable. For those that require a Prop 65 label, the heavy metal levels are often less than what is found in many common grocery items like leafy greens, apples, and many nuts and seeds.

Curious to learn more about Prop 65? We’ve got you covered! Check out our deep dive on the topic in our Help Center here.

How to know if a product carries a Prop 65 warning label? Scroll down on the product page in question and look for this note beneath the product description: This product carries California’s Proposition 65 WARNING

Do you have a superfood question for Kali? Send it to her at askus@navitasorganics.com

See what other burning superfood questions customers are asking in our candid "Your Questions Answered" Blog Series here.


[1] California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. (2017, August 17). Proposition 65 in Plain Language. Oehha.ca.gov. https://oehha.ca.gov/proposition-65/general-info/proposition-65-plain-language