The Moringa tree that originated in the foothills of the Himalayas has innumerable benefits that justify its name as the ‘Miracle Tree’. It is also known as the Drumstick tree, Horseradish tree, Ben Oil tree and Benzoil tree and is easily cultivated in tropical and subtropical climates.
Packed With Nutrients
All parts of the Moringa oleifera tree are edible and can be used as ingredients in medicine. The leaves of this tree have very high nutraceutical potential. The leaves are highly nutrient dense and are a good source of proteins, vitamin B6, vitamin C, iron, vitamin B2, vitamin A and magnesium.
According to the USDA Nutrient Database, the nutritional value per 100g of pure Moringa leaf powder contains 350 kcal of energy, 30g of protein, 0g of total lipid (fat), 30g of total dietary fiber and 10g of total sugars. It is also an excellent source of minerals, and 100g of pure Moringa leaf powder contains calcium (1500 mg), iron (810 mg), potassium (1400 mg) and vitamin A (50000 IU). The leaves have a low calorific value and can be tremendously beneficial to overweight and obese individuals.
Not only are Moringa leaves nutrient dense, but they can also be preserved for long periods of time without any loss of nutrients, thus allowing them to be available in the powder form throughout the year. It has also been studied that the addition of Moringa to food adds nutritive value to it (Food Science and Human Wellness, Volume 5, Issue 2, June 2016, Pages 49-56).
A technical bulletin from USAID that addresses malnutrition in Cambodia suggests that daily consumption of fresh Moringa leaves or dried leaf powder can reduce the risk of malnutrition. According to this, fresh Moringa leaves contain a significantly higher amount of nutrients than in common foods when compared gram-for gram. The dried leaf powder has enhanced amounts of these essential nutrients, except for vitamin C.
A comparison of defatted seed and leaf flour revealed that they are rich in protein (33.53% and 18.63% for seeds and leaves, respectively) and carbohydrates. Further analysis of amino acids revealed the presence of all essential amino acids in the leaves with high concentrations of Leucine and Valine and lower concentrations of Methionine and Cysteine.
The total essential amino acids content of leaf flour (42.76 g/16 g N) was higher than that of seed flour (35.07 g/16 g N). The limiting amino acid was Lysine. According to this study, the available Lysine content in the leaf flour (3.78 g/16 g N) was significantly higher than in the seed flour (1.30 g/16 g N). In vitro digestibility studies revealed that leaf proteins were more easily digested by Pepsin than seed proteins were. Moreover, after a pepsin-pancreatin hydrolysis, digestibility of seed flour (61.12%) was significantly higher than that of leaf flour (57.22%) (Cogent Food & Agriculture (2016), 2: 1213618).
Regular intake of Moringa either as fresh leaves or in the powder form can help in meeting the needs of vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, lactating mothers and young children. Consumption of Moringa can improve the health of mothers, reduce anemia, increase birth-weight as well as the subsequent weight-gain and overall health of young children.
Moringa leaves are very easy to incorporate into one’s diet. Fresh Moringa leaves can be added to many soups, curries, stir-fries, omelets, and salads. Dried leaf powder can be added to any of these dishes as well as to various sauces.
Dried Moringa leaf powder can simply be added to soups, porridge, smoothies, teas and other dishes without significantly changing their taste. Dried leaf powder is a good alternative source for those who cannot grow Moringa in their backyard or lack access to a farm, as fresh leaves aren’t readily available.
All in the Phytochemicals
The major benefits of consumption of Moringa leaves has been attributed to the phytochemicals present in them. A polyphenolic fraction of M. oleifera leaves has a high content of phenols and possesses antioxidant activity. This could be mediated by direct trapping of the free radicals and metal chelation (Food and Chemical Toxicology, Volume 47, Issue 9, September 2009, Pages 2196-2201).
The bioactive phytochemicals in moringa include vitamin C, beta-carotene, quercetin, chlorogenic acid and moringa isothiocyanate. Quercetin has been shown to have an antioxidative effect and helps in lowering blood pressure.
Chlorogenic acid could help moderate postprandial blood sugar levels. Moringa isothiocyanate is known to have antidiabetic effects. Inclusion of Moringa leaves in the diet can help improve glucose tolerance and insulin signaling. Some studies suggest that it positively affects leptin levels, a hormone which signals the brain when full.
Moringa leaf extract may be used as a food preservative. It increases the shelf life of meat by reducing oxidation. It can also be used for water purification and hand washing.
Too Much of a Good Thing
The leaves of Moringa have laxative properties. Consumption in large quantities could cause stomach upset, heartburn, gaseous distension, nausea and diarrhea. An overdose of Moringa may cause an accumulation of iron. This can lead to gastrointestinal distress and hemochromatosis. Hence, a daily dose of 70 g of Moringa is suggested to be ideal and would prevent any over accumulation of nutrients.
When Moringa is ingested raw or with some water, it may sometimes cause heartburn. It is better to cook it before consumption. The taste of Moringa is very distinct and sharp. When using it for the first time, it may produce a gag reflex in some people.