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No matter what you call Moringa oleifera — also known as “drumstick tree,” “tree of life,” and “miracle tree” — it's one of the most nutritious plants in the world. It has a wide range of nutritional and bioactive compounds, including essential amino acids, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, making this plant a powerful one.
Native to Northern India and East Africa, you’ll find the two most popular species in those regions, although there are 13 different species in total. Even when it comes to the latest research, a few varieties of this popular plant are commonly highlighted. “Among the 13 species, current studies are limited to Moringa oleifera, Moringa stenopetala, Moringa concanensis and Moringa peregrina,” says Jerlyn Jones, MS, MPA, RDN, registered dietitian, certified LEAP therapist and owner of The Lifestyle Dietitian.
Moringa goes way back to ancient times and has been used in phytomedicine and ayurvedic healing for centuries. “The benefits of moringa were recognized long ago when used in Ayurveda medicine over 4,000 years ago,” says Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, Integrative Dietitian and Founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition.
Moringa was used by the ancient Greeks, Romans and the ancient Mauryan warriors of India who reportedly consumed moringa leaves to give them more energy and strength, especially during war. Today, moringa trees are grown and consumed all over the world.
What is moringa?
Every part of the Moringa plant is edible. “Moringa oleifera leaves, seeds, bark, roots, sap and flowers are widely used in traditional medicine and the leaves and immature seed pods are used as food products,” says Jones. The most used part of the plant is the edible leaves and in the United States, the dried leaves are sold as dietary supplements either in a powdered or capsule form.
Benefits of moringa
Modern medicine continues to confirm many of its nutritional and health benefits. Here are the top health benefits of moringa and creative ways to use it:
1. It's extremely nutritious
“Moringa leaves are one of the most nutrient-dense greens on the planet, packed with protein, essential amino acids, 27 vitamins and 46 antioxidants,” says Lisa Curtis, Founder and CEO of Kuli Kuli Foods. That includes key nutrients like calcium, iron, B vitamins, potassium, magnesium and vitamin C. Overall, moringa is rich in macro- and micronutrients and other bioactive compounds which are vital for the normal functioning of the body and prevention of many diseases.
2. It fights against inflammation
Inflammation is a physiological response that happens in the body to protect against infection and restore body tissue injury. “Moringa contains inflammation-fighting nutrients including phytonutrients, antioxidants and antibacterial compounds,” says Smith. Together, these powerful compounds fight inflammation in the body by targeting free radicals (compounds that damage cells) and as a result reduces oxidative stress, inflammation and fights disease. “Two compounds of note are quercetin, a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, and isothiocyanates, which aid in detoxification and have anti-inflammatory effects,” Smith says. One study suggests that these specific compounds found in moringa may help alleviate low-grade inflammation associated with chronic diseases.
3. It might enhance your sex drive
Did you know that stress can negatively impact sexual function? It can throw libido out of whack by increasing cortisol and decreasing the feel-good hormone, dopamine. Sexual function is a very complex process that involves the brain, hormones, emotions, nerves and muscles, which are very sensitive to stress. Many herbs known to be considered aphrodisiacs have long been used to enhance libido — and moringa might be one of them. “Animal studies found that moringa may boost testosterone and reduce cortisol, thereby supporting libido,” says Smith. According to one animal study, moringa leaves may have beneficial effects on male sexual dysfunction induced by stress. Jones adds that “human studies are needed before firm conclusions can be made."
4. You’ll feel more energized
If you’re looking for an energy boost that is caffeine-free, you might want to consider moringa in your morning routine. “It’s rich in vitamins and minerals, especially iron and vitamins C and D, nutrients involved in energy-yielding metabolism,” Jones says. Moringa also contains B vitamins which helps sustain long-term energy and supports healthy metabolic processes. And the great news is you won’t be left with energy crashes, jitters or anxious feelings, which are common side effects of caffeinated beverages.
5. It may support cognition and mood
The extract of plants like moringa and its effect on enhancing cognition and mood continues to be studied extensively. Moringa may boost cognition given its amino acid and vitamin profile. “It contains tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, aka the happiness hormone,” Smith says. This feel-good hormone works in the reward centers of your brain and “improves learning, motor function and memory,” Curtis says. You’ll find both vitamins C and E in moringa, potent antioxidants that help reduce oxidative damage to the brain, a major player in the development of some cognitive disorders.
6. It balances blood sugar
This edible plant might keep your blood sugars stable for the better. “Moringa is believed to aid in blood sugar balance thanks to its chlorogenic acid and isothiocyanates,” Smith says. Chlorogenic acid can potentially control blood sugar levels by regulating the cells uptake or release of glucose (sugar) following a meal. Smith adds that “studies have supported the use of moringa to aid in blood sugar balance with positive effects on fasting blood sugar levels, insulin levels, HbA1c and overall blood glucose control in those that consume moringa powder."
7. It has anti-aging properties
Although there’s no shame in aging, moringa is packed with antioxidants like flavonoids and polyphenols, which may combat premature wrinkles and keep your skin looking youthful, according to research. “Its compounds have powerful anti-inflammatory effects and its anti-aging benefits on skincare are promising but additional research is needed,” Jones says.
8. It may reduce blood pressure
If you struggle with high blood pressure, adding moringa to your diet regularly might make a difference, especially when your routine includes exercise and a nutrient-rich diet. Moringa powder has anti-hypertensive properties because it contains quercetin. “This antioxidant decreases oxidative stress on the heart and helps to stabilize blood pressure management systems in the body,” says Curtis. If you are taking blood pressure medications, you’ll want to speak to your healthcare provider before considering moringa as it may result in your blood pressure becoming too low.
9. It can help with digestion
If you struggle with digestive problems like constipation, the fiber found in moringa may help keep you regular. “It contains soluble fibers as well as insoluble fibers,” Curtis says. Both forms of fiber have many health benefits, especially for digestion. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and turns to gel, slowing digestion and keeping you fuller for longer, while insoluble fiber adds bulk to the stool, making it much easier to pass through the digestive tract, therefore reducing constipation. Not only that, moringa’s nutrition profile contains compounds that help promote the beneficial bacteria in the gut.
10. It may improve cholesterol
Having healthy cholesterol levels is crucial in preventing heart disease. The good news is that “moringa has the potential to decrease cholesterol,” Smith says. According to one study, moringa has hypocholesterolemic (lipid-lowering) and antiatherescotic (prevents the buildup of plaques in artery walls) activities which supports a healthy heart.
Does moringa have side effects?
Moringa is a powerful plant and when consumed in large quantities, some people may experience stomach upset, abdominal pain or other digestive issues. “If you're pregnant or nursing, avoid consuming moringa as the chemicals found in the root, bark and flowers can be harmful,” Smith says.
Additionally, moringa may have interactions with some medications. If you’re interested in giving moringa a try, it's best to start with a small dose, like half to one teaspoon per day. Jones adds that, “over 70 grams of moringa daily may cause vitamin and mineral toxicity.” It’s recommended to consult with your healthcare provider before adding moringa to your everyday routine to be on the safe side.
How to shop for moringa
In the U.S., moringa is commonly found in a powder or supplement form. It’s always best to read the instructions on the food package on how to safely use moringa. If you’re wanting to experiment with the leaves and pods you’ll likely find it at an international market. Here are tips to consider when buying moringa:
Look for organic, 100% pure moringa leaves.
Moringa leaf powder should be stored in an air-tight container in a cool and dark environment.
Look at the expiration date and shelf-life; it's best used within six months of harvesting.
How to use moringa powder
Moringa is versatile and can be added to a variety of recipes, from meals to snacks and beverages, too. Moringa has a similar taste to matcha (green tea ground into a powdered form). It’s tough to characterize, but it has been described as having an earthy, grassy or green flavor. “Some folks enjoy the taste of moringa while others prefer to combine it with stronger and sweeter flavors, allowing the moringa to take on a more complementary role,” says Curtis. Here are a few ideas to try out:
Add to your morning smoothie
Sprinkle in hummus
Add to guacamole or your favorite dip
Add to soups and salads
Stir into a pasta sauce or pesto
Bake into cookies and cakes
Make tea by adding the leaves to hot water, steep and add your favorite sweetener
Overall, moringa is a nutrient-dense plant that offers many health benefits when consumed regularly. It's versatile, making it a great addition to numerous recipes. Research is limited and more human studies are needed to support the health claims. Talk to your healthcare provider before adding moringa to your daily regimen.
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