There is always something new to learn about in the world of nutrition. Moringa has been used all over the world for centuries, but it has just emerged from the shadows here in Newington, CT. This ‘new’ superfood will likely start getting more attention, but is it worth going out of your way to buy it? Before jumping on the bandwagon, educate yourself on the health benefit claims and possible risks with any new product. Here’s the lowdown on moringa.
Moringa is a tree grown primarily in subtropical climates like India, Africa and South America. The leaves and pods are safe to eat, while roots and bark may be toxic. The greens are prepared much like spinach, and can be steamed or sauteed in oil or used as a salad green. In the U.S., coming across fresh moringa is unlikely, and is typically taken as an extract or powder that can be used for tea, or to beef up a smoothie.
Health Benefits Linked to Moringa: This green gem touts high protein content, high calcium, potassium and antioxidant content. It is thought to be an anti-cancer agent, reduces blood sugar levels, decreases rise in blood sugar after meals, supports wound healing, protects from stomach ulcers, and may lower blood lipid levels. There are also a number of weight loss supplements that contain moringa, noting that it decreases cravings and melts fat. We didn’t find any studies supporting that, and weight loss supplements are, as a whole, misleading, but that’s a whole other topic.
It also has water purification properties, which is great for developing countries where it is grown. It’s important to note, however, that various websites show different amounts of these key nutrients, and reputable nutrient reporting sites don’t even have a listing for it.
Is it safe? Adding a bit of moringa to your meal plan may help boost of all of the nutrients listed above, but there are some safety concerns that should make you think twice about taking a supplement:
- Human studies are limited, safe levels of supplementation are not well studied.
- Results are contradictory. Some studies show that moringa has anti-cancer properties, yet others say that it may cause cancer at high doses, which were not defined.
- Has links to decreased fertility, kidney and liver damage, premature contractions in pregnancy and even miscarraige.
- Like all herbs, there is no regulation on how or where it is produced, therefore you need to be careful of where you get it from. Parts of the plant are toxic, and if added in to a supplemental powder, may cause more harm than good.
- Interactions with medications are widely unstudied, and may cause adverse reactions.
- The plant is part of the legume family, a food group limited in the paleo diet due to anti-nutrients (more on that here).
Check out the Memorial Sloan Kettering website for more info. The fact is, people in India and Africa regularly consume moringa, but not in supplement form. Fresh moringa isn’t readily available in the U.S., and supplements are used instead. Having a more potent extracted version of the plant combined with the lack of research is the cause for concern here. It is for you to decide if taking this, or any supplement, is right for you, just do your research. If the risks leave you a little queasy, try these foods to get similar health benefits.
Protein, about 2 grams per cup of moringa leaves. However, about 70% of the protein is in a form undigestible in the human body. Stick with lean meats.
Calcium-spinach, kale and other dark leafies.
Antioxidants-vitamin c, beta carotene, quercenase, and chlorogenic acid. You can cover all of these antioxidants by eating foods like citrus, yellow, orange and green vegetables (that covers just about all of them), dark berries and coffee. It seems that you can get all of the antioxidant benefits of moringa by eating a variety of veggies and fruit, which you should be doing anyway.
Moringa may seem to be a cure-all for what ails you, but the truth is, there is no magic bullet. If there was, there would be no need for nutritionists. If you are not getting enough nutrients, a more reasonable thing to do is take a multi-vitamin. Your dietitian can help you choose the best one, and help you with a well-rounded eating plan.