Though growing in popularity, moringa may still be unfamiliar to some. Also known as drumstick tree, it is native to India, but has also been widely cultivated across Asia, Africa, and South America. The leaves, the most popular part of the tree, have a pleasant, slightly bitter taste, and can be cooked down like spinach, or dried and ground into a powder, which can then be used in teas or smoothies. The bean pods, known as drumsticks, are also used for cooking, and have a taste similar to green beans, though slightly sweeter. It’s the nutritional and therapeutic benefits of moringa oleifera, however, that have been generating significant buzz across North America, as it’s been named 2018’s biggest new superfood.
As with many past so-called superfoods, however, the benefits have been subject to debate, and while there’s evidence for some of the claims being made about moringa, others may be less well supported.
Read on to find out what graduates in nutrition programs need to know about this celebrated new superfood, and whether or not it lives up to the hype.
Many Health Benefits Have Been Claimed
Though relatively unheard of in the West prior to 2018, the benefits of moringa have now been celebrated in the Huffington Post, Vogue, and Time Magazine, as well as countless health and wellness blogs and websites. Moringa is said to be cholesterol-lowering, cancer-fighting, inflammation-reducing, and rich in antioxidants. It might also lower blood sugar levels, protect the cardiovascular system, and support brain health.
An often-quoted paper found that moringa leaves have more than seven times the vitamin C of oranges, four times the vitamin A of carrots, four times the calcium of cow’s milk, and three times the potassium of bananas.
There’s Reason to Be Cautious
As many graduates of nutrition and health programs have noted, though, some of these stated benefits lack evidence, while others seem to be based on misunderstandings of the data. The above comparison of moringa’s nutritional content to other foods, for example, is based on a gram-for-gram comparison, which doesn’t reflect serving sizes. The leaves are lightweight, so the volume required to match the weight of an orange, for example, is significant. Its powdered form is also lower in nutrients, so a poor substitute for fresh leaves.
Claims that moringa may support brain health and protect against cancer lack scientific support, and while there’s some evidence for its anti-inflammatory properties, the effect has yet to be studied in humans.
Graduates of Nutrition and Health Programs Recognize the Benefits
Although some of the benefits may be overstated, graduates with a diploma in nutrition might be happy to learn that the tree has significant value as a means of combating malnutrition. The moringa tree can grow quickly even in harsh, arid climates, and its leaves contain 30% protein, making it a valuable substitute for other high-cost sources of protein. In drought-stricken areas, the moringa tree could have a significant impact on local diets and health.
For others, fresh moringa is still a good source of essential proteins, vitamins, and minerals. It is rich in antioxidants as well. More evidence is needed to support its therapeutic qualities, but in the meantime, it’s a valuable addition to any healthy and balanced diet, even if it’s not the panacea some have suggested.
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