If you’re the type of person that spoons chia seeds onto your porridge and whizzes kale into your smoothies like there’s no tomorrow, then you might want to listen up, because there’s a new superfood in town.
Called moringa, it’s a small leafy tree that’s native to India, and is gaining popularity with health buffs thanks to its rich nutritional profile and powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Just like most new food trends, the health benefits of the moringa tree have been around for centuries in the East, but only now are we beginning to tap into its healing powers in the West.
Sainsbury’s recently named the nutrient-dense tree as one of the future foods of the world, claiming that its leaves are one of the most nutritious going. Google searches for moringa have increased by 320% in the last seven years and food brand Knorr has also hailed it one of the ‘future 50 foods’ of the world.
So what is moringa?
Moringa is a tree that grows in dry climates across Africa and Asia. It’s also known as the drumstick tree for its shape, or the horseradish tree for the taste of its roots. There are 13 types of species, but the most widely cultivated is the Moringa oleifera, a small tree from India, Pakistan, and Nepal that has long been used Eastern countries to treat and prevent. There are thousands of moringa plants scattered across the foothills of the Himalayas.
Almost all parts of the tree are eaten or utilised as ingredients in herbal medicine, including the pods, roots, bark, flowers, seeds and fruits. But it’s the leaves, ground into a powder, that has started sending health addicts into a frenzy.
What are the health benefits of moringa?
As a powerful anti-inflammatory, it’s claimed moringa can fight inflammation in the body, which can lead to chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
One of it’s biggest assets though is that it’s a natural adaptogen, which suggests that it can help to increase the body’s resistance to stress by balancing the body’s cortisol levels. Several studies have also shown that Moringa oleifera may help lower blood sugar levels too.
It’s of particular benefits to gym-going vegans, because the leaves of the moringa tree are a complete source of plant protein (23%) – including all nine essential amino acids that are great for muscle recovery.
And, if you find yourself low on energy during the day, moringa’s high iron levels might be what you need. Fiona Hunter, nutritionist at Healthspan, explains: “In traditional medicine, moringa is used to treat ‘tired blood’ and a lack of energy, a result of its high iron content. Lack of iron in the diet reduces the body’s capacity to make red blood cells and is a very common nutritional problem”. In fact, one in four women in the UK have been found to have low iron levels, and tiredness and lethargy are common consequences.
Moringa is also bursting with vitamins. It contains good levels of thiamin, which helps with the release of energy, and riboflavin, which keeps skin healthy. It’s also rich in Vitamins C, E, K, and A, meaning incorporating it into your diet is supposed to help boost your immune system and keep your bones strong. They’re also rich in fibre, which supports your gut, and Sainsbury’s say that moringa has six times the antioxidants of goji berries.
Hunter adds: “Moringa leaf powder contains a number of phytochemicals including quercetin and chlorogenic acid, and studies show taking the powder regularly can boost levels of antioxidants in the blood.”
How do you eat moringa?
Thankfully, it’s not a case of chomping on the whole leaves. The easiest way to take moringa is in powder form, made from crushing the naturally dried leaves into a fine dust.
The vibrant green colour might look off-putting, but it has a tasty spinach-like flavour that goes great in smoothies, as a flavouring in soups or even simply taken as a tea.
If you fancy giving it a go, you can pick up moringa powder in most health food shops. Organic brand Birt & Tang have a moringa leaf tea (£9.57 for 50 bags, Amazon), which makes for a great evening cuppa. Or, if you want an energy boost at the start of your day, get your hands on some moringa powder and sprinkle it into your smoothie blender with whichever fruits you fancy.
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