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The 4,000-Year Old "New" Greens
Dr. Jen Morganti, NEEDS Education DIrector

Green food powders are a popular and easy way to supplement extra nutrition into your diet. You can throw them in a smoothie or just add a little water for a vitamin-packed drink. For some parts of the world, where food is difficult to grow and malnutrition is in the forefront of the mind, greens are a necessary staple in the diet in order to stay alive. One of the plants that is commonly relied on is Moringa, a fast-growing tree that produces tiny leaves packed with nutrients. This tree is native to Asia, where it's been used as a food source for thousands of years. It has now been widely adopted in Africa and South America. It's an excellent source of nutrition for parts of these continents where resources are scarce and malnutrition is a serious concern.

To quote an article from the non-profit organization Trees for Life, "ounce-for- ounce, Moringa leaves contain more vitamin A than carrots, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach, more vitamin C than oranges, and more potassium than bananas," and they also offer the protein quality of eggs. It's rich in polyphenol antioxidants, which offer a variety of health benefits. The seeds of the tree also supply an oil that is excellent for cooking and doesn't become rancid. The seeds can also be powdered and used to filter water because the plant has the ability to bind toxins and contaminants. It's no wonder that one of the nicknames for this tree is the "miracle tree." Harvesting this tree is also very sustainable as it "grows like a weed" in warmer climates.

Moringa has a long list of medicinal uses reaching back thousands of years. It is used for intestinal parasites, infections, anemia, ulcers, wound healing, hypertension, gastrointestinal discomfort, and other purposes. In the late 90s, an African aid organization tested Moringa leaf powder to see if it could help African women and the infants they were carrying during pregnancy. By supplementing with Moringa powder, the women recovered from anemia faster postpregnancy and the babies had higher birth weights and overall better health. It also helped with milk production for women who were breast feeding.

There have been some studies on Moringa, mainly in test tubes and animals so far. Specific phytochemicals from Moringa have been reported to help lower blood pressure, have antibacterial activity, and lower cholesterol.

In the 1940s, Indian researchers discovered a phytochemical called benzyl isothiocyanate, which proved to have beneficial antimicrobial properties; this phytochemical is found in Moringa. Since then, studies have shown that it can be effective when applied topically for skin infections or taken internally as an antibiotic. It may be useful to help eradicate H. pylori, the prevalent bacteria responsible for gastritis and ulcers.

Isothiocyanates also balance bloodsugar levels as shown in small clinical trials. Moringa lowered blood sugar levels in diabetics and was shown to have potent antioxidative actions in a study with postmenopausal women. The isothiocyanates, along with flavonoids and phenolic acids, help decrease inflammation.

Moringa was shown in an animal study to lower cholesterol as well as statin medications. By binding to toxins in the body, it can help with detoxification.

Moringa has a strong "greens" flavor, which may be slightly bitter. You can add it to a smoothie to mask the flavor if it's disagreeable to you, or you can take it in capsule form. Be sure to use the whole leaf powder (not stems) for the full-nutrient profile, instead of an extract. Because it's the whole leaf, the therapeutic dosage is greater, up to two teaspoons daily.

PLoS One December 2013 | Volume 8 | Issue 12 | e81973 php/20051201124931586
Journal of Food Science and Technology November 2014, Volume 51, Issue 11, pp 3464-3469

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