Moringa is the latest superfood, said to do everything from helping you to lose weight to prevent cancer. But it's important to separate the excitement from the facts.
Moringa is a tree native to India and goes by the names drumstick tree, horseradish tree and ben oil tree. "There are a lot of suggestions about its potential," says Seattle-based registered dietitian Ginger Hultin, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of Champagne Nutrition. "People are especially using it for lowering cholesterol and managing diabetes."
Moringa is good for you, containing essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, potassium and iron, according to the USDA. One cup (21 grams) of chopped Moringa leaves contains 13 calories and 2 grams of protein as well as all nine essential amino acids. Almost the whole plant is edible including the seeds, leaves and flowers. Very low in calories and carbohydrates, Moringa can be eaten fresh or in a powdered supplement.
According to a September 2017 study published in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition, both the leaves and the seeds contain important nutrients that have the potential to significantly improve health and combat malnutrition. Moringa grows in tropical and hot, dry climates, and is resistant to drought, making it even more valuable to regions where malnutrition is prevalent.
Moringa and Weight Loss
Moringa leaves contain an antioxidant called chlorogenic acid, which is also one of the antioxidants in coffee and green coffee bean extract. Chlorogenic acid could potentially support weight loss by balancing blood sugar and by acting as a fat burner, but comprehensive human studies are limited.
When laboratory mice were fed chlorogenic acid, they lost more weight, lowered their insulin levels as well as triglycerides and cholesterol compared to animals that didn't supplement with the antioxidant, reported a March 2010 study in Food and Chemical Toxicology.
In a very small human study of 12 participants published in 2007 in the Journal of International Medical Research, chlorogenic acid was able to reduce participants' glucose absorption, leading the researchers to conclude that long-term use of chlorogenic acid can aid in weight loss.
In a University of Bridgeport study, 140 overweight participants were given a supplement containing Moringa along with other plant compounds, in addition to walking 30 minutes a day and eating an 1,800-calorie diet. After 16 weeks, the supplemented group showed reductions in body weight compared to the placebo group. While promising, more research has to be done before the weight loss properties of Moringa are proven definitively.
Even if chlorogenic acid turned out to be a very potent weight-loss aid, the amount in Moringa supplements may not be enough to have an impact. Knowing the amount in the supplement is vital because the chlorogenic acid content found in the leaves varies depending on growing conditions and how they were dried and processed. When you shop for Moringa supplements, look for brands that list the number of nutrients on the label, so you know how much fiber, protein and other nutrients you’ll get per dose.
How to Add Moringa to Your Diet
You can use fresh leaves or buy Moringa powder, which is likely easier to find. "Anytime you have a concentrated source like powder, it will be more potent," Hultin notes. However, even though supplements are made from whole leaves, some of the vitamin C and vitamin B6 may be lost during processing.
Try adding a scoop of the dried powder to smoothies or mix it into soups and curries. The leaves can be steeped in hot water to make tea or added to a mixed greens salads. "The leaves would be great to add to guacamole or even as a garnish for a creamy soup," Hultin says, referring to their radish-like flavor.
Don't take Moringa if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant. According to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Moringa bark may cause contractions in the uterus, leading to miscarriage.
Grow Your Own Moringa
Despite being rare in the U.S., Moringa trees are fast-growing and easy for a home gardener. For folks who live in Hardiness Zones 9 to 10, the plants can be grown outside. For those in cooler climates, potted trees work best as long as you move them indoors when temperatures dip below 70° Fahrenheit.
Here's how to grow Moringa from seeds:
- Germinate the seeds by soaking them in water for 24 hours. Place the seeds in damp paper towels in a plastic baggie.
- Once the shoots break out of the seed, plant them one-inch deep in well-draining soil that is five percent sand, in a pot at least 18 inches deep. The seedlings are delicate at first, so try to get them in the soil before the shoots grow too long. Even if you plan to transfer them, it's best to start them in a pot for the first eight weeks.
- Place the pot in direct sunlight and keep the soil moist, but do not overwater.
- If you plan to keep the tree indoors, make sure to prune. Left to their own devices, Moringa trees will grow tall and less leafy.
- If you live in a tropical climate, you can transplant outdoors once the tree is about two feet tall. Healthy trees will produce more than 400 seed pods per year, and a bounty of leaves.
To keep them short and bushy, follow these instructions: While they're young, every other time the Moringa sprouts new leaves, pinch them off (and eat them!). When it continues to grow, when the branches get to be 18 inches, cut them in half. The more you prune your Moringa, the more leaves it will grow!
- Food and Chemical Toxicology: "Chlorogenic Acid Exhibits Anti-obesity Property and Improves Lipid Metabolism in High-Fat Diet-Induced-Obese Mice"
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: "Moringa Oleifera"
- University of Bridgeport: "A New Herbal Formulation With Demonstrated Clinical Efficacy and Safety in Promoting Weight Loss"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Drumstick Leaves, Raw"
- International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition: "Potential of Moringa Oleifera as a Functional Food Ingredient: a Review "
- Journal of International Medical Research: "The Effect of Chlorogenic Acid Enriched Coffee on Glucose Absorption in Healthy Volunteers and Its Effect on Body Mass When Used Long-Term in Overweight and Obese People"