Updated: Jan 24, 2019
THERE'S NOTHING SUPER-LOOKING ABOUT MORINGA. It’s skinny and sparse in foliage. Its fragile branches sprout puny white flowers and droop with long twisted pods knobby with seeds. But if plants were superheroes, then moringa would be Iron Man.
“If there were a top 10 list of plants that are going to help feed the world over the next hundred years, I would say moringa should be on that list,” said Carrie Waterman, a University of California, Davis, natural products chemist.
Every part of the plant is edible - leaves, pods, seeds, flowers, even its root. The feathery leaves alone pack a powerful protein punch – nearly 30 percent by dry weight. Legumes don’t even have that much protein, nor all the essential amino acids.
The leaves are high in vitamins A and C, calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium and potassium. They contain phytochemicals and antioxidants that have been shown in some research studies to reduce chronic inflammation. The plant even has the potential to simultaneously treat both malnutrition and obesity
Waterman has studied moringa’s anti-inflammatory benefits. Her research has found that mice fed a high-fat diet along with concentrated moringa lost weight, improved glucose tolerance and failed to develop fatty liver disease compared with those not fed moringa.
“Moringa has a high level of antioxidants and very specific molecules that help reduce inflammation, which we know is underlying a lot of the chronic health conditions including cancer, obesity, diabetes and malnutrition,” Waterman said.
Peter Havel, a professor of nutrition and molecular biosciences at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, has tested moringa in the UC Davis Type 2 diabetes rat model he developed that closely mimics diabetes in humans. Those studies found moringa delayed diabetes in rats approximately five months, which could mean a delay of 10 to 15 years for humans.
“Delaying diabetes is huge,” Havel said. “If diabetes is delayed by 15 years and you get it at age 60 instead of 45, you may not need a kidney transplant.” Delayed diabetes could also forestall a heart attack or an amputation.