The back garden superfood

14 August 2018 Feature

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Moringa oleifera, known commonly as the drumstick tree is a powerhouse of nutrients

Growing up in an Indian household, I remember the moans and groans at the dining table if the stir-fried leaves of the drumstick tree were served as the vegetable dish of the day.

Murungai keerai (the Tamil name for the leaves of the drumstick tree) is a traditional Indian vegetable but the thick, bitter-tasting leaves are hard to consume.

Some people love it though (it’s probably an acquired taste) while others prefer the pods of the drumstick tree which Indians throw liberally into vegetable curries.

Today, this humble back garden plant, which grows widely and easily in South East Asia, India and Africa is being hailed as the new superfood.

Just what isn’t a superfood these days you may ask? All our traditional fruit and vegetables such as mangosteen, dragonfruit and coconut have gained fame overseas due to their rich nutritional content.

But moringa oleifera as the drumstick tree is known botanically, is a powerhouse where vitamins and minerals are concerned.

The Miracle Tree

Gram for gram, the leaves are believed to contain four times the calcium of milk, four times the Vitamin A of carrots, twice the protein of yogurt, three times the potassium of bananas and seven times the Vitamin C of oranges.

The leaves and flowers are also rich in polyphenols, which help the body fight diseases and the plant has been used for centuries in Ayurveda, the ancient Indian art of healing.

It’s called a superfood because the density of nutrients in one single plant is very high as opposed to other food sources says nutritionist Yap Fui Fong.

While oranges, for example, are high in Vitamin C, the fruit may be lacking in other vitamins and minerals but with moringa, although the leaf is very small, it has 92 different nutrients in one single plant she explains.

It also has 46 different antioxidants and 36 kinds of anti-inflammatory compounds and all the essential amino acids that the body needs.

“It’s very rare for one single plant to contain all these nutrients and not only does it boast a wide variety of nutrients but also very high quantity of these nutrients. That’s why it qualifies as a superfood.”

Besides the leaves, the pod and seeds of the tree are also high in Omega 3 oils.

So far, we haven’t found any other plant that has so many nutrients to offer adds Yap.

The plant has its origins in the southern foothills of the Himalayas, an area that is very dry and may have no rain for months.

It is a harsh condition and in such a climate, few plants can grow but moringa thrives in such an environment.

Yap says if it can survive in such conditions, it means the plant has a very strong survival ability. It can capture a lot of nutrients from the soil for itself.

Green Supplement

When it comes to consumption, cooking moringa will result in some of the nutrients being lost due to heat but one will still get many benefits of the vegetable explains Yap.

Most people, however, prefer to consume it in powder form, with the leaves being dried and ground into a powder and usually added to plain water, juices or even smoothies.

Yap says to get the most out of this superfood one should consume between 1-2 grams of the powder daily.

And if one is adding it to a drink, make sure the water is plain or lukewarm and not hot so the nutrients are not destroyed.

Most people she says add the powder to juices or smoothies made with fresh fruit to mask the bitter taste of the leaves. For others, moringa capsules containing the powder is a better option.

One can even make fruit popsicles with moringa powder added to it for children to consume.

Yap says traditionally, the plant has been used to heal almost 300 diseases, ranging from mild to life threating conditions.

She adds that research has been done on moringa’s effectiveness in killing cancer cells and also in addressing Alzheimer’s because moringa seeds contain plenty of omega 3 which is good for brain development, the heart, blood circulation, reducing cholesterol and balancing hormones.

Given its high iron content, moringa is also beneficial for those suffering from anemia.

Nourishing Communities
Yap says the Global Nutrition Report estimates that one in three people around the world is malnourished.

Moringa she adds is a natural solution to address malnourishment in places where food is scarce.

In Africa for example, it is traditionally given to new mothers and young children so they get vital nutrients the body needs. Women who consume moringa will be able to increase their supply of breast milk and prevent malnourishment among their babies.

But in the modern world where we are not lacking in food, “modern malnutrition is a widespread problem.

“Modern malnutrition” happens because we are not eating food with nutritional value. Instead, we consume highly processed food with either very low or no nutritional value.

And that’s why moringa is becoming popular in the developed world too. It’s a whole food and it contains a lot of nutrients which one may not get from one’s normal diet and these days, people are looking to nature for healing and health.

But Yap says there is a difference between moringa that grows in Malaysia and that which thrives in India and Africa.

The best moringa she explains comes from India and African countries because these places have climates as harsh as that of the southern foothills of the Himalayas where the plant has its origins.

“Basically, the harsher or worse the climate, the more the plant pushes itself to capture nutrients and thrive and that’s why the best quality moringa comes from these countries. The climate and soil, does affect the end result.”

Turning To Nature
Younnie Tan Mooi Yong, a former flight attendant started consuming moringa in 2014 after an old friend told her about it.

“I hadn’t heard about moringa oleifera before and started Googling it and was amazed at what I discovered.”

Tan realized there were many medical and scientific studies making important discoveries about moringa’s health and life-saving benefits.

She says the dried leaf powder is more potent than fresh leaves and the moringa she’s consuming is of pharmaceutical grade.

She consumes it daily in the mornings, with the powder added to juices made of either grapefruit, green apples, pineapple, beetroot, or carrot.

“Sometimes, I just take the powder directly, neat. I like the natural taste of it too. It keeps me healthy and feeling energized every day.”

Phang Kooi Ming, an entrepreneur, started consuming moringa powder six years ago after hearing about its benefits from friends.

He takes it for general wellness and just adds it to plain water for consumption.

“I realize that I fall sick less often but more importantly because I play badminton and as a result suffers from joint pain, it helps reduce pain and inflammation,” he says.

Phang believes it has also helped him with weight loss and better weight management.

He has never consumed moringa as a vegetable and believes having it in powder form helps more people gain the nutrients the plant has to offer.

“It comes in a sachet and you just add it to water as opposed to cooking and preparing it as a vegetable. It’s more convenient.”

Shanti Ratnam, a mother of two, started consuming moringa as a vegetable when she was breastfeeding because her mother-in-law told her it would help increase her milk supply.

Shanti has since stopped breastfeeding but given that she felt more active and energetic when consuming the vegetable, she decided to continue consuming moringa on a regular basis but this time as a powder.

She buys a brand of moringa powder sold online and adds some of it to her breakfast smoothie every day.

“I liked eating the freshly cooked leaves but it’s not so easy to find it nowadays and preparing and cooking it takes work. It’s good that we have alternatives.”

Shamsul Bahril has been consuming moringa powder since 2013 and has also been taking natural food supplements for over 20 years.

“I’m always on the lookout for the best for my family’s general health and was introduced by a good friend to the benefits of moringa oleifera, which people call a miracle tree,” says the entrepreneur.

He consumes the powder daily by just adding it to cold water in a shaker.

Shamsul says one can also add it to salads or use it as an ingredient to make moringa ice-cream.

“I find that generally, it strengthens the immune system so my family and I seldom fall sick and it provides enough energy so you stay alert and active the whole day.”

Shamsul says during the fasting month, consuming the powder in the morning, helps him feel full throughout the day until it’s time to break his fast.

Moringa Made Easy

Anton Garrity, president of Greater China and South East Asia for Zija International, a company which manufactures a moringa nutritional supplement powder called SuperMix says moringa is the most nutritious plant in the world and is an effective supplement to accomplish the body’s needs.

The company uses a “shade drying” method during processing of its moringa powder which comes from trees grown on proprietary farms in hot, dry climates.

“The shade drying method is to ensure that none of the nutrients in the plant are lost,” says Garrity.

Traditionally people processed moringa using the shade drying method too as drying under direct sunlight would oxidize the natural nutrients in the plant.

The company also takes an organic, chemical-free approach in cultivating its moringa trees and the leaves and pods are hand harvested.

And compared to some brands which use only the leaves of the plant, Zija uses the seeds and pods as well in its moringa powder.

Garrity explains that different parts of the plant have different functions and nutrients. From the leaves, one can get vitamins, minerals, and proteins and from the seeds and pods, we can get omega oils which are good for cardiovascular health.

“We gather all three parts of the plant to get the most benefits.”