By Pebbles Mendoza
If vegetables were heroes, then malunggay (Moringa oleifera) would be a superhero. The leaves of this lowly and ubiquitous tree boast of many nutritional benefits and are inexpensive to boot. No wonder it’s garnering both local and international attention as more and more people discover the value it adds to their diets.
1. Vitamins and minerals
Malunggay leaves are an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals. One cup (21 grams) of freshly chopped leaves contains:
Protein: 2 grams.
Vitamin B6: 19 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA).
Vitamin C: 12 percent of the RDA.
Iron: 11 percent of the RDA.
Riboflavin (B2): 11 percent of the RDA.
Vitamin A (from beta-carotene): 9 percent of the RDA.
Magnesium: 8 percent of the RDA.
Malunggay can be an important source of many essential nutrients, especially for people who lack vitamins, minerals and protein in their diets. The drawback is that these leaves may also contain high levels of antinutrients, which reduce the absorption of minerals and protein. Luckily, the effects of antinutrients can be countered by soaking and boiling the leaves for a few minutes.
Antioxidants are compounds that act against your body’s free radicals (atoms that cause significant damage to living cells and tissues). Several antioxidant compounds have been found in the leaves of malunggay, including:
Quercetin, which may help lower blood pressure.
Chlorogenic acid, which may help moderate blood sugar levels after meals.
3. Blood sugar
High blood sugar is the main characteristic of diabetes, and can lead to serious problems like heart disease. Studies have shown that malunggay may help lower blood sugar levels, but only a few of these studies have been on humans. Scientists believe the reduction of blood sugar levels in these studies is caused by plant compounds such as isothiocyanates.
Having high cholesterol can put you at risk of heart disease. Fortunately, many plant foods are effective in reducing cholesterol. These include oats, almonds and malunggay. Both animal- and human-based studies have shown that malunggay may have a cholesterol-lowering effect.
Inflammation is the body’s way of responding to infection or injury. Prolonged inflammation, however, can lead to many chronic health problems, such as heart disease and cancer.
Most whole fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices have anti-inflammatory properties. Scientists believe that isothiocyanates are the main anti-inflammatory compounds in malunggay leaves, pods and seeds. Research on this has been limited so far to test-tube and animal studies, however.
The website Asian Parent Philippines shares ideas on how to jazz up your everyday recipes with malunggay.
Malunggay smoothie - Green smoothies typically contain green leafy veggies. The next time you concoct a healthy drink, use malunggay to give it an extra vitamin boost. You may also choose to pair it with your favorite local fruits like pineapples, bananas, and/or mangoes. Tweak the flavor to your liking.
Malunggay omelette - Give plain scrambled eggs an extra flair by preparing a malunggay omelette for your family’s breakfast. Chop a handful of malunggay leaves and whisk them into the eggs before frying.
Malunggay pesto - All you need to do to make pesto sauce is to combine garlic, basil, pine nuts, and extra virgin olive oil in a blender. Throw some malunggay leaves into the blend to infuse your pesto with beneficial vitamins and minerals.
Malunggay burger - Get your kids to eat more greens without them even knowing. Prepare burger patties as usual, but then add a cup or two of chopped malunggay leaves to the patty mix before grilling.
Malunggay clam soup - Clean and boil half a kilo of clams in three cups of water with a thumb of sliced ginger and one sliced whole onion. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Add as much malunggay as you wish, then cook for one more minute. Season and serve.
As you can see, malunggay works with a lot of recipes. Be creative and try it with other dishes too.
You can get your regular dose of malunggay by buying supplements or you can go organic by planting it in your backyard. This so-called “miracle plant” is easy to obtain and easy to maintain.
As former Senator Loren Legarda explained in an ABS-CBN News article, “Malunggay is one of the most useful tropical trees. The relative ease with which it propagates through both sexual and asexual means, and its low demand for soil nutrients and water after being planted, makes its production and management easy."