By: Kathryn A. Witt PhD, RD, LDN
Published: 2013-10-20


Introduction and purpose

ERN1 figure 1Moringa oleifera plant

Despite considerable interest in the use of Moringa oleifera as a nutrient source, gaps and inconsistencies in the information on the nutrient content of this interesting plant remain. There are many reasons for this. The nutrient content of newly harvested plant material naturally varies with soil and climate as well as season and plant age. Differences in processing and storage procedures add more variation; and the use of different analytical techniques amplifies the variation further. For moringa leaves, additional variation has been created over time due to errors created as nutrient content values are incorrectly copied from source to source (30). 

The purpose of this review is to summarize the more recent scientific information about the nutrient content of fresh Moringa oleifera leaves and dried Moringa oleifera leaf powder.

Methods

Literature Search: A search of the literature on the nutrient content of Moringa oleifera leaves was performed using PubMed as well as internet searches, with an emphasis on locating original sources of information reported in the last 20 years. Papers in professional publications where the methods were described, and analyses from university and commercial labs specializing in nutrient analysis were included. One unpublished analysis of a sample of moringa leaf powder by a professional laboratory in 2011 was also included. 

ERN1 figure2Moringa powder with leaves on top

Types of leaves and processing procedures included: This summary provides data on the nutrient content of mature leaves. For dried leaves, values for sun, shade, and oven dried were utilized; but values for leaves which had been blanched, sulfited, or freeze dried were omitted as these procedures are less commonly available. Several authors provided data for different cultivars or harvests. Some of these authors provided data for each sample, and others averaged the samples together. When the data for individual samples were provided, the individual samples were averaged and used as one value. 

Table construction: The nutrient data was compiled into tables providing the nutrient content of 100 grams of fresh leaves or dried leaf powder. A number of papers provided data based on the dry matter content of the leaves only. For these papers, the nutrient values were converted to 100 grams of leaf or leaf powder using the moisture values provided in the paper. If the data were provided on a dry matter basis only and the percent moisture for that sample was not provided, conversion to a the amount in fresh leaves or leaf powder was done using the average moisture content of fresh or dried leaves. For nutrients where more than two independent data sources were identified, the average and standard deviation of the nutrient values provided was calculated. If only two values were available, both were included as a range. If only one value was available, it is provided. For fresh leaves the values were compared to those published in three current reference sources: The United States Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database3, Nutritive Value of Indian Foods from the National Institute of Nutrition18, India, and the World Health Organization West African Food Composition Table46.

Contribution to Nutrient Needs: The table values were used to estimate the percent of the nutrient needs of a 1–3 year-old child that would be provided by a typical serving—1 tablespoon of dried leaf powder or 1 cup of raw fresh leaves. When no original source data were available for a particular nutrient, the FAO West African Food Composition Table values were used.

Results

Fresh Leaves

There is considerable variability in the nutrient values reported, especially for minerals and fat-soluble vitamins (Table 1). For the B vitamins, no recently published values were identified. Nutrient values are provided on a 100-gram basis, but for practical purposes it is important to note that this is substantially more than one person would consume as a single serving.

Dried Leaves

As is the case for fresh leaves, the reported nutrient content of dried leaves varies considerably (Table 2). Dried leaves are not included in the United States Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database3,The Indian Council of Medical Research Nutritive Value of Indian Foods18, or the Food and Agriculture Organization West African Food Composition Table46. Nutrient values are provided on a 100 gram basis, but for practical purposes 5 grams (15 mL or 1 tablespoon) is a reasonable serving size.

Contribution to Nutrient Needs

Table 3 provides a comparison of the nutrient content of one tablespoon (5 grams) of dried moringa leaf powder and 1 cup (20 grams) of fresh leaves to the nutrient needs of 1–3 year old children. Both dried and fresh leaves appear to contain a substantial amount of the magnesium, iron, folate, and vitamins B-6, A, C, and E young children need. They are also a moderately good source of calcium, niacin, protein and dietary fiber. A 1 cup serving of fresh, raw leaves appears to be a better source of a number of vitamins, especially vitamin C. However, vitamin levels will likely drop if the leaves are cooked. It is important to note that for many of these nutrients the data is limited or highly variable. 

Table 4 provides a comparison of the nutrient content of one tablespoon (5 grams) of dried moringa leaf powder and 1 cup (20 grams) of fresh leaves to the nutrient needs of pregnant and lactating women. Both fresh and dried leaves provide substantial sources of vitamins A and E, and fresh leaves provide a substantial amount of vitamin C.  Moringa leaves also appear to provide moderate amounts of calcium, magnesium, iron, thiamin (dried leaves) and vitamin B-6. In adults, two servings per day might be used to increase nutrient intake.

Protein Quality and Digestibility

In addition to the overall amount of protein in a food, it is important to consider the essential amino acid content of the food protein as well as its digestibility. Moringa leaf protein amino acid content compares favorably to the World Health Organization scoring pattern (Table 5). There are no reports of moringa leaf digestibility using the current gold standard, rat digestibility. However, there are two studies using incubation with digestive enzymes which have yielded results ranging from 56%33 to 89%10. Protein digestibility of 56% is low, but 90% is high compared to the digestibility of other plant proteins. 

Table 1: Nutrient content of 100 grams fresh, raw Moringa oleifera leaves.

 

Amount in 100 grams (about 5 cups or 1.25 L)

Nutrientreference

Average +/- std deviation

USDA National Nutrient Database3

Nutritive Value of Indian Foods18

FAO West African Food Composition Table46

Energy (Kcal, MJ)48

86.6 kcal, 0.36 MJ

64 kcal, 0.27 MJ

92 kcal, 0.38 MJ

86 kcal, 0.36 MJ

Moisture (mg)9, 23, 24, 29, 31, 33, 36, 39, 41, 45, 48, 49

76.4 +/- 3.01

78.7

75.9

76.5 +/- 1.9

Protein (g)9, 29, 31, 33, 39, 48, 49

8.8 +/- 3.72

9.4

6.7

8.3 +/- 0.7

Carbohydrates (g)33, 39

7.6- 12.5

8.3

12.5

9.6

Fiber, crude (g)A, 9, 33, 48

2.2 +/- 1.01

2

0.9

2.0

Fiber, total dietary (g)A (1, 37)

(5.3 – 7.3** )

na

na

na

Fat (g)9, 33, 39, 48

1.5 +/- 0.37

1.4

1.7

1.2 +/- 0.5

Ca (mg)33, 48, 49

532 +/- 378.8

185

440

434 +/- 181

P (mg)9, 48

90 – 112

112

70

90 – 112

Na (mg)9

16

9

na

4 – 9

K (mg)9, 33, 48

414 +/- 302.7

337

na

337 – 470

Mg (mg)33, 48

26 – 151

147

na

70 +/- 67

Fe (mg)33, 48, 49

10.8 +/- 6.04

4

0.85

6.1 +/- 4.0D

Zn (mg)33, 48

0.3 – 1.3

0.6

na

0.6 – 1.1

Cu (mg)

(0.23 +/- 0.125B)

0.15

na

0.11 – 0.21

Thiamin (mg)

na

0.26

0.06E

0.23 +/- 0.02

Riboflavin (mg)

na

0.66

0.05

0.73 +/- 0.49

Niacin (mg)

na

2.22

0.8

2.7 +/- 0.05

Vitamin B-6 (mg)

na

1.2

na

1.2 – 1.2

Folate (µg)

na

40

na

40 – 370

Vitamin A (µg RAE)C, 23, 24, 32, 36, 41, 47, 49

1286 +/- 689

378

1640

738

Vitamin C (mg)6, 7, 8, 45, 47, 49

162 +/- 63.0

52

220

164 +/- 79

Vitamin E (mg)49

25

na

na

3.07

ACrude fiber measures significantly underestimate dietary fiber for humans.

BWhen values for fresh leaves were not available and drying would not be expected to impact nutrient content significantly, an estimated value calculated using the value for dried leaves adjusted for the differences in moisture content is provided.

CEstimated from µg b carotene using 12 µg beta carotene = 1 µg RAE. This likely underestimates actual vitamin A activity slightly as other carotenes contribute to vitamin A activity, though to a lesser extent than beta-carotene.

Dsource indicates data is of poor quality

EThis value may be an error which occurred when the value was copied forward from older references.30

 

Table 2: Nutrient content (mean +/- std dev) of dried Moringa oleifera leaves.

Nutrientreference

Nutrient amount in 100 g

(300 mL or 1.25 cups)

Energy (Kcal, MJ)1, 17, 48

304 +/- 87 kcal, 1.3 +/- 0.36 MJ

Moisture (mg)1, 17, 21, 22, 33, 34, 39, 48

7.4 +/- 2.89

Protein (g)1, 4, 16, 17, 20, 21, 22, 25, 27, 28, 33, 34, 37, 39, 40, 42, 44, 48

24 +/- 5.8

Carbohydrates (g)1, 17, 25, 33, 37, 39

36 +/- 9.2

Fat (g)1, 4, 17, 22, 25, 33, 34, 37, 39, 42, 44

6 +/- 2.5

Fiber, crude (g)A, 22, 33, 34, 48

9 +/- 7.45

Fiber, total dietary (g)A, 1, 37

20.6 – 28.6

Oxalate (g)20, 35, 41

2.6 +/- 1.25

Tannins (g)27, 28

1.2 – 1.4

Ca (mg)1, 4, 5, 7, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 25, 33, 34, 40, 41, 42, 43, 48

1897 +/- 748.4

P (mg)1, 5, 7, 16, 17, 20, 21, 22, 25, 34, 40, 41, 48

297 +/- 149.0

Na (mg)1, 4, 5, 16, 21, 40

220 +/- 180.0

K (mg)1, 4, 5, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 33, 40, 45

1467 +/- 636.7

Mg (mg)1, 4, 5, 7, 16, 17, 20, 21, 25, 33, 40, 43, 48

473 +/- 429.4

Fe (mg)1, 5, 7, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 26, 33, 40,43, 48

32.5 +/- 10.78

Zn (mg)1, 5, 17, 19, 20, 21, 25, 26, 33, 40, 43, 48

2.4 +/- 1.12

Cu (mg)1, 5, 7, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 25, 26, 40

0.9 +/- 0.48

Thiamin (mg)17

2.6

Riboflavin (mg)17, 43

1.29 – 20.5

Niacin (mg)17

8.2

Vitamin B-6 (mg)1

2.4

Folate (µg)43

540

Vitamin A (µg RAE)B, 1, 24, 32, 40

3639 +/- 1979.8

Vitamin C (mg)1, 41, 43

172 +/- 37.7

Vitamin E (mg)17, 38

56 – 113

ACrude fiber measures significantly underestimate dietary fiber for humans. The total dietary fiber value provided is based on the fiber content of the dried leaves.

BEstimated from µg beta-carotene using 12 µg beta-carotene = 1 µg RAE, this likely underestimates actual vitamin A activity slightly as other carotenes contribute to vitamin A activity, though to a lesser extent than beta-carotene.

 

Table 3: Contribution of fresh and dried Moringa oleifera leaves to the nutrient needs of 1–3 year–old children.

 

Nutrient content of Moringa oleifera

 

Recommended nutrient intakeA

 

Percent of recommendation provided by…

Nutrient

5 g (1 Tbsp) moringa leaf powder

20 g (1 cup) fresh moringa leaves

 

1–3 year old child

 

5 g (1 Tbsp) moringa leaf powder

20 g (1 cup) fresh moringa leaves

Energy (Kcal, MJ)

15.2 kcal, 0.064 MJ

17.3 kcal, 0.072 MJ

 

1098 kcal, 4.6 MJ

 

1

2

Protein (g)

1.2

1.76

 

13

 

9

14

Fiber, total dietary (g)

2.0B

1.3B

 

19

 

11

7

Ca (mg)

95

106B

 

700

 

14

15

Mg (mg)

23.65B

5.2 – 30.2B

 

80

 

29

6.5 – 38

Fe (mg)

1.625B

2.16

 

7 (14)C

 

23 (12)

31 (15)

Zn (mg)

0.12

0.06 – 0.26B

 

3 (6C)

 

4 (2)

2 (1)

Thiamin (mg)

0.13B

0.05B

 

0.5

 

26

9

Riboflavin (mg)

0.06 – 1.0B

0.15B

 

0.5

 

12 – 200

29

Niacin (mg)

0.41B

0.74B

 

6

 

7

12

Vitamin B-6 (mg)

0.12B

0.24B

 

0.5

 

24

48

Folate (µg)

27B

41

 

150

 

18

27

Vitamin A (µg RAE)

182B

258

 

300

 

61

86

Vitamin C (mg)

8.6

32.4

 

15

 

57

216

Vitamin E (mg)

2.8 – 5.6B

5

 

6

 

46 – 93

83

AValues are from the references 11 – 15.

BFor these nutrients the amount of data is limited or the data is highly variable.

CThe value provided in parentheses is for vegetarian diets.

 

Table 4: Contribution of fresh and dried Moringa oleifera leaves to the nutrient needs of pregnant and lactating women (See Table 3 for the nutrient content of the leaves)

 

 

 

Recommended nutrient intake for second trimester of pregnancyA

Percent of recommendation provided by…

 

 

 

Recommended nutrient intake for first year of lactationA

 

Percent of recommendation provided by…

Nutrient

5 g (1 Tbsp) moringa leaf powderB

20 g (1 cup) fresh moringa leavesB

   

5 g (1 Tbsp) moringa leaf powderB

20 g (1 cup) fresh moringa leavesB

Energy (Kcal, MJ)

2700 kcal, 11.3 MJD

1

1

 

2700 kcal, 11.3 MJD

 

1

1

Protein (g)

71

2

2

 

71

 

2

2

Fiber, total dietary (g)

28

7B

5

 

29

 

7B

4

Ca (mg)

1000

9

11B

 

1000

 

9

11B

Mg (mg)

350

7B

1 – 9B

 

310

 

8B

2 – 10B

Fe (mg)C

24 (54)

6 (3)B

8 (4)

 

9 (18)

 

18 (9)

24 (12)

Zn (mg)C

11 (22)

1 (0.5)

1 – 2 (0.5 – 1)B

 

12 (24)

 

1 (0.5)

1 – 2 (0.5 – 1)B

Thiamin (mg)

1.4

9B

3B

 

1.4

 

9B

3B

Riboflavin (mg)

1.4

4 – 71B

10B

 

1.6

 

4 – 62B

9B

Niacin (mg)

18

2B

4B

 

17

 

B

4B

Vitamin B-6 (mg)

1.9

6B

13B

 

2.0

 

6B

12B

Folate (µg)

600

5B

7

 

500

 

5B

8

Vitamin A (µg RAE)

770

24B

33

 

1300

 

14B

20

Vitamin C (mg)

85

10

38

 

120

 

7

27

Vitamin E (mg)

15

19 – 37B

33

 

19

 

15 – 29­B

26

AValues are from the references 11 – 15.

BFor these nutrients the amount of data is limited or the data is highly variable.

CThe value provided in parentheses is for vegetarian diets.

DEnergy needs estimated for a 25-year-old woman who is 5’4” (1.63 m) tall, weighs 126 lbs (57 kg) and is active for 60 minutes or more per day.

 

Table 5. Essential amino acid content and comparison to WHO 2007 amino acid scoring patterns (mg amino acid/gram protein).2

Essential amino acidreference

Moringa oleifera leaf amino acid content (mean +/- std dev)

Adult amino acid requirements2

1 – 2 year-old amino acid requirements2

His16, 17, 20, 28, 37, 40

25.8 +/- 8.19

15

18

Ile16, 17, 20, 28, 37, 40

58.7 +/- 34.8

30

31

Lys16, 17, 20, 28, 37, 40

58.7 +/- 15.0

45

52

Leu16, 17, 20, 28, 37, 40

83.8 +/- 13.9

59

63

Met + Cys16, 28, 40

32.7 +/- 3.69

22

26

Phe + Tyr28, 37, 40

94.5 +/- 13.31

30

46

Trp16, 20, 28, 40

21.6 +/- 15.65

6

7.4

Val16, 17, 20, 28, 37, 40

62.7 +/- 15.45

39

42

Thr16, 17, 20, 28, 37, 40

40.7 +/- 5.93

23

27

Conclusion

Moringa oleifera has been given a lot of attention as a nutrient source, and has been studied more than many other plants. The published data on the nutrient content of this interesting plant is quite variable, both in terms of quantity of information and differences between published sources. Much of the variability is likely due to differences in soil, climate, and plant age; and processing techniques such as drying clearly impact vitamin content. If Moringa oleifera is utilized as a part of a supplemental feeding program, samples should be analyzed periodically throughout the program to ensure that planned nutrient targets are being reached. In addition, more information about the nutrient content and digestibility of this plant would be helpful, especially: (1) an analysis of B-vitamins and dietary fiber using current methodologies, (2) an analysis of how soil type, soil mineral content and plant age impact the mineral content of the leaves, (3) an analysis of how sun, shade, and oven drying impact vitamin content, (4) an analysis of how digestible the protein and other nutrients in the leaves are.

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I would like to thank Catherine Joseph and Amy Krug, Nutrition Students at Messiah College, for their assistance in preparing this report.