Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 29 April 2012





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Drumsticks to beat malnutrition!

Malnutrition, especially among children is a growing global challenge. Even in Sri Lanka it has been a persistent health challenge with a large number of children suffering from it due to various reasons. The global statistics are startling and the problem needs to be addressed immediately before another innocent child becomes a victim. More than 1 in 5 under-five- year-olds are underweight in the world. Nearly 1 in 6 babies born has a low birth weight. Low birth weight is a major cause of malnutrition in children under five years old. However ,there are many areas that needs to be looked into to overcome the challenging situation which can turn into a crisis. And the intake of food and its nutritional levels is certainly a significant component.

It is in this context that today we like to introduce the wonder tree . Moringa oleifera or the drumstick tree that has been identified as a good malnutrition combatant and advocated as the “natural nutrition for the tropics, by experts .As it is a plant that grows abundantly in our country,especially in the rural areas, where malnutrition is high it may prove profitable to conduct studies about the nutritional aspects of the tree and promote its nutritional value among the local population, especially in areas where incidence of malnutrition are high.

Since the Moringa tree (murunga trees as it is popularly called in Sri Lanka)is in full leaf even at the end of the dry season when other foods are typically scarce in the tropics, it is indeed an ideal source of food to combat nutrition.

Having often eaten the seed pods which are called ‘ drumsticks’ by some, you may be surprised to learn that the yield, especially the leaves from the nutritious tree have been used widely to fight malnutrition.

According to published data, Moringa trees have been used to combat malnutrition, especially among infants and nursing mothers. The nutritional qualities are said to be very high and according to both scientific and popular literature the leaves of the tree are believed to contain more vitamin A than carrots, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach, more vitamin C than oranges, and more potassium than bananas. Even the protein quality of the leaves are said to rival that of milk and eggs but this is yet to be tested.

 The moringa tree is popular for both food and medicinal uses. The immature green pods called “drumstick” are generally the most valued and widely used part of the tree and are prepared in a wide range of dishes. Many a local housewife may have used moringa leaves especially when cooking shell fish such as prawns and crabs. But some may be unaware that the leaves can be eaten in so many other ways too; they can be eaten cooked or even stored as dried powder for many months without refrigeration, and reportedly without loss of nutritional value.

So, let’s check out some interesting facts about this Moringa tree which is an exceptionally nutritious vegetable tree with a variety of potential uses. Most of you are familiar with the fact that the coconut tree is a very useful tree as every part of it can be used by us for food or has some other beneficial property. You can add the moringa or drumstick tree too to your list of useful trees. It is considered one of the world’s most useful trees, as almost every part of the tree can be used .

 In the tropics, it is used as forage for livestock, and in many countries, moringa micronutrient liquid, is a natural anthelmintic (kills parasites) and is an adjuvant (to aid or enhance another drug) . It is used as a metabolic conditioner to aid against endemic diseases in developing countries. A traditional food plant in Africa, this little-known vegetable has potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development, and support sustainable land care.

The widely cultivated species is also known as the drumstick tree,due to the appearance of the long, slender, triangular seed pods.

The tree is rather slender,and has branches that droop. It grow to approximately 10 m in height. It is particularly suitable for dry regions.

The drumstick can be grown using rainwater without expensive irrigation techniques. The yield is good even if the water supply is not. The tree can be grown even on land covered with 10–90 cm of mud.

It is grown mainly in semi-arid, tropical, and subtropical areas. Today it is widely cultivated in Africa, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Philippines, Central and South America, and in Sri Lanka. India is the largest producer of Moringa, with an annual production of 1.1 to million tonnes of tender fruits from an area of 380 km². Moringa is grown in home gardens and as living fences in Thailand, where it is commonly sold in local markets.

The many uses of moringa:

* The immature green pods- “drumstick” are generally prepared in a wide range of dishes.

* The seeds are sometimes removed from more mature pods and eaten like peas or roasted like nuts.

 * The flowers are edible when cooked and are said to taste like mushrooms.

* The roots are shredded and used as a condiment in the same way as horseradish.

 * The leaves are cooked and used like spinach.

* Its leaves are also dried and crushed into a powder, and used in soups and sauces.

* It is said that Moringa leaves and pods are helpful in increasing breast milk in the breastfeeding months. One tablespoon of leaf powder provide 14 per cent of the protein, 40 per cent of the calcium, 23 per cent of the iron and most of the vitamin A needs of a child aged one to three.

Six tablespoons of leaf powder will provide nearly all of a woman’s daily iron and calcium needs during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

* The Moringa seeds yield 38–40 per cent edible oil (called bean oil from the high concentration of behenic acid contained in the oil).

* The refined oil is clear and odurless and resists rancidity at least as well as any other botanical oil.

 * The seed cake remaining after oil extraction may be used as a fertilizer or as a flocculent to purify water.

* The bark, sap, roots, leaves, seeds, oil, and flowers are used in traditional medicine in several countries.

* In Jamaica, the sap is used for a blue dye.

* The flowers are also cooked and relished as a delicacy in West Bengal and Bangladesh, especially during early spring.

* In India, where its triangular, ribbed pods with winged seeds are used as a vegetable crop.

* The seeds are also considered an excellent bio fuel source for making bio diesel.

* The fruit meat of drumsticks, including young seeds, is used for soup.. Young leaves can either be fried with shrimp or added as a topping in fish soup.

*The tree’s bark, roots, fruit, flowers, leaves, seeds, and gum are also used medicinally. Uses include as an antiseptic and in treating rheumatism, venomous bites, and other conditions.

* Moringa is also actively cultivated by the AVRDC in Taiwan. The AVRDC is “the principal international centre for vegetable research and development in the world. Its mission is to reduce poverty and malnutrition in developing countries through improved production and consumption of vegetables.”

* Extract from the seeds is used as a flocculant in a low-cost form of water treatment.

* In the Maldives the leaves are often fried and mixed with dried-fried tuna chips (Maldive fish), onions and dried chillies. This is equivalent to a sambal and eaten along with rice and curry or Garudhiya. The pods are called “Muranga Tholhi” and it is used to cook a mild curry called “Kiru Garudhiya”.

[Fact file]

*The leaves and stem of M. oleifera are known to have large amounts of their calcium bound in calcium oxalate crystals,which is not a form of calcium available to the body. Whether the claim of “more calcium than milk” includes this non-bio available calcium needs to be addressed.

* The oral histories recorded by Lowell Fuglie in Senegal and throughout West Africa report countless instances of lifesaving nutritional rescue that are attributed to Moringa.

*The nutritional properties of Moringa are now so well-known that there seems to be little doubt of the substantial health benefit to be realized by consumption of Moringa leaf powder in situations where starvation is imminent. However , presently not much clinical studies have been conducted in this area the data of such studies would certainly be of great value.

* This tree is not to be confused with the Golden Shower Tree (Cassia fistulosa) which is also sometimes called by this name .

* It is the only genus in the family Moringaceae.

* Bureau of Plant Industry, in its report, stated that weight per weight, Moringa leaves have the calcium equivalent of 4 glasses of milk, the vitamin C content of 7 oranges, potassium of 3 bananas, 3 times the iron of spinach, 4 times the amount of vitamin A in carrot, and 2 times the protein in milk.

What is malnutrition ?

Have you seen malnourished children? If you have, then you will know that they are very skinny with potruding bones and often have bulging stomaches too. They are not healthy at all. If you are not aware as to what exactly malnutrition means, here is the answer. It is a condition that develops as a result of the body not getting the right amount of nutrition;vitamins, minerals and other nutrients needed not only to maintain healthy tissue but also to ensure the functioning of all organs in the body. Malnutrition usually occurs in people who are either undernourished or overnourished.

Undernutrition is a consequence of consuming too few essential nutrients or using or excreting them more rapidly than they can be replaced.

 Protein-energy malnutrition has been identified as the leading cause of death in children in developing countries . This type of malnutrition is the result of inadequate intake of calories from proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Children who are already undernourished can suffer from protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) when rapid growth, infection, or disease increases the need for protein and essential minerals.

These essential minerals are known as micronutrients or trace elements. About one per cent of children in the United States suffer from chronic malnutrition, in comparison to 50 per cent of children in southeast Asia. About two-thirds of all the malnourished children in the world are in Asia, with another one-fourth in Africa.Malnourished children may be short for their age, thin, listless, and have weakened immune systems.

Facts and pix : Internet

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