In the world of healthy eating, there are a ton of different foods, supplements, powders, and assorted natural chemicals you can be eating. Many of them are green, and among those, three stand out. Moringa – in juice or powder form – is one of them. Matcha is another. Spirulina is a third.
You've heard of all of them, but the real question is: which one is the best for you? First, let's find out what they are.
What is Moringa?
Moringa is a supplement made from something called the "drumstick tree", also known by the scientific name moringa oleifera. The tree is drought-resistant and has been widely cultivated throughout south Asia, because the seed pods are an edible vegetable. The moringa we see in the west, however, is actually a powder or juice made from the leaves of the plant, which have been used as a form of traditional herbal medicine for centuries.
Interestingly, the moringa plant is considered to be an invasive species in many places, because it's hard to kill, it grows aggressively, and it chokes out native flora.
In powdered form, moringa typically has a green-brown color and can be found as a pure powder or as a capsule. You can also get moringa juice, or make your own by reconstituting the powder in some water.
Nutritionally, moringa is pretty dense. A typical serving has protein, vitamins A, B2, B6, and C, as well as iron and magnesium.
Always aim to get moringa in powder or juice form, or some other processed form. The raw leaves can be high in antinutrients, which inhibit the absorption of various vitamins and minerals.
Other benefits of moringa include:
- Antioxidants. The antioxidant content of moringa is quite high, including the usual vitamins A and C, but also quercetin (which helps lower blood pressure) and chlorogenic acid (which helps moderate blood sugar levels).
- Inflammation reduction. Moringa has some anti-inflammatory properties. Science is still figuring out just what bodily inflammation does over the long term, but there are indications that it can lead to heart disease and even cancer, so anti-inflammatories can be very helpful.
- Cholesterol. Moringa, being a plant-based ingredient, does not raise your bad cholesterol. It may even be able to help lower bad cholesterol, in a way similar to other healthy foods like flaxseeds and almonds.
- Arsenic protection. Arsenic is toxic, and it can build up over time before reaching a critical effect (see this scholarly documentary for more). Arsenic poisoning isn't generally a concern in the first world, but hey, it's still a potential benefit of the plant.
So that's one of the three green powders we're talking about today. So far, it's in the lead in terms of benefits, but it's also in last place. Let's take a look at the second one, shall we?
What is Spirulina?
Spirulina is a powder that you can often find in compressed tablet form, to be dissolved or ground up for other uses. It's a very dark green that is really quite attractive.
Spirulina itself is actually a type of cyanobacteria – a blue-green algae – making it not actually a plant-based ingredient at all. Though we often think of algae as a kind of aquatic plant life, it's really just bacteria. Scientifically, it can be one of two kinds of cyanobacteria: arthrospira platensis or arthrospira maxima. They're very similar and more or less used interchangeably.
Spirulina has been consumed as a kind of whole food for centuries leading at least as far back as the Aztec culture. More recently, it has become the target of a lot of governmental study because of the ease with which it is cultivated. You can even cultivate spirulina in space, so it was looked at as a potential sustainable food source for astronauts!
Spirulina is one of the most common health supplements on the market, and for a biomass of bacteria, it's surprisingly nutritious. It has a lot more protein than moringa, and it has a ton of vitamins B1, B2, and B3. It also includes a decent amount of copper and iron, and trace amounts of magnesium, potassium, manganese, and a variety of other nutrients. It's one of the most nutritious foods in the world. Other benefits of the algae include:
- Antioxidants. It's rare that you find a health food these days that doesn't have some level of antioxidant function. Research is still ongoing as to how effective antioxidants are in general, but it's looking good.
- Anti-inflammatory properties. Spirulina's main active ingredient, the chemical phycocyanin, gives it its blue color, and also can help reduce inflammation throughout the body.
- It's great for your cholesterol. Not only does it lower bad cholesterol, it raises good cholesterol, giving you a much better ratio and overall healthy cholesterol levels.
- Anti-cancer. Spirulina won't cure cancer, but there's evidence to suggest that certain mouth cancers can be reduced or destroyed by regular spirulina intake.
- Anti-allergen. Specifically, spirulina may have some benefit on the symptoms of allergic rhinitis. That's the stuffy, runny nose you get when you inhale allergens that trigger you.
- Muscle benefits. There's some evidence that points to spirulina as a beneficial ingredient in muscle growth and endurance training. It hasn't been super well studied, but taking some spirulina regularly before a workout can't hurt, that's for sure.
All that said, there are a few downsides to spirulina. First of all, many people claim it has vitamin B12, but it does not. It has something called pseudovitamin B12, which is similar in chemical construction, but is not usable by the human body. If you're getting a spirulina product that claims to have B12 in it, either it has been fortified or the label was written by someone who doesn't know any better.
Secondly and possibly more importantly, spirulina interacts with some drugs to interfere with their effects. If you're on a drug that interacts with blood clotting or with immune system suppression, avoid taking spirulina.
What is Matcha?
Matcha is another green powder, this time with a color somewhere between the two. Where moringa is a dusty green-brown of a dying grass, and spirulina is a lush, deep green of a forest, matcha is a bright, vibrant green of a new spring growth.
Matcha is something you're likely quite familiar with: the camellia sinensis plant, also known as tea.
Matcha is a specific kind of green tea, grown and processed in a unique way. The tea plants are grown normally for most of their life, but about a month before harvest, the plants are covered and left in the shade. The dull shaded light forces the plant to produce more chlorophyll to properly absorb enough sunlight to survive. This enhanced green vibrancy leads to the bright color and powerful effects of matcha.
The other difference is preparation. Where most teas are dried and crumbled into a coarse leaf, which is then steeped in water, matcha is actually ground. The whole leaf is ground into a powder, which is then mixed with water and whisked. This creates a much more nutritionally dense beverage with a much stronger flavor. Grinding tea for matcha is tricky, too, because it has to be done slowly to avoid heating and cooking the plant proteins and nutrients right out of the leaves.
As you might expect, a concentrated green tea powder has a lot of health benefits.
- Antioxidants. Much like normal green tea, matcha is packed with antioxidants. Some studies indicate it may likely have even more antioxidants than standard steeped green tea, for that matter.
- Catechins. The catechins present in green tea are a potent antioxidant, but they can also help lower blood pressure, particularly if that blood pressure is on the high end.
- Cholesterol. Catechins help lower bad cholesterol, thus helping to prevent heart disease and related cardiovascular issues. It's not as powerful as spirulina, but it's up there for sure.
- Dental benefits. Some research indicates that a daily glass of matcha tea can help keep your teeth healthy. The exact reason why isn't known yet, but it's probably a combination of fluoride the plant draws from the soil, fluoride in the water you use to brew the tea, and some level of anti-acid or anti-bacterial property of the matcha itself.
- Caffeine. All tea (real tea, not herbal blends) has some level of caffeine in it. Matcha is pretty powerful, and the caffeine can help boost energy, help you lose weight, and help with focus and alertness.
Matcha also has some stress-relief benefits, but they aren't actually inherent in the tea. See, a big part of the tradition of matcha is a lengthy preparation ceremony, which includes meditation and relaxation. If you choose to participate in such a ceremony, even a pared-down version for yourself, it can be great for relaxation. Unfortunately, it doesn't do anything if you're just dumping some green powder into a smoothie and hitting the gym.
Which Green Powder is Best?
Now that you know the benefits of the three green powders from the title, which is best for you?
Spirulina is the best from the standpoint of pure nutrition. It has by far the most nutrients and the most vitamins and minerals out of any of the three powders listed. In fact, it's only rivaled by a couple of other powerful green powders, particularly chlorella, another blue-green algae.
While you can qualify all three powders as superfoods, spirulina is by far the most nutritionally dense of the three. That said, it also has the downside of potentially interfering with certain medications, particularly those that are meant to reduce blood clotting. Spirulina may be used to treat anemia, but if you want to go in the other direction, it's not a good supplement to take.
Of course, the issues that spirulina causes are pretty rare, all things considered. Unless you have a rare blood disorder or an even rarer autoimmune disorder, you probably don't need to care.
Matcha is probably the second most beneficial of the three powders. Green tea has a huge range of potent effects, including many that science is only just now discovering the extent. Plus, it's the tastiest of the three when brewed as a plain beverage. All three of them can be cooked into various recipes, added to smoothies, or otherwise used as a supplement, but matcha is the only one that's really palatable to just mix with hot water and drink.
Of course, moringa is powerful too. Some people rank it higher than matcha, and that's fine. Matcha is, after all, "just" green tea. You can get green tea anywhere. Moringa is a more exotic supplement.
Moringa is more nutritious than matcha. It's less nutritious than spirulina, but practically everything is. Moringa is also easier to cultivate, though is perhaps less common because tea is a millennia-old industry.
To be honest, though, all three green superfoods are great for you. We recommend picking up a handful of different uses for each of them. Use matcha as a caffeinated pick-me-up, boost your smoothies with some spirulina, and take some moringa too for good measure. Why fight? We're all friends here, and the three big greens don't interfere with each other anyway.
What about you? Do you have a preference among the three, or do you use them all for their unique properties and health benefits? Have you noticed any side effects to any of them? Let us know!