Microgreens have taken the world by storm. Microgreens refer to a variety of vegetables harvested as soon as the first leaves, or cotyledons, unfurl. These fragile tiny shoots contain a nutritional powerhouse that offers incredible health benefits to those who eat them. Because the microgreens are harvested soon after germination, they contain all of the nutritional and flavor framework of their full-grown counterparts in a tiny little package.
What are Microgreens?
Many people mistakenly think that microgreens are a specific type of plant or seed. But microgreens are actually a stage of growth. This means that every plant has a microgreen form. After a seed is first planted, the seed germinates in the soil. This tiny shoot is the first stage of growth. The second stage of growth is known as the microgreen stage. As soon as the first leaves or cotyledons start to unfurl, these delicate shoots and first leaves are known as microgreens. Microgreens are harvested at this time, and they pack a nutritional punch.
Although they are fragile in nature, they are rich in taste and nutrition. The flavor of each plant (whether it be basil, cabbage, mustard greens, or bok choy) is intensified in its microgreen form. Scientists have also found that it is more nutritionally dense than its full-grown counterpart. Because microgreens are tiny, you do not have to eat as much of the microgreens to get the same nutritional arsenal. There are several ways that microgreens are nutritional giants.
Phytochemicals in Microgreens
Phytochemicals are plant compounds that give each plant its individual attributes. In the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry scientists report that microgreens are up to 40 times more laden with phytochemicals than their full-grown counterparts. Phytochemicals are plant compounds produced by plants that give the individual plants their color and flavor, and also help them to ward off fungi and bacteria. Scientists say that these phytochemicals also help humans to rebuff some of the physical ailments that people face, and are especially powerful in inhibiting cancer. Each plant offers its own phytochemicals, and plants have a lot of different ones. Carrots are said to have 100 phytochemicals themselves! Harvard Health Publishing touts the attributes of phytochemicals, and here are a few examples of what they can do.
- Carotenoids are found in red-orange and yellow plants like carrots and peppers. They impede the growth of cancer cells
- Lutein and zeaxanthin are good for eye health and found in cilantro.
- Sulfides in garlic, scallions, and leeks can decrease bad LDL cholesterol.
Cancer-Fighting Cruciferous Microgreens
The Brassica family of vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, arugula, and other cruciferous vegetables, has long been studied for its ability to fight cancer. Indoles, the crystalline compounds in these vegetables, offer a plethora of positive health attributes.
For instance, cruciferous vegetables contain an estrogen stabilizer which helps with hormone balance in both men and women and protects against cancers like ovarian and breast. Sulforaphane is another phytonutrient that helps the body with detoxification and is a great proponent of kidney health.
Although cruciferous vegetables are powerhouses, it is often difficult to eat the amount of broccoli or kale you would need from the full-grown plants in order to gain these benefits. But in the microgreen form, the intensity of the nutrients allows you to eat a smaller portion and gain the same benefit. In the book Microgreens: A Guide to Growing Nutrient-Packed Greens, explains that one ounce of broccoli a few days after germination offers the same phytonutrients as 1.5 cups of mature broccoli. Additionally, scientists say that the young broccoli has 20-50 times the sulforaphane as its mature counterpart. One ounce of broccoli is easier to eat but offers the same benefits as a much larger amount of mature broccoli.
Vitamins and Minerals
Doctors and scientists have long known that vitamins and minerals are essential for the proper functioning and development of the body. And microgreens provide more of the vitamin in a smaller package. But just what do certain vitamins do for our bodies? And which microgreens do we need to enjoy in order to reap these benefits? Although the list of vitamins and microgreens in its entirety is too long for this forum, here are a few important examples that will help you gain an understanding of the vitamins and minerals microgreens contain, and the vast benefits that they offer.
Potassium is an electrolyte that helps to regulate systems in your body. It is important to keep your heart beating regularly, and it helps your nervous system function properly and your muscles contract. Sunflower microgreens, as well as basil and kale, all have large amounts of potassium.
Zinc helps the body produce proteins and DNA, and is especially important in pregnancy and in growing fetuses. Zinc also helps your body ward off foreign bacteria and viruses. Wheatgrass is a good source of zinc.
Magnesium keeps your systems functioning, and has a hand in so many systems of the body, including nerves, bones, immunity, and the creation of red blood cells. Clover microgreens are a good source of magnesium.
Vitamin A helps your organs work well and is important for vision, immunity, and reproduction. Vitamin A is found prolifically in beta-carotene. Many microgreens contain Vitamin A, like carrots, kale, and spinach.
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, maintains the body’s body tissues. Vitamin C is essential for wound healing, strengthening cartilage, teeth and bones, and immunity. Pea shoots and cabbage microgreens are great sources of Vitamin C.
Vitamin K aids the body in blood clotting and is helpful in bone metabolism. The microgreen garnet amaranth is a good source of Vitamin K, and although you may never have heard of amaranth, it is one of the most nutritionally-rich microgreens of all.
Because it is so prolific, Vitamin E is a vitamin you don’t want to skimp on. Vitamin E increases the health of blood, brain, and skin. According to the Mayo Clinic, it has been known to slow down the effects of Alzheimer’s disease and is also important for vision, liver function, and prostate health. Daikon radish microgreens are a great source of Vitamin E.
Vitamin B affects the way your brain works, the energy levels you possess, and how your cells metabolize. It also can prevent infection and promote cell health. Radishes and sunflowers are both great sources of Vitamin B.
Which Microgreens are the Healthiest?
There are a plethora of microgreens to choose from, and they all rate high on the healthy scale. Of course, eating any of them would boost your overall health, but what is the best of the best? If you only chose a few to add to your repertoire, which should they be? Of course part of the answer lies in personal preference because you should pick microgreens whose flavor you enjoy and those that you will eat. But if you are starting fresh and open to anything, here are some of the best.
The importance of cruciferous vegetables cannot be overstated. They ward off cancer, promote heart health, help immunity, and aid so many other systems in the body. Choose broccoli, kale, cabbage, radishes, and leafy greens to get the intense antioxidant qualities they offer.
Pea shoots are high in folates which convert carbohydrates to energy and make red and white blood cells in the bone marrow. They are also rich in Vitamins A and C, and offer a pleasant, sweet crunch.
Sunflower microgreens are important because they offer an immense supply of protein. They are also rich in zinc and Vitamins A, B, D and E. Sunflower microgreens have both a nutty and lemony flavor.
Wheatgrass is a veritable vegetable soup and will offer you Vitamins A, B, C, D, E as well as zinc, potassium, phosphorus, and selenium. Selenium has cancer-fighting properties, which help to make wheatgrass one of the most powerful microgreens.
Microgreens offer health benefits to a higher percentage than their full-grown counterparts, and their ability to cure disease has scientists clamoring to know more. There is no doubt that they are tasty, colorful, and filled with health benefits, and they make a great addition to any meal!