I’m always skeptical about food fads and trends. When it came to frou frou microgreens, I mostly rolled my eyes and was like, what are those yuppies spending too much money on now? Come on, grass clippings? Really? However, after digging into the research on microgreens, I’m upset I haven’t started eating them sooner. These babies come PACKED with flavor and nutrition. Here’s what they are and why you should be eating them – and maybe even growing them on your windowsill for incredibly inexpensive nutrition.
What the Heck are Microgreens?
Microgreens are young vegetable greens that are approximately 1–3 inches tall and are considered baby plants, falling somewhere between a sprout and baby green. They have an aromatic flavor and concentrated nutrient content and come in an almost endless variety of colors and textures – anything from kale and spinach microgreens to arugula, radish, beet and even water cress. Some people grow sunflower microgreens but the list is pretty long for what makes for nutritious and delicious microgreens. In fact, you might be surprised to know that common herbs and seasonings like cilantro, parsley and basil are chock full of nutrition, especially as microgreens.
Don’t confuse microgreens though with leafless sprouts with a 2-7 growing cycle. Microgreens have leaves and are harvested 7-21 days after germination, once the plant’s first true leaves have emerged. Think of them as “baby” baby greens. Their stems and leaves are edible but you don’t eat the bulbs or roots.
While you can buy microgreens already harvested, you can also buy them whole a.k.a. while still planted in a container and cut them at home, keeping them alive until consumed. This will elongate their nutritive value, which will begin to decrease like most vegetables once picked. Microgreens are incredibly easy to grow. You can grow them outdoors, in a greenhouse and even on a windowsill. This makes them perfect for adding to your kitchen garden, even in winter and with limited space.
Microgreens Are Nutritionally Packed
Despite their small size, microgreens pack a nutritional punch, often containing higher nutrient levels than more mature vegetable greens. This makes them a good addition to any diet. While their nutrient contents vary slightly, most varieties tend to be rich in potassium, iron, zinc, magnesium and copper. Microgreens are also a great source of beneficial plant compounds like antioxidants.
What’s more, their nutrient content is concentrated, which means that they often contain HIGHER vitamin, mineral and antioxidant levels than the same quantity of mature greens (1). In fact, research comparing microgreens to more mature greens reports that nutrient levels in microgreens can be up to nine times higher than those found in mature greens (2). Research also shows that they contain a wider variety of polyphenols and other antioxidants than their mature counterparts (3).
One study measured vitamin and antioxidant concentrations in 25 commercially available microgreens compared to levels recorded in the USDA National Nutrient Database for mature leaves. Although vitamin and antioxidant levels varied, levels measured in microgreens were up to 40 times higher than those recorded for more mature leaves (4). Microgreens generally appear to contain higher nutrient levels than more mature plants, though this may vary based on the species at hand.
Since microgreens contain similar and often greater amounts of nutrients than mature greens, they may similarly reduce the risk of the following diseases:
- Heart disease: Microgreens are a rich source of polyphenols, a class of antioxidants linked to a lower risk of heart disease. Animal studies show that microgreens may lower triglyceride and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels (5, 6, 7).
- Alzheimer’s disease: Antioxidant-rich foods, including those containing high amounts of polyphenols, may be linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease (8, 9).
- Diabetes: Antioxidants may help reduce the type of stress that can prevent sugar from properly entering cells. In lab studies, fenugreek microgreens appeared to enhance cellular sugar uptake by 25–44% (10, 11).
- Certain cancers: Antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, especially those rich in polyphenols, may lower the risk of various types of cancer. Polyphenol-rich microgreens may be expected to have similar effects (12).
- Chronic inflammation: Increased vegetable intake has also been linked with lower inflammation.
What about risks of eating microgreens? With microgreens you’re just eating the stem and leaves like any herb or lettuce or leafy green you might pick so their risks resemble those. For most people, microgreens can be safely consumed with no risks or adverse side effects. However, microgreens can come from a wide range of vegetables and herbs. If you have an allergy to a specific vegetable or herb or develop an allergic reaction after consumption, discontinue use immediately and talk to your doctor.
Many types may be high in vitamin K, an essential vitamin involved in blood clotting. If you are taking Warfarin or another blood-thinning medication, it’s important to maintain consistent intake of vitamin K to avoid interfering with your medications.
How to Enjoy and Find Delicious Microgreens
Microgreens are aromatic and delicious but they’re not just pretty garnishes. They’re incredibly versatile. Like other leafy greens, you can eat them raw, making them perfect additions to a variety of dishes, including sandwiches, wraps and salads. You can also blend them into smoothies, shakes and juices like you would kale or spinach. In fact, you can use microgreens much like you would any baby green. Put them in your tacos or burrito bowls and add them to your soups and stews.
If you have a difficult time eating your veggies but like greens, you can substitute the microgreens for the mature vegetable and still get its vitamins and minerals – and probably at several times the strength. Hate broccoli? Try broccoli microgreens. You might enjoy them instead!
You can buy microgreens in many grocery stores or markets or grow your own year-round on a windowsill. Even people with black thumbs can typically grow them. What’s more, growing them is fast and cheap – sometimes cheaper than the grown vegetable in question. For people in apartments or urban environments with limited space, growing microgreens can let you garden with less space and less time. Don’t have room for beets, broccoli or cabbage, let along other large leafy greens? Why not start a microgreen garden? You just need a windowsill or some sort of light and you can harvest for more nutrients than the mature plant in as little as 7-21 days – all in a fraction of the space.
Add Microgreens to Your Diet Now
Microgreens are versatile, healthy and easy to grow. They contain a higher amount of vitamins, minerals and polyphenols than their fully mature counterparts and have even been associated with improved heart health and a decreased risk of chronic disease. These tiny greens can be grown just about anywhere year-round and can be added to a wide array of dishes, making them an excellent dietary addition. The top 10 microgreens include chives, broccoli, radish, sunflower, mizuna, beets, kale, basil, chia and garden cress but really the sky is the limit on the number of varieties to choose from. Grow or pick some up today!
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