THE AMAZING ATTRIBUTES OF MICROGREENS
THE AMAZING ATTRIBUTES OF MICROGREENS
by Danielle Genenz, MS, RD, LDN, CPT
The popularity of consuming microgreens is growing as a unique addition to the human diet. Special attributes include nutrient density, bioactive compounds, unique culinary characteristics, ease of cultivation, and tremendous health benefits. These babies are big when it comes to their variety of rich flavors, colors, textures, and shapes. They are versatile enough to use as garnishes, mixed in salads or soups, layered on sandwiches, and can offer a nutrient boost to smoothies. Microgreens can be generated from several different types of vegetables, grains and herb plants. Common varieties include kale, arugula, Bok choy, Swiss chard, cabbage, broccoli, radish, basil, mustard, parsley, beets, pea, and just about every green under the sun!
Distinguishing Your Greens
The nomenclature for an edible green seems to depend on the phase of its growing cycle. Sprouts are newly germinated seeds cultivated in water and picked within 2-5 days of planting. Sprouts are also grown in high humidity which can increase risk for foodborne illness. “Microgreens,” is a marketing term used to portray a baby vegetable in its second phase of growth at about 7-10 days of age. These 4 to 5-inch plants are usually grown at a moderate humidity level in soil or a substrate (jute, peat moss, coconut fiber etc.) then harvested right after the first stems and leaves are fully formed. Baby greens are picked about 2-3 weeks after planting and adult greens take 6-8 weeks to reach full maturity.
Microgreens typically have a higher nutrient density than sprouts because they are more fully developed. Those pale-colored sprouts add a nice crunch to your sandwich but only hold the same energy and nutrients as the seeds from which they grew. The extra growing time allows microgreens to develop more bioavailable forms of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, nutrients, phytochemicals (bioactive nutrients), chlorophyll and special flavors.
Many microgreens also hold a significantly greater concentration of nutrients than their mature counterparts, for example:
- Red cabbage microgreens have 40 times more vitamin E and 6 times the vitamin C.
- Cilantro microgreens have a 3-fold higher concentration of beta-carotene and lutein.
- Broccoli microgreens contain 50 times more phytonutrients and 37 times more vitamin K.
Keep in mind there are still important nutrients in mature vegetables. The full-grown version of broccoli for instance, has twice the vitamin A and a third more vitamin C than its youthful self. To cover all your bases, it’s best to diversify your diet with a wide array of plant foods including those at different phases of their growth cycle.
Unique Chemical Compounds
Microgreens are very high in phytochemicals designed to protect the plant against pathogens and pass along important health benefits to humans when consumed. Broccoli microgreens in particular, are famous for having the highest concentrations of pungent phytochemicals called myrosinase and glucosinolates. When combined, they produce the cancer-fighting, anti-inflammatory powerhouse known as Sulforaphane. This substance has been shown to activate the reduction of size, number, and multiplication of cancer cells. It may also play a role in protecting blood vessels from the buildup of plaque, stabilizing blood sugar, deactivating toxic chemicals, providing anti-viral properties, and involvement in the protection of brain health.
There is a caveat. The special compounds in broccoli microgreens are housed in different cells of the plant. They must be combined by thoroughly chewing the greens to activate the disease-busting properties. Do not freeze or cook these greens at high temperatures (beyond a gentle steam for 1-2 minutes) because it degrades the enzyme that sparks the beneficial reaction. As a remedy, sprinkle some raw broccoli microgreens, raw cruciferous vegetables, or ground mustard seed powder on top of your cooked vegetables and savor your food slowly to ensure optimal health benefits.
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