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The Secret Power of Microgreens

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Carrie Lam, MD; Jeremy Lam, MD

Eating microgreens to improve your gut floraDebuting in the 1980s, microgreens have been steadily growing in popularity as more and more people become increasingly conscious about the foods they eat. Also known as micro-herbs or vegetable confetti, these tasty greens can make any dish more colorful – and healthier. Want to know the best part? You can easily grow them in the comfort of your own home.

What are Microgreens?

Microgreens are baby plants that fall somewhere on the plant spectrum between sprouts and baby greens. On average, they only reach a height of around 1 to 3 inches but contain higher levels of nutrients than mature vegetables, making them a great addition to any meal. Microgreens differ from sprouts because they have leaves and a much longer growth cycle which runs between 7 and 21 days after germination. The only similarities they share with baby greens are the fact that both the leaves and stems are edible.

Depending on the microgreen, the taste can range from slightly sour to spicy, and some are even described as bitter. But all of them have a strong distinct taste.

Microgreens are usually brought home as a whole plant and cut off as needed. So, they are typically kept alive until you consume them, which keeps them fresh and nutritious. Moreover, they can make a great addition to your kitchen décor or window sill, while adding a boost of nutritional value to your food.

Different Types of Microgreens

A variety of seeds can be used. The most popular varieties come from the following plant families:

  • Amaranthaceae, including amaranth, beet, quinoa, spinach, and swiss chard
  • Amaryllidaceae, which includes garlic, leeks, and onions
  • Apiaceae, such as carrots, celery, dill, and fennel
  • Asteraceae, like chicory, endive, lettuce, and radicchio
  • Brassicaceae, including arugula, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, radishes, and watercress
  • Cucurbitaceae, which includes cucumber, melon, and squash
  • Cereals, such as barley, corn, oats, rice, and wheat
  • Legumes, including beans, chickpeas, and lentils

The Most Common Forms of Microgreens and What They Offer Health-wise

Every source of microgreens contains a different combination of nutrients. That’s why it is so important to eat a variety of foods to ensure you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals your body needs. Here are some of the most common microgreens and what they can offer health-wise:

    Common microgreens

  • Arugula is a microgreen high in glucosinolates or GSLs, ascorbic acid or vitamins C, and phenols. This combination is believed to help your body ward off toxins and cope with environmental stressors.
  • Basil has an abundance of health benefits including a rich source of polyphenols. The green herb is great for overall wellbeing, promotes digestive health, reduces inflammation, and lowers oxidative stress in the body.
  • Broccoli is a superfood known for its cruciferous and sulfur-containing benefits.
  • Chia plants have infinite health benefits and these almost magical powers have been recognized for thousands of years. They are rich in fiber, protein, and are a healthy source of unsaturated fats.
  • Clover is widely recognized for its flavor—a crunchy essence—making a great addition to any meal, and this miniature plant is also high in calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc.
  • Kale is recognized as a superfood and vitamin C powerhouse.
  • Pea shoots are eight times higher in folic acid than bean sprouts and seven times higher in vitamin C than blueberries.
  • Radish shoots contain large amounts of folate and vitamin B6. The peppery taste makes them a great addition to salads.
  • Sunflower microgreens provide essential amino acids, high levels of folate, as well as vitamins B, C, and E, and selenium.

The Benefits of Microgreens

Although microgreens vary in taste and nutrient content, one thing is for sure, they are packed with a wide spectrum of nutrients. One day they will become mature greens, but as micros, they have a highly concentrated nutrient profile. Studies have shown that the microgreen nutrient profile can be anywhere from nine to a whopping 40 times higher than those of adult versions. Microgreens also have extremely high concentrations of plant compounds such as antioxidants and polyphenols.

Owing to their high concentrations of plant compounds, vitamins, and minerals, eating vegetables of any form has been linked to a lower risk of diseases, including

  • Alzheimer’s Disease. Studies have shown that antioxidant-rich foods such as microgreens lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • Diabetes. Antioxidants in certain microgreens can enhance cell activity by reducing the stress that prevents cells from properly handling sugar.
  • Cancer. Fruits and vegetables like microgreens rich in polyphenols can lower your chances of developing certain cancers.
  • Cholesterol. Microgreens can help lower triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels.
  • Heart Disease. The polyphenols in microgreens can lower your risk of heart disease.

How Can You Incorporate Microgreens Into Your Diet?

There are many ways to add these superfoods to your diet. With a little creativity and some time, you can learn to incorporate microgreens into all your favorite dishes. You could add them to sandwiches, salads, and wraps. Or why not blend them into your daily smoothie or fruit juice for an extra nutrient boost. Wheatgrass is a very popular microgreen that is often added to juices. You can also add microgreens to soups and curries, as a garnish on pizza, or mixed into with your favorite omelet. The options are endless!

  • Add them to omelets;
  • Use them as the base of your salad;
  • Replace the lettuce on your burger with microgreens to add both flavor and nutrients;
  • Garnish cooked meat and sushi with these tiny greens;
  • Replace the mint in mojitos with microgreens, decorate drinks, or crush up the greens and mix them into your vodka;
  • Put them on toast or thinly sliced ciabatta;
  • Use microgreen basil instead of mature basil for pesto and mix with pine nuts, garlic, and cheese;
  • Sprinkle greens on your veggie pizza;

Learn to Grow Your Own Microgreen Garden

Microgreens are one of the easiest plants to grow year-round. They require very little attention and can be grown indoors or outdoors. They’ll do great on your windowsill.

All you need is:

  • High-quality organic seeds
  • A growing medium in a pot or box
  • Spray bottle
  • 12–16 hours of lamplight, sunlight, or ultraviolet light.

What to do:

  • Fill your pot with soil and water it lightly. Make sure you don’t compress the dirt too much.
  • Sprinkle the seeds on the top of the soil, as evenly distributed as possible, and lightly mist your seeds.
  • Cover the container with a plastic well-fitted lid.
  • Check on your plants daily and make sure the seeds are kept moist. Mist with water as needed.
  • After the seeds have germinated, remove the lid and expose them to light.
  • Water your microgreens daily.
  • Your microgreens should be ready to eat around 7 to 10 days after they germinate.

How to grow microgreensIf you’re planning to grow microgreens at home, we recommend only purchasing seeds from reputable companies and use a clean growth medium that has not been contaminated or exposed to salmonella or E. coli. Common growth mediums are peat, perlite, and vermiculite. You could also use single-use growing mats, which are usually quite sanitary.

Microgreens are believed to be safe for consumption. However, adequate testing has not been done on humans so caution should always be taken. One concern with eating vegetables you have grown at home is the risk of food poisoning from bacteria. However, chances are much slimmer with microgreens compared to sprouts and fully mature vegetables.

Just remember, only the leaf and stem are edible. Do not eat the roots or seeds.

Why Is a Well-Balanced Diet Important?

The three pillars of good health are nutrition, along with adequate exercise and sleep. Your diet should consist of plenty of high-quality proteins and carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals, plus lots of clean, purified water. You should avoid processed foods, alcohol, and saturated fats. Nutrients in food can

  • Fuel your body with the energy it needs to support day-to-day activities.
  • Protect your cells from environmental stressors and toxins.
  • Repair damage to your cells and rebuild injured tissues.
  • Promote a strong immune system.
  • Keep your bones healthy and strong.
  • Help your body transmit nerve signals properly.

Your diet is one of the biggest indicators of weight—and both quality and quantity matter. If you consume the same number of calories you burn, your weight will remain steady. However, if you take in more calories than you’re burning off, your body will convert those extra calories into fat, leading weight gain. As fat tissue accumulates, so does your chance of developing chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancers. Therefore, optimal nutrition will help you feel better and live longer. Some of the adverse effects of poor nutrition include

  • A lack of calcium can lead to osteoporosis;
  • Eating a lot of saturated fats can cause heart disease;
  • Consuming too few fruits and veggies is associated with cancer.

In addition, choose organic foods where possible to avoid unnecessary preservatives, artificial food colorings, GMOs and pesticides. Following a healthy organic diet that can help your body function optimally, promote a healthy body weight, and prevent chronic diseases, including Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS).

The NEM Circuit and microgreensAdrenal Fatigue is caused by prolonged stress or extreme physical and psychological stressors that overwork the adrenal glands until they are unable to keep up with your body’s demands for the stress hormone cortisol.
Your body responds to stress by activating the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response, comprised of six interconnected systems that help fulfill this important role. When your body is affected by stress and other factors, the adrenals become compromised, and this can affect every cell in your body.

Conditions like AFS are closely linked to nutrition, therefore, eating a healthy diet can replenish your adrenals, bring the balance back in your body, and reverse some of the negative effects of stress. If you’re suffering from Adrenal Fatigue, it’s important to choose an appropriate diet that will promote your recovery. This means being cautious about everything you eat, including microgreens. That’s why it’s important to seek out an Adrenal Fatigue specialist who can guide you in your recovery.

Considerations

If you’re trying to change your lifestyle and eat healthier foods, microgreens are a wise choice. But only make changes to your diet gradually. This is the best way to maintain healthy eating habits in the long-term. Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new diet, especially if you’re suffering from a chronic condition like AFS.

 
© Copyright 2020 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


Dr. Lam's Key Question

No, microgreens are not the same thing as sprouts. They fall somewhere on the plant spectrum between sprouts and baby greens. They are ready to eat anywhere from 7 to 21 days after germination, depending on the seed variety.

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