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Microgreens: The New Superfood

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Microgreens, the edible seedlings of green veggies and herbs, are enjoying their time in the spotlight as new research reveals that these tiny leaves--less than 14 days-old--contain more beneficial nutrients than their full-grown, mature counterparts. Microgreens have been steadily gaining popularity in recent years, particularly at the pricier, fine-dining restaurants. Because these culinary gems were beginning to show up on more plates in chic eateries, researchers began to wonder how the nutrients in microgreens stacked up against the mature plants we're more familiar with, only to realize that there was no scientific information comparing the two. Scientists knew they had to do some digging.

The Study

The study involved scientific analysis of the vitamin and phytochemical content of 25 types of microgreens. The results of the analysis showed that microgreens contained higher concentrations of vitamins and carotenoids (precursors to vitamin A) than the full-grown versions of the plants.

Nutrient Content of Microgreens

The study found that the leaves for nearly all of the varieties of microgreens housed four to six times the beneficial nutrients--including antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene--of the mature leaves of the same vegetables. The researchers did note that the nutrient levels among the individual plants varied quite a bit. For example, the researchers found that red cabbage microgreens contained the most vitamin C, whereas green daikon radish microgreens housed the most vitamin E.

How to Grow Microgreens

You probably won't find microgreens sold in most mainstream grocery stores just yet, but you can certainly grow your own at home. You can purchase a microgreens growing kit online or in some garden supply stores. It comes with a propagator that you fill with seed starter soil, top with seeds, and mist lightly with water. You'll place the propagator near a window or under light, but not directly in the sun. Mist with a little water each day, and soon you'll have two to three inch-tall microgreens, ready to be eaten.

They're economical, quick, and easily grown. I grow them on my kitchen counter. They can be grown indoors all year round. Unlike sprouts, microgreens need both soil and sunlight in order to grow. The most common kinds of microgreens include amaranth, arugula, beets, basil, cabbage, celery, chard, chervil, cilantro, cress, fennel, kale, mustard, parsley and radish.

Ways to Enjoy Microgreens

Microgreens can amplify the texture, flavor and color of a number of dishes. They're smaller and more tender than baby leaf lettuces. They add flare to soups, salads, sandwiches and wraps, and are often used as intricate garnishes for main dishes. Their delicate appearance can augment any meal. Microgreens produce strong, complex flavor profiles.

The Future of This New Super-food

Dr. Lester and Dr. Wang, the researchers behind this analysis, are continuing to study microgreens. They're currently investigating how the nutrient content of microgreens changes when the little edible plants are exposed to light. Scientists do recommend that, although this study provides a good start, more studies that compare microgreens and mature plants side-by-side are needed because the nutrient content could vary a great deal, depending on the soil, where it's grown, and when it's harvested. We look forward to hearing about what their research uncovers.

Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. If you would be interested in working with Kari one-on-one, sign-up for FitDay Dietitian.

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