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COLUMN: A further look at what microgreens are…and why should we care

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In her weekly column, licensed nutritionist Nonie De Long does a deep dive into microgreens and how to get started growing them in your home

Dear readers,

This week I’ll continue to answer a question that came from Tim who wanted me to share the easiest plants to grow indoors. Last week I shared the basics to start growing sprouts in a jar on your countertop to get a food that is versatile, inexpensive, and super nutritious – in just a few days! This week we’re going to continue to dive into microgreens. They are also super easy to grow with minimal equipment, fast to yield edible food, and highly nutritious. The two have a lot of crossover, so we’ll build on what I shared last week to better understand how to benefit from adding these to your diet!

What are Microgreens and why care?

Whether you know what these are or not, you’ve likely seen them. There are even fake microgreen arrangements you can find at stores like Winners and Homesense because they are so soothing to look at. Essentially they look like a container of grass. And they sort of are! But why would we want to do that? Well, what’s so great about microgreens is their nutritional density. The research is pouring in and the sprouts and microgreens of a plant contain a lot more nutrition than the full grown version of that plant! So with very little space and energy we can grow a nutritional powerhouse crop on our windowsills!

You will, no doubt, find warnings about eating sprouts raw if you do your own research due to concerns with mold and bacteria. These happen in commercial sprouts because there are so many stages between growing them and purchasing them – often with prolonged travel and shelf time to allow the moist environment in the container (to keep them fresh) to grow unwanted bacteria or mold. But when you grow these at home as recommended, you essentially cut these risks out. It’s much safer to grow them at home if you wash and store them properly and use them within the recommended time frame.

Edible young greens are produced from various kinds of vegetables, herbs, or other plants. They range in size from 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 7.6 cm), including the stem and leaves. The stem is cut just above the soil line during harvesting. Microgreens have fully developed cotyledon leaves and usually one pair of very small, partially developed true leaves. The average crop-time for most microgreens is 10–14 days from seeding to harvest.

But let’s back up. What are microgreens exactly? Microgreens refer to the edible seedlings of various vegetables, herbs, and other plants. They include the stem and leaves and are harvested just a few weeks after they germinate. At this point they are usually one to three inches tall and have a few leaves starting. Essentially, they are little shoots of plants. They are snipped just above the soil line to harvest and the average crop-time is between 10-14 days. This is different from sprouts which are typically harvested two to five days after they sprout and aren’t given a chance to become little plants. Sprouts are essentially the germinated seed/ bean/ grain. Microgreens are grown in soil, but sprouts do not need soil to grow. Instead, they are typically grown in jars, shallow trays, or on paper towels. In terms of nutrient density, the two are very similar.

There are several types of microgreens including:

  • Brassicaceae family: Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, watercress, radish and arugula
  • Asteraceae family: Lettuce, endive, chicory and radicchio
  • Apiaceae family: Dill, carrot, fennel and celery
  • Amaryllidaceae family: Garlic, onion, leek
  • Amaranthaceae family: Amaranth, quinoa swiss chard, beet and spinach
  • Cucurbitaceae family: Melon, cucumber and squash
  • Cereal grains, such as rice, oats, wheat, corn and barley
  • Legumes and lentils, such as chickpeas, beans and lentils (source)

However, the nightshade plants should not be grown or consumed as microgreens. These include potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. The sprouts from these plants contain toxins that can be poisonous. 

Nutrition powerhouses

Just as an example, let’s look at mung bean microgreens (or sprouts, which we talked about last week). How does the nutrition in the microgreen or sprout compare to the nutrition in the bean? (source here)

  • Energy content – calories
  • Total carbohydrate content
  • Protein available
  • Calcium content
  • Potassium content
  • Sodium content
  • Iron content
  • Phosphorus content
  • Vitamin A content
  • Thiamine or Vitamin B1 content
  • Riboflavin or Vitamin B2 content
  • Niacin or Vitamin B3 content
  • Ascorbic acid or Vitamin C content

The exponential increase in Vitamin C is because the dried beans, legumes, and grains only contain Vitamin C in negligible amounts. The sprouts, however, contain abundant Vitamin C. What’s more, sprouts and microgreens are often eaten raw – as you would consume lettuce or a garnish like herbs. In this case none of the nutrients are deteriorated by heating. That’s an incredible boost to the nutritional density of any meal!

You will notice the carbohydrate content goes down in germinated foods, including microgreens. This is because during germination the enzymes within the seed break down the starch and turn it into simple sugars. Proteins are likewise broken down into amino acids. Fats become their more simple fatty acid counterparts. During germination all the nutrients of the bean/grain/seed are broken down and liberated for use as energy to fuel the plant’s growth. As such, these are very easy for us to digest. The germination process has done what our digestive systems do to break the food down. Thus, sprouts and microgreens are an excellent source of easy to absorb nutrients – even for those with multiple food intolerances and a sensitivity to many grains and greens.

Additionally, microgreens and sprouts are alkaline and contain nutrients that our commercial crops today do not. Minerals are often depleted from commercial crops due to poor soil conditions and contaminating pesticides and herbicides that kill microbes in the soil. The microbes in the soil help to generate nutrients and a healthy immunity in the plant. With microgreens, however, the soil is controlled so it can be as rich as you make it! Start composting and your soil will be a thousand fold better than what is used for commercial produce!

Paradoxically, the mineral and antioxidant levels in microgreens are richer than in their fully grown counterparts. This includes antioxidants and numerous vitamins in addition to iron, zinc, calcium, copper, magnesium, potassium, folate, and Vitamin K. These minerals and nutrients are frequently deficient in those who come to me with health problems. Using supplements to get minerals is difficult and not always effective. We can take them and see our levels improve,  but they aren’t optimal. This is because minerals that we use to supplement with are made from inorganic matter (rocks) that are covered with a protein (chelation) to trick the body into thinking it’s a mineral. It’s far superior to consume bone broth, spring water, and plant material that contain organic (natural, digestible) forms of minerals. Sprouts and microgreens provide this abundantly.

In truth, if you were to ask me the single most important thing you can do for your health I would say grow your own food. Unplug from the commercial food system as much as you can. This is not only for your own health, but the health of the soil and of the planet. Hence these series of articles!

For those who are on a vegan or strict vegetarian diet, these microgreens are an incredible way to get easily digestible, complete proteins. Several varieties of sprouts and microgreens contain more protein than cooked meat! While I advocate an omnivore diet for optimal health, even omnivores can enjoy a meatless night or two a week. If anyone is exploring doing a meatless Monday, sprouts and microgreens provide a great alternative. Let’s look at the nutrition profile of a few different types of sprouts according to My Food Data.(per one cup of sprouts)

  • Raw pea microgreens — 11 grams of protein, 0.8 grams of fat, 33 grams of carbs, 43 mg of calcium
  • Raw alfalfa microgreens — 1.3 grams of protein, 0.2 grams of fat, 0.7 grams of carbs, 11 mg of calcium
  • Raw radish microgreens — 1.4 grams of protein, 1 grams of fat, 1.4 grams of carbs, 19 mg of calcium
  • Sprouted wheat microgreens — 8.1 grams of protein, 1.4 grams of fat, 46 grams of carbs, 30 mg of calcium
  • Raw soy bean microgreens — 9.2 grams of protein, 4.7 grams of fat, 6.7 grams of carbs, 47 mg calcium
  • Raw lentil microgreens — 6.9 grams of protein, 0.4 grams of fat, 17 grams of carbs, 19 mg calcium

An added benefit for those with sensitive digestive systems is that sprouted beans and grains do not produce gas the way the cooked bean or grain does. Didn’t know that grains are causing your gas? Well, that’s a topic for a different day. During germination the oligosaccharides and anti-nutrients in grains and beans – like phytates – are broken down. Additionally, sprouts and microgreens contain living enzymes – some sources say up to 40x more than regular veggies! (source) And because you can grow them at home easily, you can be sure they are free of glyphosate and other contaminants that we just can’t seem to get away from with modern agricultural practices. Growing microgreens at home is really a win-win for very little time invested!

If you aren’t already convinced you need to start to grow microgreens at home, consider this last little tidbit. They are alkaline and the cheapest, most complete form of nourishment aside from human breast milk.

Phytonutrients

Microgreens are also a great source of beneficial compounds we are only starting to understand, such as polyphenols and other phytonutrients. Polyphenols are a type of antioxidants that we believe help lower cholesterol and systemic inflammation in the body that plays a role in every disease from arthritis to cancer to Alzheimer’s disease. This is only one of the phytonutrients that microgreens are abundant in.

Sulforaphane, found in broccoli sprouts and to a lesser degree in broccoli itself, may be able to help prevent and treat certain types of cancers, including prostate and breast cancers. It’s also very potent for hormonal imbalances, including hormonal acne. One study found that broccoli  sprouts have 10 to 20 times more sulforaphane than whole broccoli. (source)

How to grow microgreens

One key difference between the sprouting I shared last week and microgreens, is that we do need containers, soil or potting medium, and sunlight or lamps to grow microgreens. But I assure you, it’s not a complicated or difficult endeavor!

To make it easier I will refer you to a video by Kevin from Epic Gardening, wherein he goes over growing microgreens from start to finish! Find that video here.

Alternately, Spencer from Raw Fooducation, shows how to grow them in shallow plastic tubs with no soil here.

Try your hand at it and let me know how it goes! And if you’re interested in learning to master a healthy soup each week live with me get your name on the list by signing up at hopenotdope.ca. This is the last week to sign up before we get underway!

Thanks to Tim for the great question. I hope you’re empowered to start growing your own food at home!  As always, readers can send their questions to be featured in the column by email.

Namaste!

Nonie Nutritionista





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