If you’ve eaten at a restaurant lately, you may have noticed a few sprigs of greenery on your plate. They may have been sprinkled upon a salad, cushioned between the bread on a sandwich, or bathing atop your favorite soup. You may have even seen them resting alongside your steak or chicken entree. But you probably didn’t realize that these tiny microgreens could actually reduce your risk of heart disease.
At first glance, you may have assumed that these small leafy greens were simply a garnish made to make your $35 meal feel a bit more worth it. Perhaps you tried a small bite, noticing the earthy flavor and crunch. In all likelihood, you brushed them aside to enjoy the “real meal.” Little did you know that these microgreens may have packed more nutritional punch than your entire dinner.
What are microgreens?
As the name suggests, microgreens are young plants (seedlings) of commonly eaten vegetables and herbs. These baby plants typically grow to be around 1 – 3 inches tall before they are ready to harvest and enjoy.
Microgreens can be grown from nearly all vegetables or herb seeds. As a result, they come in a variety of colors, textures, and tastes. These crunchy and juicy greens often have tasteful undertones of the vegetables they aspire to become. While some microgreens are mild, others are bitter or spicy. Some are sweet, while others have nutty or earthy flavors.
How do microgreens and sprouts differ?
Sprouts and microgreens are often confused with one another, even though they are distinctly different. True, they are generally both grown indoors from the same seed, but that is where the similarities end.
Unharvested microgreens eventually grow into leafier baby greens, such as baby spinach.
What’s so special about microgreens?
Microgreens have increased in popularity over the years, steadily earning the title of “superfood.” Research shows that the name is certainly fitting. Microgreens are known for their high nutritional value. For example, studies show that some microgreens provide up to 40 percent more nutrients than their mature counterparts.
With high concentrations of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, microgreens pack a nutritional punch. A 2022 study found that broccoli and kale microgreens are rich in phytonutrients – natural compounds produced by plants that benefit human health and reduce heart disease risk. As a result, microgreens are perhaps one of the most nutrient-dense foods available.
Other benefits of microgreens include:
- Super easy to grow and harvest, even in small spaces
- Aesthetically pleasing in the home and on your plate
- Versatile enough to use in salads, soups, sandwiches, to accompany meat or fish, and even in drinks or smoothies
- Add a delicious crunchy texture to meals
- Easy to store seeds for emergency preparedness use
- Growing microgreens provides a mindful way to reduce stress
Health benefits of microgreens
Microgreens are truly a functional food. Due to the high nutritional content of microgreens, they have numerous health benefits. Microgreens have been shown to:
Microgreens benefit cardiovascular health
These greens are rich in polyphenols, a component of vegetables with powerful antioxidant properties. Polyphenols protect the cardiovascular system by improving the endothelium’s function- the heart’s inner lining and blood vessels. Studies show that a higher intake of polyphenols may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by close to 50 percent.
Microgreens also can lower cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation in the body. A 2016 study on mice found that red cabbage microgreens were more effective than mature cabbage at lowering LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels for animals on a high-fat diet. So microgreens are a great natural choice for those looking to lower cholesterol and reduce heart disease risk.
Microgreens are also rich in nitrates, which, when broken down, become nitric oxide. Nitric oxide plays an essential role in dilating blood vessels, allowing for better blood flow and reduced blood pressure.
Finally, microgreens are packed with heart-healthy vitamins, such as vitamins E, C, and K. Studies have found that eating foods rich in vitamin E reduces the risk of coronary artery disease in middle-aged to older people. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps to fight free radical damage and protect the heart. Vitamin K has been shown to protect against calcium build-up in the arteries, thus reducing the risk of atherosclerosis.
Microgreens benefit gut health
A healthy gut needs fiber to function effectively. Fiber adds bulk, drawing water to the stool to keep your bowels moving along, and it helps support beneficial gut bacteria. Adding microgreens to each meal is an excellent way to benefit prebiotic fiber intake.
Fiber does more than prevent constipation. It is the fuel that feeds the beneficial bacteria in the gut. When you consume microgreens, the nutrients from the plant are digested and used by the body for energy. So what’s left is fiber- the indigestible carbohydrate that provides a feast for your microbiome.
Microgreens provide a boost to the immune system
The nutritional value of microgreens ensures the protection of a robust immune system. Packed with vitamins A, C, iron, and zinc, studies have found microgreens to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Microgreens improve blood sugar and reduce the risk of diabetes
Microgreens are emerging as an excellent treatment for insulin resistance. Certain microgreens contain sulforaphane, a compound that has been shown to reduce blood glucose levels. A 2022 study found that broccoli microgreens lower blood glucose by improving lipids and inflammatory markers in the body.
Types of microgreens
Many edible plant species produce microgreens, resulting in over 100 different types. Microgreens are broadly categorized according to the family that they belong to, with the most popular microgreens grown from the Brassicaceae family. Microgreens in this family have a short growth cycle of approximately seven days and include the following:
- Broccoli – Broccoli microgreens contain up to 40 times the nutrients of mature broccoli, including high amounts of vitamin C, vitamin E, and nitrates. As noted above, they are rich in sulforaphane, a sulfur-rich compound that helps to keep the heart healthy. Broccoli microgreens have a mild, slightly bitter taste.
- Cauliflower – Rich in vitamin C, K, E, beta-carotene, and iron, cauliflower microgreens are more flavorful than broccoli microgreens. They are crisp with a mild peppery flavor.
- Radish – Radish microgreens are a rich source of vitamins A, C, and E, as well as B complex vitamins. They are also a powerful supply of crucial minerals such as magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Radish microgreens have a strong peppery flavor, adding a bit of spice to your dish.
- Red cabbage – Compared to mature red cabbage, cabbage microgreens contain 2,150 percent more phosphorus, 230 percent more vitamin A, and 150 percent more folate. Cabbage microgreens taste sweeter than mature cabbage, with a fresh, earthy undertone.
- Kale – If mature kale is good for you, imagine the incredible health benefits of kale microgreens. Kale is jam-packed with nutrients, including vitamins A, B, C, E, and K, as well as iron, zinc, magnesium, amino acids, and protein. With a mild, subtly sweet taste, kale microgreens are a favorite.
Other popular microgreens include sunflower, beets, arugula, peas, and mustard.
How to add more microgreens to your diet
Heart-healthy microgreens are incredibly versatile and can be incorporated into your diet in various ways.
How to add more microgreens to your meals:
- Use as a garnish on everything from soups to salads to stir-frys
- Add to beverages such as smoothies, juice, or mocktails
- Include as a side to any meat or fish dish
- Use as a crunchy alternative to lettuce on burgers, tacos, or sandwiches
- Sprinkle on eggs or omelets
- Decorate dips such as guacamole
For the more adventurous, try your hand at one of the following microgreen recipes:
Summery Arugula Microgreen Salad
Imagine taking all of your favorite parts of your summer garden and combining them in a bowl. Now, imagine those summer vegetables nourishing your heart and body. The best part? All of it tastes delicious.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
- 3 cups arugula microgreens
- 1 cup blackberries or blueberries
- 2 Tbsp pine nuts
- 1/2 bunch asparagus
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 clove of garlic, pressed
- 2 Tbsp chopped caper berries (stems removed)
- 1 1/2 Tbsp of mint, finely chopped
- Pinch sea salt
- Black pepper
- Rinse and dry microgreens. Set aside.
- In a small mixing bowl, combine olive oil, red wine vinegar, mint, garlic, chopped caper berries, and a pinch of salt. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
- Trim ends off of asparagus. Lightly coat spears with olive oil and cook on medium heat over a grill pan or on your grill until seared to your preference. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and pepper. Cut into 1/2 -inch pieces.
- Assemble the salad by combining microgreens, asparagus, berries and pine nuts in a large bowl. Add salad dressing.
- Toss well and serve immediately. Enjoy!
Lobster Avocado Salad
This salad is fresh and delicious and packs a nutritional punch with its high omega-3 content. The buttery and rich flavor of the lobster combined with the creamy avocado and crunchy microgreens provides all the textures you need in one dish.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
- 4 Lobster tails
- 2 ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
- 3 cups of arugula (or other green of choice)
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 1 Tbsp chopped shallot
- 1/2 cup of radish microgreens
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 6 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp minced flat-leaf parsley
- In a steamer basket, steam the lobster tails for 6-10 minutes, or until the shells turn bright red and the meat is opaque. Once fully cooked, remove from the steamer basket and allow to cool.
- Cube the avocados and place them in a mixing bowl. Add the arugula, cilantro, and shallot and carefully combine.
- Prepare the salad dressing by whisking lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, parsley, and garlic powder in a bowl.
- Drizzle the salad mixture with about 2 Tbsp of the vinaigrette and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Carefully toss to combine.
- Remove the lobster meat from the shells and rinse the meat under cold water, removing all shell pieces. Chop the meat into bite-sized chunks and set aside for plating.
- Divide the dressed salad among 4 plates and top each with steamed lobster meat. Lightly drizzle the lobster meat with additional vinaigrette and top with microgreens.
- Serve and enjoy!
Where to get microgreens?
Microgreens can sometimes be purchased at your local market or health food store. Many farmer’s markets also have vendors that sell microgreens. However, there are challenges with purchasing microgreens. First, not all microgreens sold are organic. They are typically packaged in harmful plastic. Also, microgreens have a short shelf-life once harvested, making them challenging to buy fresh.
Therefore, the absolute best way to get microgreens is to grow your own. Microgreens are one of the easiest crops and can be grown year-round right in the comfort of your home. Even if you’ve never grown anything in your life, you can be successful at growing microgreens.
By growing your microgreens, you are assured of having fresh crops on hand whenever you need them. NHD recommends this American-made, non-toxic, sustainable, and soilless microgreen grow system from EarthenMamma. This attractive microgreen system allows you to grow batches of organic microgreens indoors all year long. There is nothing fresher than “box to table” and EarthenMamma makes this possible with their microgreens grow box.
In our nutrient-deficient world, adding microgreens to your diet is one of the best ways to ensure you obtain as many heart-healthy vitamins and minerals as possible. These micronutrients are essential in maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system.
Consider an intracellular micronutrient test if you are concerned about your nutritional intake. This easy test evaluates the level of nutrients available inside and outside the cell. Understanding your micronutrient baseline can help you make adjustments to your diet to improve cardiovascular health, making it easier to achieve your 100 Year Heart.
Eat well, Live well, Think well
Medical Review: Dr. Lauren Lattanza 2022