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Microgreens are functional foods, meaning they have health promoting or disease preventing properties. And in this toxic world, they are an essential protox food. Plus, they're tasty and easy to grow.
Microgreens are seedlings of a variety of different vegetables and herbs, ranging in size from 1-3 inches. They differ from sprouts because they are grown in soil (or hydroponically), you don’t eat the roots and they aren’t harvested until the cotyledons emerge.
Cotyledons are the embryos in plant seeds. Once seeds germinate, the cotyledons become the seedling's first leaves. They provide an energy source for plants to grow.
Microgreens are harvested at soil level 1-3 weeks after sowing, when the cotyledon is fully developed until after the first true leaves have emerged. True leaves will be larger than cotyledons and look like the plant. In other words, the true leaves of lettuce microgreens will look like miniature lettuce.
Microgreens can protect your health from toxic chemical exposure because they are “functional foods”. Or as I like to call them – Protox Foods.
Functional foods have health promoting or disease preventing properties, besides their normal nutritional values. When it comes to microgreens, they contain higher concentrations of bioactive compounds like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, than mature greens.
In fact, a 2018 review of microgreen studies has defined microgreens as a new food for the 21st century, attributing them a potential role as anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, anti-obesogenic and anti-atherosclerotic
Commonly grown microgreens include:
Brassicaceae family: Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, watercress, radish and arugula
Amaranthaceae family: Amaranth, quinoa, swiss chard, beet and spinach
Asteraceae family: Lettuce, endive, chicory and radicchio
This past year has been extremely stressful. It included several major life changes and the loss of another family member to cancer.
Stress is toxic to your body and I was feeling it. I needed to heal my body with food. And since I already eat a healthy Mediterranean Diet (with some protox additions), I needed to up my game.
I had been thinking about growing microgreens and then I discovered some in a local grocery store. After a month of adding them almost daily to my diet I started to feel better.
Now, with a minimal investment, I'm growing them and researching the ways they can protect your health from toxic chemical exposure. And I've discovered they have great protox benefits.
And that's important because while reducing your exposure to toxic chemicals is essential for good health, it's not enough. It's one leg of a three legged stool.
Fortunately, your body has internal defenses like an awesome liver and antioxidant system, that protect you from toxic chemicals. But, constant toxic exposure can overwhelm your body’s defenses.
When that happens, toxic chemicals that your body should be breaking down and excreting end up hanging around. These defenses also become less efficient and break down if you don’t feed your body right.
That’s why a healthy diet that includes protox foods loaded with beneficial phytochemicals is so important in this toxic world. It's the second leg of the stool. (Lots of exercise is the third).
Think of protox foods as proactive protection against toxic chemicals.
These are things your body needs to break down and excrete toxic chemicals, kill cancer cells, destroy free radicals that cause inflammation and reduce existing inflammation. They’ve also been shown to protect your liver from fatty liver disease and your gut health.
It’s well known that cruciferous vegetables (Brassica) like broccoli, cabbage, and radish also contain significant amounts of cancer-fighting glucosinoates as well as carotenoid phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals. Cruciferous vegetables also protect you from cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases such as asthma, Alzheimer’s disease and metabolic disorders.
And guess what? Microgreens are an important protox food because they contain even higher concentrations of bioactive compounds than mature veggies.
For example, red cabbage microgreens contain approximately 260 times more β-carotene, more than 40 times more vitamin E, and up to 6 times more vitamin C than mature red cabbage.
Comprehensive testing of 5 Brassica species microgreens found a total of 164 polyphenols including 30 anthocyanins, 105 flavonoids, and 29 other antioxidant nutrients like hydroxycinnamic acid.
What this means is many microgreens are tiny powerhouses of antioxidants like anthocyanins and flavonoids that have antimicrobial, antioxidative, anti‐inflammatory, and anti‐cancer properties. Adding microgreens to your diet is a powerful and easy way to protect your health.
There are dozens of different vegetables rich in different nutrients. And the same holds true for their micro versions. There are dozens of different types of microgreens with a variety of different bioactive compounds.
In a 2018 study a total of 74 polyphenols were identified in 12 different cruciferous microgreens. And each of the 12 veggies had different amounts of flavonoids and other bioactive compounds.
For example, pakchoi microgreens contained the highest amount of flavonoids while cabbage contained the lowest. And daikon radish had the lowest concentration of total polyphenols, while cauliflower had the highest.
A 2012 study of 25 commercially available microgreens found that red cabbage, cilantro, garnet amaranth, and green daikon radish microgreens had the highest concentrations of ascorbic acids, carotenoids, phylloquinone, and tocopherols.
While Red cabbage, garnet amaranth, and green daikon radish microgreens had the highest amount of vitamin C, vitamin K1, and vitamin E. And cilantro microgreens showed the highest concentration of carotenoids.
A 2019 study of 21 varieties of Brassica genus as microgreens reported that Purple Kohlrabi, Red Cabbage, Broccoli, Tucsan Kale, Red Komatsuna, Tatsoi, and Green Cabbage had the highest nutritional content.
And an interesting tidbit about red cabbage microgreens - in a 2016 animal study, Red cabbage microgreens reduced inflammation and decreased weight gain, low density lipoprotein (LDL) levels, triacylglycerol, and cholesterol levels in mice eating a high fat diet.
So which ones should you add to your diet? Well, let me help you keep it simple. Variety is key.
Start with brassica microgreens, like broccoli, cabbage, radish and kale. They are easy to grow and contain cancer-fighting glucosinolates. They are also rich in carotenoids, especially lutein, zeaxanthin, and β-carotene.
But don’t stop there. You wouldn’t eat broccoli and cabbage every day, would you? So, try a variety of microgreens.
Microgreens aren't sold in most grocery stores. Plus they're expensive and once you harvest them they start to lose they're protox benefits within 1 day.
The good news is - Microgreens are really easy to grow. Especially if you have a sunny window that gets at least 4 hours of sunlight a day.
If you have such a window it’s really cheap to get started. My initial investment was about $20. I got microgreen seeds, organic seed starter and some cheap disposable loaf pans from a dollar store. Glass or metal casserole dishes work well also.
Every week I planted a new tin for a total of 4. Within 2 weeks I had my first crop. Since cooler temps set in I’ve invested in a heat mat and thermostat to promote germination.
There are microgreen growing kits available but most of them are plastic. And you know how I feel about plastic.
Adding these tiny, nutrient packed plants to your diet is soooo easy. You can throw them on salads and in smoothies.
Add them to sandwiches, and stir fries and use them in your favorite pasta dishes. Garnish your soups with them. Top cooked pizzas and potato dishes with them.
I use them a lot to top the grain bowls and bean salad recipes I concoct. And while raw is always better, I use them weekly in my crock pot egg white fritatas. Here's the recipe:
For more inspiration there are plenty of recipes online and I did find one good microgreen
cookbook that's available.
You can't avoid all toxic chemical exposure. So you need to give your body what it needs to efficiently deal with this exposure and it's damaging health effects.
A healthy, protox diet includes 5-7 servings of veggies a day. And that can be tough sometimes. But not if you incorporate microgreens into your diet.
They're easy to grow and even easier to use. Just snip a handful and get creative.