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Microgreens: Should They Be a Part of Your Diet?

If you’re looking for a nutrient-dense addition to your diet, reach for microgreens. They are the young, delicate greens that grow from the seeds of various plants, vegetables and herbs. You can often find microgreens that come from arugula, broccoli, beets, Swiss chard, cabbage and celery.

Microgreens became popular in California restaurants in the 90s, known then as “vegetable confetti.” Now they’re available nationwide—look for them in farmers’ markets, health food stores and upscale restaurants. “Microgreens can add heightened flavors, color and texture to your meals,” said Lori Schnelker, a registered dietitian with Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix.

Microgreens are not sprouts, though people often think they are the same. They are actually tiny plants. Sprouts are seeds that can germinate in the dark and be ready to harvest in two days. You can eat the entire sprout, but the way they are grown means they have a high risk of food poisoning. Microgreens grow for a week or two, and the tiny, true leaves that you eat grow above the soil. So, they don’t have the higher risk of food poisoning you get with sprouts.

Here’s why microgreens are good for you

Different types of microgreens will give you different vitamins, minerals and nutrients. But, in general, microgreens are a great source of vitamin A, E, C and K, and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, selenium and zinc. “They also come packed with the health benefits of phytonutrients and antioxidants that protect against certain diseases, support your immune system and help keep your gut microbiome healthy,” Schnelker said.

The nutrients in microgreens are more concentrated than in their fully grown counterparts:

  • A cup of red cabbage microgreens has three times more folate than mature red cabbage.
  • A cup of arugula microgreens has 100% more vitamin A than arugula.
  • Radish microgreens have double the amount of calcium and are higher in omega 3s than radishes.
  • Compared to broccoli, broccoli microgreens have a higher content of the antioxidant sulforaphane, which helps lower fasting blood glucose levels and can protect against heart disease and cancer.

But Schnelker pointed out a couple of downsides to microgreens. You typically eat them in small quantities, so their extra nutrients might not make a big difference in your health.

And they can be expensive—a pound of a microgreen could cost $30. “Consuming the recommended daily intake of two to three cups of vegetables per day can provide the same nutrients and benefits as microgreens and may be more practical,” Schnelker said.

Here’s how to choose the microgreen flavor you want

“The flavors of microgreens are similar to their mature counterparts, but with a broader spectrum of tastes and a unique flavor profile,” Schnelker said.

  • Broccoli and kale are crunchy and slightly more bitter.
  • Radish, sunflower and fennel are sweeter tasting.
  • Beets and carrots have a more earthy flavor.
  • Arugula is nutty and peppery.
  • Mustard has an intense flavor and tastes spicy.

Here’s how to add microgreens to your diet

Microgreens are versatile. You can add them to:

  • Salads
  • Stir-fries or rice dishes
  • Soups
  • Quiches and omelets
  • Smoothies
  • Baked goods like zucchini bread

You can also use them as a garnish. Cooking certain microgreens can make them less bitter and enhance their flavors but can also reduce their vitamin content. If you want to get the most nutritional benefit, you should eat them raw. Just be sure to wash them to remove any bacteria.

The bottom line

If you’re looking for an interesting addition to your diet that is robust, healthy, highly flavored and packed with a nutritional punch, give microgreens a try. For more tips on improving your diet, connect with an expert at Banner Health.

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