Microgreen Health Benefits & Nutrition Facts

by Jason Lee • 12/18/2018

Microgreens are the best available vegetables for your health. Microgreens have five to ten times more phytochemicals and antioxidants than a mature vegetables. Not only wil you meet your daily vegetable dietary requirements with microgreens, but you’re getting cancer-fighting, cardiovascular protective, and diabetes preventative effects.

What are Microgreens?

Microgreens in jars
Microgreens grown in experimental containers

Microgreens are not sprouts. You can sprout the seeds entirely in the dark without any growing medium. Microgreens are young plants grown in high light and low humidity, which improves the nutrient quality and taste versus sprouts.

Seeds are not meant to be edible. They are usually covered with anti-nutrients such as phytic acid, which binds to minerals such as iron and calcium. Germination reduces the concentration of anti-nutrients as well as increasing health beneficial compounds. Plants that are still young overproduces antioxidants and phytochemicals in order to grow and fight off diseases.

Every vegetable can be grown as a microgreen. The only limitation of growing certain species of plants as microgreens is cost. Vegetables with quick maturation cycles or overproduces seeds are more suited for microgreens than slow growing plants.

Much More Nutrient Dense

Microgreens are 5 to 10 fold more nutrient dense than regular vegetables. Competition among other plants in the wild forces young plants to overproduce and overgrow in order to surive. There are also survival pressure from bacteria and fungi, which is why the antioxidants in microgreens are also known to have antibacterial effects.

For the first week of growth, the plant fully relies on their stored energy reserves to grow. This is why microgreens are easy to grow. As long as moisture is highly available, pushing growth for two three weeks requires little effort.

According to the food pyramid, you have to eat at least 3 servings of vegetables a day. That’s half a pound of vegetables a day! Microgreens is all about efficiency.

You can get the same amount of benefits of eating mature vegetables with less. You don't have to consume a large bowl of salad for every meal, but a side dish of microgreens once or twice a day instead. Moreover, microgreens provide a diverse variety of flavors, that rivals any hydroponically grown lettuce in the grocery store.

Cancer Fighting Benefits of Microgreens

A third of people will die of cancer. Given a long enough timeline, errors in DNA replication will eventually lead to cancer.

On a more positive note, a review of 46 studies found that consumption of vegetable and fruits decrease esophagus, breast, lung, stomach and colon cancers (1). Microgreens are a more potent cancer fighting tool than vegetables.

The list of cancer fighting phytochemicals enriched in microgreens are:

  • Carotenoids. These are a family of colorful pigments that gives carrots their orange color and tomatoes and watermelons their red color.
  • Glucosinolates. Enriched in the Brassica family, especially in broccoli microgreens, these compounds act as antioxidants, which activates the suicide signal in cancer cells.
  • Polyphenols. This compound is the same antioxidants in green tea, which stops the progression of cancer.
  • Selenium. This element is known to reduce the rate of liver cancer and prostate cancer, and sequestered by plants in the brassica family.
  • Sulphoraphane and Isothiocyanates. Especially rich in broccoli sprouts, these are a class of antioxidants that also stops the growth of cancer cells.

Vegetables from the Brassicafamily such as broccoli, kale and bok choy have more cancer protective effects than other vegetables (2). However, the brassica family of vegetables contain myrosinase, an enzyme that metabolizes the glucosinolates family of antioxidants.

Briefly cooking brassica microgreens is reccomended in order to deactivate the myrosinase enzyme and maximize the cancer fighting benefits of brassica microgreens.

Antioxidants Leaderboard

Comparison of nutritent density amongst popular microgreen species
Antioxidant activity of microgreens

While broccoli has the most known cancer beneficial compounds, it's not the microgreen with the highest antioxidant capacity. According to a study by Samuoliene et al, the microgreens with the highest antioxidant capacity are (top to bottom): (19)

  1. Pea
  2. Broccoli
  3. Mustard
  4. Amaranth
  5. Basil
  6. Kale

Heart Protective Benefits of Microgreens

Everyone knows that you can protect your cardiovascular health by eating vegetables and regular exercise. Antioxidants in microgreens is going to protect your cardiovascular system further by preventing the formation of plaque.

Microgreens are also full of unsaturated fatty acids. These fatty acids are an essential component of your cell membranes, but also help increase the good cholesterol.

The reason microgreens are full of unsaturated fatty acids is that germinating plants convert their long term stored saturated fatty acids in their cotyledons into unsaturated fatty acid in order to accelerate their growth.

In fact, the fat content increases from 0.4% to 1.6% during germination. Up to 80% of that fats consists of unsaturated fats such as linolenic fatty acid and oleic acid(7).

Microgreens is also abundant in resveratrol, a phytoalexin that protects you from Alzheimer’s disease and also lower systolic blood pressure (5, 6).

The best microgreens for heart protective effects is pea microgreens. Pea shoots have a 40% of its fatty acids composed by linolenic fatty acid. Moreover, they have high protein content and 0.5% γ-aminobutyric acid by weight (a well-known compound that lowers blood pressure).

The top two most beneficial microgreens for cancer and cardiovascular disease prevention are peas and broccoli.

Microgreens and Type-2 Diabetes

The consumption of radish microgreens reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes. Rats fed with radish microgreens had decrease blood glucose, tricglycerides and LDL. (20)But this effect should also translate to brassica family microgreens.

Weight Loss Benefits of Microgreens

On average, studies show that lose four pounds of weight for every one pound of vegetables you eat daily for six months (9).

Vegetables increase weight loss because dietary fiber. The increase in fiber consumption reduces body fat and body weight even if you have a high fat diet (10).

So what about microgreens? Microgreens do not have increased amount of fiber versus mature plants. In terms of quantity, 3 daily servings of microgreens should have the same effect of 4 pounds of weight loss.

Microgreen Nutrition Facts

Here, I’ve compiled the nutrients of specific vegetables from the USDA database. Microgreens or sprout data is substituted where available.

Comparison of nutritent density amongst popular microgreen species
Comparison of nutritent density amongst popular microgreen species

From the chart,broccoli is the most cumulatively nutritious vegetable, mostly due to its vitamin A content, with kale being a close second. Pea shoots and Radish greens are a third and fourth because of its vitamin B concentration. Taking into account the cancer fighting and cardiovascular protective effects, broccoli and peas are the healhtiest microgreens on the market.

Kale

Kale has high amounts of vitamin A, B, C, E, K, as well as a rich source of iron, calcium, potassium phosphorus, and selenium.

Broccoli

Broccoli greens are rich in vitaminA, B, C, E, K, as well as iron, potassium, and selenium.

Bok Choi

Bok Choi is rich in Vitamin A, B, C, K as well as calcium and iron. Although it's rich in nutrients, it's the middle of the pack when it comes to nutrients.

Radish

Radish greens are rich in Vitamin B, C and a good source of magnesium, zinc and phosphorous. They also have the highest levels of bioactive phytochemicals amongst the brassica family (13).

Amaranth

Amaranth is in the same family as Quinoa. Its leaves are full of Vitamin A, B, C,and K, as well as a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. Amaranth is also rich in cancer fighting phenolic and anthocyanin contents (12).

Arugula

Arugula is rich in Vitamin A, E, and K, as well as phytochemicals, calcium, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus.

Sunflower

Sunflower greens are rich in unsaturated fats, and a source of iron.

Mustard Greens

Mustard greens are full of Vitamin A, B,C, E, and K, as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium.

Pea Shoots

Pea shoots are rich in vitamin B and folate, and a very good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc.

Swiss chard

Swiss chard is rich in vitamins A, C, E and K, and a good source of magnesium and potassium.

Anti-Bacterial and Anti-Fungal Benefits of Microgreens

Young plants produce a lot of antimicrobial compounds because they are very susceptible to bacteria and fungi. In fact, fungus is the leading cause of crop failures for microgreens.

The threat of infection is one of the contributor of the overproduction of anti-microbial compounds such as sulphoraphene. Sulphoraphne also doubles as an antioxidant and highly enriched in broccoli microgreens. These antimicrobial compounds (pea microgreen extracts) has been shown to suppresess the growth of Helicobacter plyori (15), a leading cause of ulcers.

Treating Depression with Microgreens

Eating vegetables increases your feeling of wellbeing. There’s a little bit of science behind this feeling. A meta-analysis of fruit and vegetable consumption found that eating more vegetables and fruit is associated with lower risk of depression (16).

My therois is that vegetables and fruits contain small levels of melatonin and serotonin, but more importantly tryptophan. These neurotransmitters raise your overall feeling of happiness by increasing levels of serotonin in your brain.

Farm to Table

The last reason why you’re benefiting from microgreens is the same reason what I’m sure you’re growing your own. Vegetables in the supermarket have travelled far distances to get to your plate. In the winter time, most vegetables in North America come from Mexico.

By the time it gets to your supermarket, and sits on the counter for a couple of days, it already loses most of its nutrients. In contrast, microgreens are harvested the day of consumption, providing the maximum amount of available nutrients.

And with that, if you like my article and find it helpful, please share it with your friends using the buttons below. Thanks!

Citations

  1. J.W. Finley, Proposed Criteria for Assessing the Efficacy of Cancer Reduction by Plant Foods Enriched in Carotenoids, Glucosinolates, Polyphenols and Selenocompounds
  2. Brassica Protection Products LLC. 1999.Press Release: Statement Regarding New Patents Issued and BroccoSprouts®
  3. Yang et al. Inhibition of carcinogenesis by dietary polyphenolic compounds.
  4. L. Gamet-Payrastre, Signaling pathways and intracellular targets of sul-foraphane mediating cell cycle arrest and apoptosis, Current Cancer Drug Targets, 6 (2006)
  5. Trock B, Lanza E, Greenwald P. Dietary fiber, vegetables, and colon cancer: critical review and meta-analyses of the epidemiologic evidence.
  6. Ahmed T. et al. Resveratrol and Alzheimer's Disease: Mechanistic Insights.
  7. Liu Y et al. Effect of resveratrol on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.
  8. Tokiko Mizuno, Koji Yamada Proximate composition, fatty acid composition and free amino acid composition of sprouts
  9. Barnard ND et al. The effects of a low-fat, plant-based dietary intervention on body weight, metabolism, and insulin sensitivity.
  10. L. Gamet-Payrastre, Signaling pathways and intracellular targets of sul-foraphane mediating cell cycle arrest and apoptosis, Current Cancer Drug Targets, 6 (2006)
  11. Daniela SaesSartorelli, High intake of fruits and vegetables predicts weight loss in Brazilian overweight adults
  12. Joanne L.Slavin, Dietary fiber and body weight
  13. Gina RosalindaDe Nicola et al. Comparison of bioactive phytochemical content and release of isothiocyanates in selected brassica sprouts
  14. Paweł Paśko et al., Anthocyanins, total polyphenols and antioxidant activity in amaranth and quinoa seeds and sprouts during their growth
  15. Sprouts, Microgreens and edible flowers, Ebert, A.W.
  16. Keith A. Walker, Changes in phytic acid and phytase during early development of Phaseolus vulgaris L.
  17. C.Y. Ho, Y.T. Lin, R.G. Labbe, K. Shetty, Inhibition of Helicobacter pylori by phenolic extracts of sprouted peas (Pisum sativum L.), Journal of Food Biochemistry, 30 (2006)
  18. Xiaoqin Liu M.D, Fruit and vegetable consumption and the risk of depression: A meta-analysis
  19. Samuolienė, THE IMPACT OF SUPPLEMENTARY SHORT-TERM RED LED LIGHTING ON THE ANTIOXIDANT PROPERTIES OF MICROGREENS
  20. Effect of Egyption Radish and Clover Sprouts on Blood Sugar and Lipid Metabolism in Diabetic Rats

About the Author

Jason Lee

I am the author of this website and owner of growyourmicrogreens.com. I am an hobbyist gardener and a passionate scientist. I was trained as a scientist in the Molecular Genetics program in University of Toronto, where I received my Masters of Science and published a journal article.

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