The science behind microgreens

Food plays an essential role in the evolution of human culture. It is necessary to support human growth, development, and survival by providing calories and essential nutrients. Food not only nourishes but also offers a significant advantage in preventing and alleviating health problems across various cultures. In this context, new foods, such as microgreens, have emerged as dietary sources that can promote health.

First appearances:

According to the local industry, since the 1980s, chefs in San Francisco and California began using microgreens. Initially, there were not many varieties offered, with the available ones being arugula, basil, beet, kale, and cilantro. Currently, there are over 100 varieties of microgreens available worldwide. These include popular types such as broccoli, chives, radish, pea, sunflower, and lentil, each offering unique flavors and specific nutritional benefits.

Chemical compositions of microgreens:

The chemical composition of a microgreen differs considerably from that of its mature form. This section will address the content of vitamins, carotenoids, minerals, glucosinolates, and polyphenols in microgreens.

  • Vitamins: Vitamin K1 (Phylloquinone) is necessary for blood clotting and bone remodeling. According to recent research, amaranth has the highest concentration of phylloquinone at 4.1 μg/g. Generally, microgreens of bright green or red color have higher concentrations of phylloquinone (2.8 – 4.1 μg/g). Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, protecting the cell membrane. Daikon radish has the highest concentrations of tocopherol in the α (87.4 mg/100 g FW) and γ (39.4 mg/100 g FW) forms.
  • Carotenoids: These are red-orange pigments found in fruits and vegetables. Carotene is best known as a precursor of vitamin A and plays critical physiological roles, including vision and development. Red sorrel has the highest concentration of β-carotene, at 12.1 mg/100 g.
  • Minerals: Minerals are important nutrients for humans. Similar to vitamins, minerals perform essential functions in the human body. Information indicates that broccoli microgreens have between 1.15 and 2.32 times more minerals, including phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron, calcium, sodium, and copper, than the mature plant.
  • Polyphenols and Glucosinolates: These are a broad category of bioactive compounds associated with preventing several chronic diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and cancer. Red cabbage microgreens (71.01 μmol/g) have a higher concentration of polyphenols than mature red cabbage (50.58 μmol/g).

In summary, microgreens appear to have higher nutritional values than mature plants, despite their weight and size.

Prevention of obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and type 2 diabetes:

Based on volumes of literature and experimental studies, consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is often recommended for preventing these diseases. Additionally, many pathways related to inflammation can be modulated by bioactive compounds abundantly found in microgreens. Red cabbage microgreens seem to prevent weight gain induced by a high-fat diet. Although the mechanism remains unclear, the effects of these microgreens may be related to their ability to reduce adipogenesis. It has been reported that several phytochemicals found in vegetables/microgreens, such as I3C and a metabolite of β-carotene, retinoic acid (RA), can suppress adipogenesis.

Cancer prevention through microgreens:

By acting through anti-inflammatory pathways, microgreens can protect against or potentially prevent cancer. Compounds derived from a diet with microgreens, such as I3C and DIM, have been reported to activate enzymes involved in xenobiotic metabolism by several groups. The ability to activate xenobiotic metabolisms (e.g., AhR and Nrf2 pathways) will allow cells to better act and eliminate carcinogens.

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