Microgreens are considered a relatively new food and so you would expect a bit of the uncertainty about its nutritional benefit. For this reason, I have broken down the main nutritional components in microgreens (cotyledon leaf stage) that I grow from seed.
Seeds are the starting point
Seeds are small nutrient-packed bombs packed with proteins, fiber, and minerals. The challenge is that they don’t give us their nutrients as is. The seed houses the mechanisms that allow it grow into a strong plant. By soaking and germinating the seed, the nutrient levels rise and become available for us.
In nature, a seed is dormant until it comes into contact with water. All the enzymes required to launch life’s processes are dormant inside the seed. Simply put, enzymes are substances that enable and accelerate chemical reactions. Once the seed is in water and the temperature is right it directs all its energy toward plant growth. The resting enzymes come alive, whereby along with newer ones created during germination, make the nutrients in the seed more accessible.
Proteins, Fats, and Carbohydrates
The energy in the seed is stored as protein, fat, and carbohydrates. In Chia, Sunflower seeds, fat is the dominant nutrient – it constitutes up to half. Legume seeds like yellow peas, lentils, and mung beans only have about 1 percent of fat. Instead they contain more carbohydrates, as do grain like seeds such as quinoa and buckwheat. The protein content in seeds is usually between 10 and 25 %, with legume seeds topping the list. While in germination, the total calorie count decreases because the process requires of course a lot energy. Carbs break down into simple sugars, which in turn are quickly absorbed by the blood. The outcome is a lower Glycemic index (GI) due to the increase of phenolic compounds and soluble fibers.
Proteins are broken down into amino acids. The fat content of the germinated seed decreases, the amount of fat that gets used up depends on how long you sprout the seeds. In contrast a sunflower seed, which has half its energy in the form of fat with say an almost fat-free sunflower shoot.
The quantity of several vitamins increases during sprouting. Vitamin B, including riboflavin and folate (folic acid is the synthetically derived folate found in nutritional supplements), have been shown to rise substantially. While most foods contain small amounts of riboflavin, it is found primarily in meat. This vitamin assists in breaking down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Folate helps create new cells and red blood corpuscles. This vitamin is especially important during body growth and pregnancy. Even levels of vitamin A increase when seeds are sprouting. More accurately, it is carotene that gets a boost.
Carotene is a substance that the body can convert to Vitamin A. It is vital to the proper functioning of eyesight, skin, and mucous membranes. It is also critical to the development of the fetus.
As for Vitamin C, most seeds don’t have any to begin with, but it develops during sprouting. In research focusing on buckwheat and quinoa seeds, which do not contain any vitamin C at all, it was shown that after 2 to 3 days of sprouting, the level of Vitamin C reached 24 milligrams and 7 milligrams per 100 grams of sprouts, respectively. For reference the recommended daily amount of vitamin C is 75 milligrams. This vitamin acts as an antioxidant in the body and helps build up cartilage and bone tissue. Even levels of vitamin E rise during sprouting. This vitamin acts as an antioxidant and protects our body tissues among other things.
However, sprouts can’t provide us with much in the way of vitamin B12. This is a vitamin that we need to acquire from the animal kingdom. Vegans need to take special care to get supplemental vitamin B12. The misunderstanding the sprouts are rich in vitamin B12 probably stems from the fact the bacteria produce this vitamin, and bacteria can grow on sprouts. But this not something we want to have happen because we then run the risk of levels of toxic bacteria.
Seeds contain several type so minerals such as iron, magnesium, zinc, and calcium, and they’re greedily protective of them. Phytic acid binds the minerals to the seeds and makes it difficult for us to absorb the minerals when we eat the seeds. During sprouting phosphorus is released by the phytic acid molecule to supply the growing seed’s need for phosphorus. The more phosphorus there is the looser the acid’s grip on the other minerals. So now the minerals become easier for the plant to use, and easier for us to absorb as we the sprouts.
Minerals help with many different types of processes in the body. While we don’t need large amounts of them, they’re still vital to us.
Dietary fiber is mainly found in vegetables, and we usually distinguish between soluble and insoluble fiber. Understanding that soluble fiber is fiber that is soluble in water and forms a gel; think about how oats behave we make oatmeal or what happens when flaxseeds are mixed with warm water. The pectin in fruit and berries is another example of soluble fiber.
An example of insoluble fiber is the shell surrounding different types of seeds. Soluble and insoluble fiber can coexist in varying amounts within the safe food. Through germination, the amount of soluble fiber increases somewhat, while the amount of the insoluble decreases. On the whole, the level of fiber rises.
Antioxidants is a collective term for substances that help protect the body against cell damage and fat oxidation. When seeds are sprouted, the number of antioxidants can increase enormously, up to 2,000 percent! This is partly because the number of vitamins increases. Vitamin C, E, and carotene (the precursor to Vitamin A) are considered antioxidants. It’s also a result of the larger amount of phenols, also known as phenolics. Phenolics are substances found in all vegetables and they provide taste, smell, and color. Their main purpose is to protect the plant from being eaten. Phenolics are considered beneficial in the fight against cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and allergies, due to their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, blood sugar, and cholesterol-lowering properties.
From Sprout to Shoots/Microgreen
A new process begins once sprouts have grown into shoots or microgreens and are placed under light. The light helps the microgreen convert water and the air’s carbon dioxide into energy-rich carbohydrates and oxygen. The stalk and the tiny leaves begin to turn green. The rate at which this happens is fascinating, which is when chlorophyll is created. Chlorophyll cells are the engine for creating new energy. This energy can be stored as carbohydrates and then be used for growth. Microgreens contain protective substances in the form of vitamin C and other antioxidants.
The latest studies that have been conducted have shown that microgreens typically contain up to 40 times higher concentration of healthy nutrients than their fully grown vegetable counterparts.
Microgreens: A Guide to Growing Nutrient-Packed Greens
Comprehensive Evaluation of Metabolites and Minerals in 6 Microgreen Species and the Influence of Maturity<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7897203/>
Assessment of Vitamin and Carotenoid Concentrations of Emerging Food Products: Edible Microgreens <https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/jf300459b>
Small Functional Foods: Comparative Phytochemical and Nutritional Analyses of Five Microgreens of the Brassicaceae Family <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7919663