By now you probably know the importance of getting your daily share of greens like spinach, kale, romaine, broccoli and so on. But you might not know about a little thing called microgreens, which also make excellent contributions to your diet. “Microgreens are essentially immature plants that are harvested early, usually 1-3 weeks after the seed germinates, when they are about 2 inches tall,” explains Jessica Tosto, M.S., R.D., Clinical Coordinator, Nutrition and Dietetics College of Health Professions at Pace University. “They are more mature than sprouts and have actual leaves, but they are not quite true baby greens yet.” There’s a slight chance that you’ve stumbled upon microgreens and may have mistaken them for houseplants since they’re typically sold with their root system intact.
While they do count as greens, they are different from regular greens in more ways than just their size. In fact, microgreens are also said to have higher concentrations of bioactive components, including vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, according to Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com. This means you can eat far less than you would normal-sized greens and still get a ton of nutrients.
One downside of microgreens, however, is that they have a shorter shelf life than regular greens. “They tend to deteriorate quickly, so you can’t keep them in the fridge for multiple days until you’re ready to eat them, as you would with common greens, so it’s best to eat microgreens soon after they’ve been harvested,” adds Dr. Axe.
Back to the good news: Microgreens provide a ton of health benefits in a tiny little package. Here are some of the most noteworthy perks of piling your plate with microgreens.
They are packed with nutrients
Don’t let their small size fool you — they contain even more vitamins and minerals than mature plants per same-size leaf. In fact, a study out of the University of Maryland found that microgreens contained between 4-40 times more nutrients by weight than their fully-grown counterparts. “Among the 25 microgreens assayed for the study, red cabbage, cilantro, garnet amaranth and green daikon had the highest concentrations of nutrients,” says Dr. Axe. “In addition to providing vitamins and minerals, microgreens also contain polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants that help prevent the buildup of free radicals.”
They’re good for your heart
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. and eating more vegetables is associated with a reduced risk. “As more research on microgreens surfaces, we are seeing that they too can help in the fight against cardiovascular disease,” adds Dr. Axe.
They fight chronic disease
One of the best ways you can protect yourself from chronic disease is to eat a diet high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, all of which microgreens contain. “There’s plenty of evidence indicating that eating more vegetables can help to reduce inflammation and the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity,” says Dr. Axe. “Being that microgreens have a similar, if not enhanced, nutrient profile to common vegetables, and a higher amount of polyphenols, adding microgreens to your salads or favorite dishes is sure to reduce your risk of chronic disease.”