Leek, mustard, broccoli, fenugreek, sesame, kale, turnip — most of you must have enjoyed eating these foods as part of a healthy diet plan. But did you know these herbs and vegetables are collectively known as ‘microgreens’? Considered to be extremely nutritious, they are also termed as ‘superfoods’ and can be grown in a short span of time — between a week to 14 days. This is why, perhaps, not only are people increasingly consuming them, but also are becoming ‘microgreen entrepreneurs’.
Meet Swati Jain, founder of The First Leaf, who “intrigued by the power of the tiny greens” for her family’s — especially her daughter’s — growing nutritional needs, and external factors like pollution, started growing microgreens at her New Delhi home five years ago. “I started gathering more knowledge about them. I read, researched, experimented and finally started growing my own microgreens. As the health benefits ensued, I realised how these tiny miracles of nature can help many more people lead a healthier and happier life,” the 36-year-old told indianexpress.com.
What are microgreens?
A seed goes through various growth stages before it becomes a mature plant. One of these stages is the ‘microgreens’ stage, in which the seed develops into tiny plants that are bigger than sprouts but smaller than baby greens, explained Swati.
Since their introduction to the Californian restaurant scene in the 1980s, microgreens have steadily gained popularity. Microgreens are a tender form of green leafy vegetables, herbs, and pulses. These are approximately 1–3 inches (2.5–7.5 cm) tall. “They are a great source of vitamins and minerals which are called micronutrients and are required in small amounts by the body,” said Dr Megha Jaina, clinical nutritionist.
Why are we talking about microgreens?
A huge portion of the Indian population suffers from micronutrient deficiency that leads to impaired growth and many serious health conditions like heart diseases, diabetes, and also cancer. “Deficiency of essential vitamins and minerals results in poor physical and mental health, anaemia, impaired immune endocrine functions. Such deficiency can be caused by lack of balanced diet, not meeting dietary requirements during pregnancy, old age or times of sickness often. Certain drug or medication usage depletes the absorption of micronutrients leading to deficiencies,” explained Dr Jaina.
Every day, more than 6,000 children below the age of five die in India. More than half of these deaths are caused by malnutrition-mainly the lack of vitamin A, iron, iodine, zinc and folic acid. About 57 per cent of preschoolers and their mothers have subclinical vitamin A deficiency, said Dr Samrat Shah, Consultant Internist, Bhatia Hospital Mumbai.
The connection between microgreens and micronutrient deficiencies
Classification of micronutrients
-Water-Soluble vitamins – Vitamin that is dissolved in fat and stored for future use in the liver and fatty tissues of the body.
– Micro minerals – Minerals required in less quantity by the body to carry out vital functions. Eg: calcium, phosphorus, and sodium.
– Trace Minerals: Minerals required in least amount by the body. Eg: Iodine, Iron, Manganese etc.
According to Dr Samrat, some common symptoms of micronutrient deficiencies are pallor, or pale skin, fatigue, weakness, breathing trouble, unusual food cravings, hair loss. periods of lightheadedness and constipation.
Micronutrient deficiencies can travel through generations but they can be prevented by food, supplements and fortification. “We can bridge this nutritional gap by making microgreens a part of every home, every meal, said Swati. Currently, microgreens are very important, especially in these tough times of a pandemic, said entrepreneur Jugal Jain.
“Microgreens can help boost your immunity as they contain up to 40 times more nutrients than their mature counterpart. It can provide very high nutrients in very small quantities and hence it is also being investigated as a space crop across the globe,” mentioned 26-year-old Jugal, the founder of Pune-based venture The Herb Store that began two years ago.
While their nutrient contents vary slightly, most varieties tend to be rich in potassium, iron, zinc, magnesium and copper, said Dr Samrat.
Benefits of microgreens and why are they termed ‘superfood’?
According to Swati, these seedlings of vegetables, herbs and grains are harvested seven to 14 days after germination and are packed with a wealth of minerals, vitamins and health-promoting nutrients that make them the superfood that they are.
*40 times more nutritious than fully grown vegetables
*Packed with antioxidants and healthy nutrients
*Rich source of vitamin A,B,C, E and K
*Abundant in phytonutrients that prevent diseases and infections
According to Dr Samrat, eating microgreens is linked to a lower risk of many diseases such as:
*Heart disease: Microgreens are a rich source of polyphenols, a class of antioxidants linked to a lower risk of heart disease. Animal studies show that microgreens may lower triglyceride and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels.
*Alzheimer’s disease: Antioxidant-rich foods, including those containing high amounts of polyphenols,may be linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease .
*Diabetes: Antioxidants may help reduce the type of stress that can prevent sugar from entering cells. In lab studies, fenugreek microgreens appeared to enhance cellular sugar uptake by 25–44 per cent.
*Certain cancers: Antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, especially those rich in polyphenols, may lower the risk of various types of cancer. Polyphenol-rich microgreens may be expected to have similar effects .
Types of microgreens to know about
The most popular varieties are produced using seeds from the following plant families
Brassicaceae family: Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, watercress, radish and arugula
Asteraceae family: Lettuce, endive, chicory and radicchio
Apiaceae family: Dill, carrot, fennel and celery
Amaryllidaceae family: Garlic, onion, leek
Amaranthaceae family: Amaranth, quinoa swiss chard, beet and spinach
Cucurbitaceae family: Melon, cucumber and squash
How to include microgreens in your diet?
When you eat food that’s closest to its natural living state, you ensure that your body gets maximum nutrients and living enzymes that are necessary for the absorption of these nutrients by your body. That’s why, it is important to consume microgreens as living foods. “Simply follow the principle of clipping-washing-eating a live crop,” said Swati.
“Never cook your microgreens. Always eat them raw. They’re delicate in nature and the moment you expose them to heat, they start losing their vitality and nutrition, too. You needn’t whip up anything fancy or lavish to consume microgreens. You can easily add them to your everyday recipes. Toss them in your salads. Squeeze them in your sandwiches. Blend them in your chutneys, dips, juices or raitas. Or simply sprinkle them over your dals and subzis,” she mentioned. Agreed Jugal and said you can make “smoothies too”.
However, one must be careful while using microgreens as they may contain microorganisms not visible to the naked eye, remarked Dr Megha.
How to grow your own microgreens?
Growing microgreens is easy and economical, said Swati. “What’s amazing is that the material required for growing them are readily available at home. One can simply use the takeaway/delivery boxes from eateries or small clay pots (gamlas) for growing microgreens. Also, one needn’t worry too much about investing in the seeds at the beginner level since a lot of seeds are available in our kitchen itself. For instance, Mustard, Sesame, Chia, Basil, Moong, Chana etc,” she said.
“You take microgreens growing tray and fill it with coco peat or any other organic mix. After that spread your microgreen seeds and spray water. After seven days, your microgreens are ready to be harvested,” described Jugal.
However, one must always use untreated/organic seeds and also do thorough research before growing any seed as a microgreen since certain seeds can be toxic when sprouted and grown as microgreens, stated Swati.
Why should you try and grow your own microgreens?
Since it is best to be consumed within 3-4 hours of harvest to get the best flavour and nutrient content, contend the entreprenuers.
“The basic nutrients that keep us alive are getting reduced from are everyday diet, this pandemic should be treated as a wake-up call to improve our health, improve immunity and our lifestyle. Microgreens can be a solution to all these problems right from improving immunity to improving our eating habits. Just 50g microgreens in your everyday diet can do improve your immunity and lifestyle,” said Jugal.