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Superfoods: Microgreens

Today, no farmer’s market would seem complete without a stall selling microgreens. These tiny plants, that come in a variety of vibrant colours and shapes, have been gaining popularity and attention as a superfood in culinary and health-conscious communities over the last few years, and rightfully so.

The role of microgreens

According to the British Dietetic Association, malnutrition has become a significant public health concern, costing the NHS over £19 billion annually in England alone. It is estimated that around 3 million people in the UK suffer from malnutrition, or are at risk of it, with the elderly population being particularly vulnerable.

So what exactly is driving this worrying trend?

One factor is our increasing consumption of processed foods that are advertised as low in fat, sugar, cholesterol, and salt. While these products often seem like healthy options, they also often lack essential vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. As a result, many people, especially as they age, are not obtaining enough high-quality sources of nutrition. In this context, microgreens along with other superfoods can play a valuable role in addressing this problem. Microgreens and other superfoods tend to be nutrient dense and offer a concentrated source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Getting more superfoods into your diet can help fill any nutritional gaps caused by processed, nutrient-poor foods. First let's take a quick look at the role of superfoods.

What qualifies a food as a superfood?

‘Superfoods’ refers to nutrient dense foods that are believed to provide a variety of health benefits as they are typically a rich source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other important nutrients.

With the increasing availability of quick and easy-to-prepare, processed foods, much of the population worldwide is eating a diet lacking in good nutrition, and for many, their health is paying the price. Many people feel overwhelmed by the idea of completely overhauling their diet and, for them, adding superfoods to what they already eat can be a simple and affordable way of increasing the nutritional content of their meals. Remember, doing something is always better than doing nothing. Here are a few specific benefits of adding superfoods to your existing diet:

Nutrient rich: Superfoods are packed with essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and other nutrients in higher concentrations compared to regular foods.

Easy to incorporate: Many superfoods can be easily added to your existing meals and snacks. For example, adding berries to porridge or smoothies, sprinkling chia seeds on yoghurt, or using kale in salads are simple ways to enjoy the benefits of superfoods without making drastic changes.

Quick boost: Superfoods can provide a quick and easy nutritional boost, making them ideal if you don't have the time to prepare elaborate meals. A small serving of any superfood can contribute significant nutrients to the diet.

Versatility: Superfoods come in various forms, such as fresh, frozen, dried or in powder form. This versatility allows you to choose the form that best fits your preferences and lifestyle.

Health benefits: Superfoods are often associated with a wide range of health benefits such as supporting heart health, improving digestion, enhancing immune function and providing antioxidants that help protect your body against oxidative stress and inflammation.

Natural approach: Superfoods are generally whole, natural foods that offer a holistic approach to health. Choosing superfoods means opting for minimally processed options.

Diverse: There is a wide variety of superfoods available, catering to different tastes, preferences and dietary needs. This diversity allows you to enjoy a range of flavours and nutrients. Here are just a few options available to you:

  • Berries (e.g., blueberries, strawberries, acai berries): Packed With antioxidants, vitamins, and fibre, berries are known for their potential to promote heart health and support the immune system.

  • Leafy greens (e.g., kale, spinach, Swiss Chard): Leafy greens are excellent sources of vitamins A, C, K, and folate, as well as minerals like iron and calcium. They are associated with improved bone health, reduced risk of chronic diseases, and support for the nervous system.

  • Nuts and seeds (e.g., Almonds, chia seeds, flaxseeds): Nuts and seeds are rich in healthy fats, protein, fibre, vitamins, and minerals. They can contribute to heart health, aid in weight management, and provide essential nutrients.

  • Salmon: A Fatty fish that is abundant in omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart health and brain function. Make sure to always choose organic or wild Alaskan salmon since farmed salmon is today a very toxic food.

  • Quinoa: A gluten-free grain that is a complete source of protein for vegans and vegetarians, containing all the essential amino acids, as well as vitamins, and minerals.

  • Turmeric: Known for its active compound, curcumin, turmeric has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

  • Greek yoghurt: High in protein and probiotics, Greek yoghurt supports digestive health and provides essential nutrients.

  • Green tea: Rich In antioxidants called catechins, green tea is associated with various health benefits, including improved brain function and reduced risk of certain cancers.

  • Avocado: A fruit that is a good source of healthy monounsaturated fats, vitamins and minerals, and is linked to heart health.

  • Wheatgrass: The young grass of the common wheat plant, Triticum aestivum, harvested at an early stage before it reaches its full maturity, wheatgrass is rich in essential nutrients including Vitamins A, C and E, as well as minerals such as iron, magnesium, calcium, and zinc. It also contains chlorophyll, the green pigment responsible for photosynthesis and which has been linked to various health benefits, including detoxification, improved wound healing and potential anti-cancer properties. Wheatgrass is also a source of various enzymes that can aid in digestion and support other biochemical processes in the body. In addition to all these benefits wheatgrass is abundant in antioxidants, such as flavonoids and phenolic compounds, which help neutralise harmful free radicals and protect the body from oxidative stress.

  • Broccoli sprouts: The young, tender shoots of broccoli plants, harvested just a few days after germination, are regarded as a superfood. Broccoli sprouts are an abundant source of sulforaphane, a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound. Sulforaphane is believed to support the body's defence against oxidative stress and help reduce inflammation, potentially providing protection against chronic diseases. Sulforaphane has also been associated with supporting the body’s natural detoxification processes, helping it to eliminate harmful substances and toxins. Studies have suggested that sulforaphane in broccoli sprouts may have anti-cancer properties by inhibiting the growth of cancer cells and promoting apoptosis (programmed cell death), in certain types of cancer. Simply add a handful of broccoli sprouts to a salad or on top of toast with smashed avocado.

The latest superfood on the block: microgreens

Microgreens are essentially young vegetables that are harvested when they are just one to two weeks old. During this early stage of growth, they contain a concentrated amount of nutrients that are necessary for their development into mature plants. Recent studies have shown that these young plants contain much more nutrients than their more mature incarnations.

For instance, red cabbage microgreens have been found to contain an astonishing 62 times more vitamin A than the fully grown plant. Similarly, other microgreens like broccoli exhibit elevated levels of vitamin C, radish contains vitamin E, and sunflower microgreens contain iron. Their impressive nutritional content, including heightened levels of specific nutrients compared to their mature counterparts, make them a valuable addition to our diets. The presence of beneficial compounds like chlorophyll further contributes to their potential health advantages. Some other popular plants that can be grown as microgreens include:

  • Rocket

  • Basil

  • Chard

  • Coriander

  • Kale

  • Mustard greens

  • Pea shoots

  • Spinach

  • Watercress

  • Red or green lettuce

  • Dill

  • Fennel

By incorporating microgreens into our meals, we can harness their exceptional nutritional profile and enhance our overall well-being. These greens are also known for their vibrant colours, delicate textures, and intense flavours, which can range from spicy to sweet, depending on the type of microgreen. They are often used as a garnish or ingredient in salads, sandwiches, soups, and other dishes, adding both visual appeal and a burst of fresh taste.

Microgreen and Feta Salad

Here is a delicious, healthy microgreen salad from my recipes page. Try it out today to get started on your microgreens journey

Due to their popularity and nutritional value, microgreens are commonly grown by both commercial farmers and enthusiasts in indoor settings, such as greenhouses or trays placed near a sunny window. They require minimal space and time to grow, making them accessible to home gardeners and urban dwellers with limited gardening space. There is something hugely satisfying growing your own food at home. I have successfully been growing sprouted broccoli, wheatgrass and my latest project is microgreens. It’s easy, chemical free, grown in organic sourced soil and adds intense flavour to any dish.

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