Microgreens and mature vegetables may offer different nutrients, but they might both be effective in limiting weight gain, new research suggests.
Microgreens – older than sprouts but younger than baby greens – have been touted by some as a superfood, and scientists are aiming to find out if they have earned this reputation, and how they compare with fully grown veg.
According to researchers, while studies show their nutritional profiles differ with microgreens being richer in substances that may offer protection from cancer, tests in mice suggest both microgreen and mature vegetables can limit weight gain.
The findings were presented at the American Chemical Society Fall 2023 hybrid meeting.
Thomas Wang, the project’s principal investigator, said: “The scientific literature suggests that cruciferous vegetables, like kale and broccoli, are good for you.”
The scientist at the Agricultural Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is working with collaborators there and at the University of Maryland, College Park.
He added: “When we started this research, not a lot was known about the nutrient content or biological effects of microgreens, so we thought we should take a look at them.”
Microgreens are typically harvested within a couple of weeks after they start growing, and they can easily be grown in a container on a windowsill.
The researchers started their studies with another cruciferous plant – red cabbage.
They found that both young and fully grown cabbage limited weight gain in mice fed a high-fat diet.
However, the cabbage’s nutrient profile changed over time, and the microgreen was significantly richer in substances such as glucosinolates – nitrogen – and sulphur-containing compounds that may offer protection from cancer.
Next, the scientists turned their attention to kale and found that the nutritional composition is very different.
According to the findings, the immature plant has about five times more glucosinolates.
Similarly, further studies by the researchers, and others, suggest that nutrient levels in several other types of cruciferous vegetables are higher in the immature plants.
Mr Wang thinks the weight effects in mice may in part be related to the vegetable’s impact on the animals’ microbiome – gut bacteria.
In the latest study, scientists compared the biological effects of microgreen and fully grown kale.
They discovered that both the young plant and mature kale are effective in limiting weight gain in mice fed a high-fat diet.
Further research is needed to see if humans would experience these same benefits.
Consumption of kale, regardless of its maturity, increases the variety of gut bacteria, the researchers found.
However, that enhancement was more pronounced with microgreens.
The researchers will continue to study the impact of other cruciferous plants on health, and say the findings could help guide diners who dislike some of these foods but are seeking alternatives that taste better to them.
Mr Wang explained: “For instance, for people who don’t like broccoli, can we find some other vegetable they like better that have similar health effects?”
It is also possible that the flavour profiles of these vegetables could be altered to make them more palatable.