It’s hard to top the potent nutritional benefits in a serving of leafy green vegetables. They’re so nutrient-rich that they can deliver a hearty dose of vitamins and minerals, plus muscle-building protein and inflammation-fighting phytochemicals, all in every bite. And they’re an essential part of any balanced diet. But here’s something that’ll surprise you about leafy greens: You can make them even more nutrient-packed by growing them yourself, right at home.
Scientists may have pinpointed exactly what your garden needs to grow microgreens that are extra nutritious. Here’s what you need to know as you plant your garden this spring to get even more nutritional value out of the greens you grow at home.
It’s all in the environment
Think all microgreens are the same, with the same superfood nutrients in their little leaves? Well, it turns out that not all microgreens – or leafy green vegetables – have the same nutrient profile. Their nutritional value can actually vary, depending on how they’re planted and cultivated.
It turns out that, while little was previously known about the true nutritional value of microgreens, research findings now suggest that the environment plays a key role. Varying conditions, both in home gardens and commercial growing settings, can alter just how nutritious a serving of microgreens may be.
A study published in ACS Food Science & Technology tested the results of growing microgreens from the Brassica family (which includes kale, broccoli, mustard and cabbage) in both a natural “home” setting and a commercial garden to see how – or if – their nutritional compounds would vary based on the environment. Researchers placed trays of broccoli and kale seeds either on a windowsill with natural sunlight or in a temperature- and humidity-controlled refrigerator growth chamber with artificial sunlight. After 10 days, the plants were harvested and their phytonutrient content was assessed.
When examined, the microgreens were all rich in polyphenols, an antioxidant-like compound, and glucosinolates, a kind of phytochemical, regardless of their environment. However, the amount of these compounds was noticeably different. The plants raised on a windowsill had higher amounts of flavanol compounds compared to those raised in a commercial garden. But the commercially-grown microgreens had more glucosinolates.
Both flavanols and glucosinolates are beneficial. And, luckily, if you’re growing microgreens at home, you can easily adjust your plants’ environment to get either – or both!
Tips to maximize your microgreens’ nutrients
To recreate the environmental factors that researchers noticed altered the nutrient levels in Brassica family microgreens, you can tweak your garden setup at home.
First and foremost, it’s easy to get more flavanols in your microgreens. Just put them in a sunny windowsill! Instead of planting your microgreen seedlings outdoors, try keeping them indoors for the first week or two to maximize those antioxidant-like compounds.
And when it comes to the glucosinolates, you can recreate a greenhouse environment in your available outdoor space. Microgreens don’t need a lot of space to grow, so you can utilize small greenhouse setups indoors or out to keep the humidity and temperature consistent for your seedlings. Or, if the temperature and humidity in your home are pretty even-tempered, you can grow them on a windowsill indoors and reap the benefits of maximizing both kinds of nutrients.
For more tips on growing your own greens and other ingredients, keep reading: