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Some Microgreens Contain Even More Beta-Carotene Than Carrots

Microgreens Are Rich in Beta-Carotene

When you think of beta-carotene, you probably conjure up images of carrots and other orange vegetables. But this health-promoting carotenoid is also found in a number of other foods, and some of them are not even orange! Many microgreens, for example, are loaded with beta-carotene. In fact, some microgreens, such as red sorrel, cilantro and red cabbage microgreens, have been shown to contain even more beta-carotene than carrots!

Now, for those who are not familiar with the term microgreens, it simply refers to the young, edible seedlings of plants like broccoli, arugula, chard, mustard and beetroot, picked and eaten just after the first leaves have developed. Microgreens differ from sprouts in that they are typically grown in soil or a similar medium, rather than water, and they are cut at the stem. Plus, microgreens require sunlight (or a grow light) to grow. Sprouts, by contrast, are grown in dark conditions without soil, and they are eaten seed and all.

In recent years, microgreens have become popular among chefs and foodies because they make an attractive garnish on salads and soups. But microgreens are not just pretty, they are also nutrient-dense and good for you.

In one study, researchers from the University of Maryland and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) analyzed the nutrient composition of 25 popular microgreen varieties and found that in general, microgreen cotyledon leaves had considerably higher nutritional densities than their mature counterparts (cotyledon leaves refer to the embryonic first leaves of a seedling). In particular, the levels of beta-carotene were impressive. With the exception of golden pea tendrils and popcorn shoots, all of the tested microgreens were packed with beta-carotene, and most of them also contained loads of other carotenoids, including lutein and zeaxanthin.

The highest beta-carotene levels were reported for red sorrel, cilantro, red cabbage, peppercress, green basil, garnet amaranth and wasabi microgreens, all of which contained more beta-carotene than raw carrots on a weight for weight basis. According to this study, also green pea shoots are an excellent source, providing 8.2 milligrams of beta-carotene per 100 grams, which is roughly as much as you would get from an equal-sized serving of carrots. Other microgreens that were found to contain a lot of beta-carotene, but not quite as much as carrots, include arugula, green daikon radish, mizuna, opal basil, opal radish, red beet, red mustard and red orach microgreens.

When incorporating carotenoid-rich microgreens into your diet, it is important to keep in mind that beta-carotene is a fat-soluble nutrient, meaning that your body needs dietary fat to help break it down. But you don't need much fat for that: a study published in the Journal of Nutrition suggests that as little as 3 to 5 grams of fat per meal is enough to have a significant positive impact on carotenoid absorption from foods. That's about the amount of fat in a teaspoon of olive oil!

1. Z. Xiao et al (2012). Assessment of Vitamin and Carotenoid Concentrations of Emerging Food Products: Edible Microgreens. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 60 (31), 7644-7651.
2. K.H. van Het Hof et al (2000). Dietary factors that affect the bioavailability of carotenoids. Journal of Nutrition, 130(3), 503-506.

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