Healthy rewards from small spaces
Does the broccoli served on your plate still have the same original nutritional qualities after harvest and distribution to the consumer market? The answer is ‘maybe’, depending on how many days it was stored after harvest and how the vegetable is prepared for eating. Broccoli carries a big bang of nutrition when picked fresh from the garden or when grown as broccoli microgreens or sprouts.
Well here we are 2017, and as time continues on, so does the endeavors of science and government agencies around the world to find the resources to feed this ever-growing population. The challenge is finding the right foods for the people, and depending on which expert is consulted, the opinions vary greatly.
The topic for now is microgreens, specifically Broccoli microgreens. What are microgreens. I will use sprouts as an initial example, most everyone understands what sprouts are. They gained popularity in the 60’s and 70’s. Well microgreens are now gaining popularity as well as a new super food, grown indoors in an open air container with some sort of growing medium. Some use potting soil, coco-coir or a fiber pad in the growing process. Microgreens are grown for about 10 to 14 days for best results depending on the type of microgreen that you chose. There are growing concerns for the quality of food supermarkets are offering to the people.
My personal experience has been when buying fresh vegetables from the local grocer, that the vegetables start turning yellow within a day or two from bringing them home, or the store is out of vegetables altogether. As you may be able to tell, I live in a food dessert or a part of a geographic region where fresh vegetables are limited due to lack of local food producers. Now the idea of fresh can also vary from person to person. However, when a vegetable has to be transported hundreds or thousands of miles, there is a time loss and the longer that time gap, the fewer nutrients the vegetable retains when it is sold to the consumer.
The toll time takes on broccoli's nutritional value
Broccoli is a member of what is known as Cole Crops and this family has the most nutrient varieties. This including the (Brassica) mustard family, which are derived from wild cabbage. An article in the Women’s Health Weekly, May, 1999 compares broccoli bought in a supermarket to broccoli bought at a wholesale food market. The supermarket broccoli can have a 33 percent vitamin C loss and boiling the broccoli can create another 50 to 80 percent loss of vitamins. An article in the Medical Post from 2003 states that microwaving broccoli, even though it is convenient, results in a 97 percent flavonoid loss and a 74 to 87 percent loss of other phenolic compounds. Now, that is something to think about. To learn more, here is a link you might want to look at from the USDA's report on broccoli .
What are flavonoids and phenolic compounds you ask?
Researchers compared boiled, microwaved and steamed broccoli, and found that steaming broccoli for up to five minutes was the best way to retain its myrosinase. Here is what Google has to say about myrosinase - it’s a family of enzymes involved in plant defense against herbivores. Who would have ever thought that the word goggle would ever become a verb?
Phenolic compounds are antioxidants and anti-carcinogens which are vital to the maintenance of our body. Everyone has seen advertisements promoting good health and selling antioxidant supplements on television. They are usually the ones that come on during the evening news, late night TV, and even infomercials. This study I mention only covered broccoli. What does this information say about the other vegetables people consume, believing they are receiving proper nutritional value within the vegetables they purchase?
Flavonoids are plant chemicals known as phytonutrients which are found in many fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids are organic pigments that produce colors such as red, orange, and yellow. Both flavonoids and carotenoids are responsible for producing the brilliant colors in fruits and vegetables which attract insects for pollination. Phytonutrients ward off rouge electrons that are introduced to the body and seek out a mate to pair with to produce a new cell. When a healthy cell merges with another cell with foreign properties, the healthy cell takes on the traits of the rouge cell potentially creating disease or inflammation in the body. Free radicals are derived from environmental toxins that ultimately end up in our air, water, and food supply.
So how nutritious is cooked broccoli?
Broccoli can be a preventive antioxidant to significantly reduce your risk of developing cancers if you do not first destroy the enzyme myrosinase and other phytonutrients. Many people may have no idea to the role that food enzymes have in nutrition or what is the nutritional makeup of the food they consume.
Boiling and microwaving broccoli for one minute or less destroyed the majority of the enzyme, according to Elizabeth Jeffery, a researcher at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Steaming broccoli preserves the most nutritional value to retain chlorophyll, soluble protein, soluble sugar, vitamin C, and glucosinolates (source). One other footnote to consider, when cutting fresh vegetables, avoid soaking them in water for an extended period of time as the nutrients can leach out into the water. Simply rinsing your vegetables prior to preparation would suffice.
The popular method of stir-frying broccoli in vegetable dishes often found in Asian cuisine results in similar nutrition retention as found in steaming. So the end result would seem that steaming, not only broccoli, but other vegetables would retain the highest nutritional value resulting in a higher quality of health and taste. Myself, I love a good vegetable stir-fry with a healthy oil such as olive oil or coconut oil as the hot oil helps retain the nutrition which makes this cooking method so popular.
What happens to broccoli in the microwave?
There are many studies regarding the dangers and benefits of microwave use. In one study specifically from Harvard University researchers found that microwaving broccoli or any other vegetable can be as healthy or as detrimental to the vegetable as boiling. The reason being, water is commonly used in the microwave process which allows the steaming of the vegetable from the inside out. So the longer a vegetable is cooked in the microwave, the more water penetrates, thus creating the leaching of the nutrients from the vegetable resulting in the same loss as if the vegetable was boiled. The point here is the least time needed to process the vegetable in the microwave, the more nutrients will be retained.
Would this be a good time to consider the nutrition in microgreens?
Microgreens come in many varieties, however I am specifically discussing the nutrients in broccoli which contains an abundance of Glucosinolates (GL’s) which are a vital component of the phytochemicals within the Brassicaceae family of vegetables. GL’s are found in large amounts in broccoli sprouts and are a crucial component contributing to the defense and tolerance a plant has against pathogens. Research also suggests that GL’s are major defense against pancreas, lung, stomach, colon and rectal and prostate cancer (source). Microgreens are young edible greens usually grown for 7−14 days from vegetables, herbs, or other plants, ranging in size from 2 to 4 inches long including stem and first leaf (cotyledons).
Research to test the nutritional value of broccoli sprouts using mice found that there is a strong correlation between eating broccoli sprouts and aiding the suppression of prostate and other cancers. Even though the study mentioned the use of sprouts, microgreens also offer similar nutrients and health benefits. Microgreens are more mature than sprouts, growing them to the first leaf stage in about 7 to 14 days. Fresh cut microgreens, especially if raised in the home and used immediately upon cutting, offer all of the benefits that are lost by using the previously discussed methods of preparation, such as boiling.
Broccoli microgreens are commonly eaten in a raw state, therefore there is no nutrient loss because no steaming or boiling is involved. While microgreens and sprouts may provide less Vitamin A and C of mature broccoli heads, they do provide the added benefit of higher amounts of Vitamin K. A broccoli sprout study at Johns Hopkins University revealed that broccoli sprouts only three days old can have up to 50 time more phytonutrients as the mature broccoli head. Therefore the short growing cycle of microgreens provides health conscious consumers with a fast way to enjoy fresh and nutritious vegetables that are packed with a healthy punch of phytonutrients and vitamins.
With any fresh vegetable, time is a nutritional enemy, so the sooner a vegetable can go from field to fork, the more nutrition is available for the consumer. So, next time you are considering eating broccoli, weigh these three factors
These factors are all options to optimize the nutrition you receive back from the eating choices you have made.
Hello gardeners. We are James LeValley and Cathy LeValley, owners of New Earth Micro Farm and passionate gardeners of fast and easy growing using small spaces. Waiting 3 or 4 months for a vegetable to grow - not for us. Growing micro and mini vegetables in 10 to 60 days provides a quick turnaround to support organic growing methods for greater nutrition.