Many of us were told to “eat our greens” as children. Now, new research suggests that we should eat our microgreens, after finding that the red cabbage variety of the tiny vegetable may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

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Researchers found that red cabbage microgreens significantly reduced circulating levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol in mice fed a high-fat diet.
Image credit: American Chemical Society

Study co-author Thomas T.Y. Wang, of the United States Department of Agriculture in Beltsville, MD, and colleagues recently reported their findings in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Microgreens are seedlings of edible plants and herbs that can be grown indoors and harvested in just 1-2 weeks, when they are still immature.

Although they were once only served in high-end restaurants as a garnish, microgreens have grown in popularity in recent years, with more than 40 types now gracing the window boxes of homes across the United States.

Basil, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, lettuce, kale, and red cabbage are just some of the herbs and vegetables that can be grown as microgreens, but why are some people opting for these over the fully mature types?

Though small in size, studies have suggested that microgreens are big in nutrients. One study found that the tiny leaves of microgreens have up to 40 times the amount of nutrients – such as vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene – than the leaves of their mature counterparts.

Now, the new study from Wang and colleagues provides evidence that the high levels of nutrients in microgreens may translate into significant health benefits.

Previous research has suggested that mature red cabbage may reduce levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. This is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, as excess levels can raise the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases.

With this in mind, Wang and team hypothesized that red cabbage microgreens may be even more beneficial for cholesterol levels, given their higher nutrient content.

To test this theory, the researchers used 60 mice that had diet-induced obesity and randomized them to one of six feeding groups for 8 weeks:

  • A low-fat diet
  • A high-fat diet
  • A low-fat diet supplemented with red cabbage microgreens
  • A high-fat diet supplemented with red cabbage microgreens
  • A low-fat diet supplemented with mature red cabbage
  • A high-fat diet supplemented with mature red cabbage

The researchers found that supplementation with either red cabbage microgreens or mature red cabbage reduced weight gain induced by a high-fat diet, and the vegetables also lowered LDL cholesterol levels in the liver.

However, the red cabbage microgreens were found to contain higher levels of polyphenols and glucosinolates – compounds that can lower cholesterol – than mature cabbage, and mice fed the tiny vegetables alongside a high-fat diet showed much lower circulating levels of LDL cholesterol.

Furthermore, red cabbage microgreens were found to reduce levels of triglycerides – a type of fat that can increase the risk of heart disease – in the liver.

Based on their results, the researchers conclude that red cabbage microgreens may be more beneficial for heart health than mature red cabbage:

These data suggest that microgreens can modulate weight gain and cholesterol metabolism and may protect against CVD [cardiovascular disease] by preventing hypercholesterolemia.”

Read about a study that suggests daily low-dose aspirin could benefit heart health.