The age of the vegetables you eat may play a part in weight loss, a study has suggested.
Very young and very mature vegetables may offer different nutrients, but they might both be effective in limiting weight gain, research shows.
Microgreens, which are positioned between seedlings and baby greens in terms of growth stage, have been touted as potential superfoods.
They are typically harvested within a couple of weeks after they start sprouting, and they can easily be grown in a container on a windowsill.
Microgreens are richer in substances that may offer protection from cancer, tests in mice suggest.
These findings were highlighted at an American Chemical Society hybrid meeting.
Dr Thomas Wang, the project’s lead researcher and a scientist at the Agricultural Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), in collaboration with the University of Maryland, College Park, decided to investigate the nutritional offerings of microgreens further.
The research team began their investigations with red cabbage.
They observed that both young and mature cabbage could limit weight gain in mice on a high-fat diet. The nutrient profile of the cabbage varied with its age.
The microgreens exhibited a higher concentration of glucosinolates – nitrogen and sulphur-rich compounds which might protect against cancer.
Their research continued with kale and found striking differences in its nutritional composition.
Immature kale plants contained about five times the amount of glucosinolates compared to their mature versions.
Other studies echoed these findings, suggesting that younger versions of several cruciferous vegetables typically contain higher nutrient levels.
According to Dr Wang, the weight-regulating effects observed in mice might be attributed in part to these vegetables' influence on the microbiome, specifically gut bacteria.
When comparing the biological effects of young kale microgreens to mature kale, both seemed to be effective in curbing weight gain in mice on a high-fat diet. However, there was a more pronounced enhancement in gut bacteria variety with microgreens.
While further research is essential to determine if humans can enjoy these benefits, the findings provide a promising lead for those seeking tasty and nutritious vegetable alternatives.
Dr Wang said: “The scientific literature suggests that cruciferous vegetables, like kale and broccoli, are good for you.
“For those who aren’t fans of broccoli, we're looking to find another vegetable that they might prefer, but that still offers similar health effects.”
Additionally, there is potential in altering the flavour profiles of these vegetables to enhance their appeal.
While some health-boosting components like glucosinolates can be bitter, Dr Wang believes that these compounds might be present in amounts greater than needed for health advantages.
If proven true, breeding could potentially reduce these levels, decreasing associated bitterness and making these greens even more appealing to a broader audience.