From the second you conceive, your body kicks into high gear to ensure your unborn baby will be nourished, protected, and ready to grow and thrive in the best possible environment. This also means your nutrient requirements increase throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding.
The challenge during pregnancy is to get enough nutrients for yourself and your growing baby, says clinical paediatric dietician Kath Megaw. “Pregnant women need an adequate amount of macro nutrients (those needed in large amounts) and micro nutrients, which are needed in smaller amounts,” she adds. Of course, antioxidants and phytonutrients from plants are important, too, as they keep your immune system strong.
But with morning sickness, an ever-growing belly, fatigue and generally feeling uncomfortable, it’s sometimes difficult to eat well throughout pregnancy and get all the nutrients you need. This is where microgreens come in. “Regarded as one of the most potent superfoods you can find, these tiny plants will help you feel your best throughout pregnancy and support your growing baby,” says local producer Shaun Miller, co-founder and director of Urban Micro Greens.
What are microgreens?
As the name suggests, microgreens are the smallest shoots of salad vegetables such as rocket, celery and beetroot and are generally picked just after the first leaves have developed.
Once seen as a humble garnish used to decorate the main course in a restaurant, microgreens are fast becoming known for their superior nutrient qualities – thanks to a 2014 study, where researchers at the US Department of Agriculture discovered nearly all the 25 varieties of microgreens tested, had four to six times more vitamins and phytochemicals than mature leaves from the same plant.
“This is because all the nutrients the plant requires to produce a lifetime of fruit and vegetable are contained in the first shoot,” explains Shaun. In fact, he maintains microgreens are now being recognised for their value as a flavourful superfood with up to 40% higher concentrations of nutrients than older plants.
Even better news is some of the most essential micro nutrients needed for a healthy pregnancy are all highly concentrated in the “shoots” of vegetables. “Although they’re tiny, microgreens are packed with flavour and nutrients,” says Shaun. This is ideal for pregnant women as it means you can eat less food, but get all the nutrients you need. In addition, microgreens are also rich in vitamins C, K and E, lutein, phenols and polyphenols, calcium, magnesium and zinc,” he adds. What’s not to love?
Watch out for cheap imitations
“Microgreens shouldn’t be confused with sprouts, which are the shoots of legumes, beans, chickpeas and lentils,” says Shaun. “As soon as a shoot starts growing, the leaves start to deplete the plant of its nutrients.” This is called a baby leaf, and while it’s also considered nutritious, it’s not as highly concentrated as a microgreen. Another way to tell the difference is by looking at the leaves. “The leaves you see on microgreens will always be two leaves opposite each other – these are the cotyledons, which are the first leaves to appear from a germinating seed,” he explains.
How to include microgreens in your daily diet
This is easier than you think, says Kath. For example, you could add wheatgrass to your breakfast smoothie, and voila, you have a microgreen enriched snack-on-the-go. Microgreens can also be added to just about any cooked dish. You only need a tablespoon or two to give you the nutrients you need.
Studies have also found that the more flavours you expose your baby to through amniotic fluid during pregnancy and breastmilk later, the greater the chance your baby will recognise and enjoy different tastes, explains Dr Danielle Prime, lactation scientist and researcher for Medela. Because microgreens are so potent in flavour, it’s a good idea to include them in your diet as early as possible, as this will help to build and establish healthy eating habits later.
If you have a fussy toddler in the house, microgreens are ideal, because they’re small enough to be secretly added to any main dish. Sprinkle them on top of a spaghetti Bolognese dish or add them into eggs, salads, wraps and hamburgers − just make sure to always serve them raw, never cooked, adds Shaun.
4 essential micronutrients for a healthy pregnancy
Want to give your body a much-needed boost? According to Kath, there are five key nutrients you should focus on throughout your pregnancy.
An essential nutrient before, during and after pregnancy, folate helps to reduce the risk of spina bifida in newborns. It also assists the body in forming new blood cells and ensuring tissues grow and cells work efficiently.
Sources: Leafy greens are rich in folate, which is why microgreens are high in this nutrient.
During pregnancy, your blood volume increases significantly to help transport oxygen and nutrients to your baby. Iron plays a key role in this process as it’s an essential mineral responsible for transporting oxygen to red blood cells. This means getting enough iron is especially important in the third trimester, explains Kath.
Sources: Iron is found in red meat, and dark greens like spinach and kale. Microgreen shoots in the green leafy group are rich sources of iron.
This is the non-toxic form of vitamin A and is essential for the development of a healthy immune system.
Sources: Two vegetables, namely carrots and beetroot are high in beta carotene. Also, the microgreens from these vegetables contain up to nine times the amount of beta carotene that is found in the mature versions of these vegetable varieties.
This mineral helps to balance fluid in the body. It also regulates the transfer of sodium and keeps blood pressure levels in check.
Sources: Potassium is found in most vegetables, especially celery. The content of potassium in microgreens is extremely high, which means you’ll reach the recommended daily amount with ease during pregnancy.