The world is currently experiencing the pandemic of COVID-19 which is highly contagious. With global pandemic spreading, India is among the worst-hit countries in the world; most of us may get the SARS-CoV II infection at a certain period of time. Due to the novelty of this virus, there is no specific treatment for COVID-19 till today; most of the case management is supportive and symptomatic measures. In this scenario, science should focus not only in effective drugs but also in nutrition. As a matter of fact, nutrition is particularly useful to ailments for which an etiologic treatment has not yet been discovered and validated. Hence, a viable option for COVID-19 management is through medical-nutrition therapy.
The importance of good nutritional status has been highlighted in the COVID-19 pandemic in order to strengthen the immune system for infection prevention as well as to promote overall health in times of ongoing pandemic.
Consuming balanced diet is the way to go. One way to keep our immune system strong is to consume balanced diet containing all the food groups in adequate amount to provide energy, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, as well as health protective nutrients. Our daily diet must include cereals, pulses, meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, fats and sugars, fruits and vegetables etc. Dietary and nutritional constituents known to exert anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties include omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, as well as a variety of phytochemicals, such as polyphenols carotenoids, they are widely present in plant-based foods. Food and Agriculture Organization of World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) recommends that people consume at least 400 grams of fruit and vegetables daily because of its health protective roles. However, COVID-19 pandemic has impaired the food supply chain, and disturbs the availability and affordability of the fresh produce hence provokes the already serious problems of malnutrition especially the micronutrient deficiencies. In the course of lockdown, urban populations depend mainly on heavily processed and convenient foods because of their longer shelf life and unavailability of fresh produce. Highly processed foods are loaded with saturated fats, sugar, salt, calories, and low levels of dietary fiber so it impairs adaptive immunity and host defense against viral pathogens. Thus, it is alarmingly important to increase local food production at the community levels to complement the supply of fresh fruits and vegetables at the household level during this COVID era.
Using Microgreens (MG’s) is an easy way of incorporating fresh ingredients to our menu; they are loaded with nutrients, and can be easily grown by consumers themselves at the comfort of their home in a limited space in a short period of time. They are the edible seedlings harvested for consumption within 10–20 days of germination when the first pairs of true leaves just appear. MG’s are harvested later than sprouts but younger than saplings. The edible components of a microgreen are the stem, tender cotyledonary leaves and a pair of young true leaves. They are harvested just above the roots and are generally consumed raw to retain nutritional benefits and their fresh, crisp appeal. Microgreens can be incorporated in salads, smoothies and sandwhiches. Due to their immaturity, these tender young greens tend to have concentrated flavors, and often enhance and complement the flavor of main dish.
Microgreens are rich source of numerous nutrients that are pivotal for health including carotenoids (provitamin A), vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin B6 and folate as well as essential minerals like magnesium, manganese, zinc, and selenium, which can regulate immune functions. In addition to their high nutritional value, microgreens are considered functional foods, a food with particular health-promoting or disease-preventing properties. The Brassica microgreens (broccoli, mustard, kale, brussel sprouts etc.) for instance, contain compounds that perhaps protect against cancer including glucosinolates and carotenoids, and are also good sources of minerals like potassium, calcium, iron, and zinc. MG’s contain polyphenols exhibiting antioxidant activity which play an important role in the control of hypertension, diabetes, and weight gain, some of the most important risk factors for COVID-19 complications. Antioxidants help to eliminate unstable waste molecules from the body known as free radicals and support the immune response.
Make the best use of superfoods in the kitchen. Herbs and vegetables such as fennel, celery, coriander, basil, thyme, mustard, amaranth, beet, radish, broccoli, spinach, wheatgrass, red cabbage, lettuce, green gram, pea etc. and flowers e.g., sunflowers, marigold can be grown as microgreens. One need not to leave their home to procure seeds because most of these seeds are already available in our kitchen. However, microgreen of potatoes, tomatoes, brinjal, and pepper should not be consumed because they contain toxic compounds which can adversely affect digestive and nervous system. These superfoods can grow either in soil or hydroponically, a soilless production method using a nutrient solution in water in and around residential areas. Growing MG’s are suitable for city dwellers where land is often a limiting factor. MG’s cultivation closely resembles sprout production. Seeds are soaked overnight to enhance germination and are spread on a shallow trays with drained holes lined with wet tissue papers, placed in reduced light condition during germination. Once the seeds germinate, they may be exposed to sunlight, covered with a wet cloth to retain humidity and watered daily until the first set of true leaves begin to emerge. MG’s can be grown organically without external inputs like fertilizers and pesticides. Recent studies have shown that microgreens have more antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin K and carotenoids when compared to their mature counterparts because they are harvested right after germination, so all the nutrients a plant requires to grow are present. Phytonutrients levels vary according to the growth stages of the plant and often decrease from the seedling to the fully developed stage.
Microgreens protect major organs. Diet and nutrition has a profound effect on immune system and determine the risk and severity of infections. Microgreens may not have direct effect on curbing the virus but these could help indirectly by protecting major organs due to their antioxidant potential and strengthen one’s immune system and develop a first line of defence system against the virus. Taking care of yourself and your loved ones in the midst of the pandemic is very crucial. Therefore, improving the diet quality in susceptible individuals for COVID-19 might minimize the infection risk and lessen the severity of the clinical outcome along with public healthcare measures.
Home gardens provide continuous source of easily available fresh fruits and vegetables in the homestead round-the-clock. Growing and consumption of microgreens represents a viable mechanism for diversifying food production systems, a quick means to improve our diet and helps to ensure nutritional security during the pandemic while rediscovering the beneficial distress effects of gardening. The versatility and sustainability of these produce are quite impressive and worth the effort. Considering their high nutritional value, potent flavors, appealing sensory qualities, and ease of growing there’s no reason to not incorporate microgreen into our diet.
First published:3 Oct 2020, 3:11 am
immunity boostersuperfoodimmune systemmicrogreens
Maibam Baby Devi
PhD Research Scholar, Department of Food Engineering & Technology, Tezpur University