Most of us don’t like eating vegetables. They are generally devoid of flavor, can be quite bitter, and even come in some unsightly shades of green. But like it or not, vegetables are good for you, as they have more vitamins and nutrients that the body absolutely requires and can be great for the digestive tract.
A beneficial food
A new study involving mice has found that when broccoli is incorporated into a regular diet, the mice were able to better tolerate digestive issue similarly seen during conditions such as leaky gut and colitis.
This observation was also seen for other vegetables like Brussel sprouts and cauliflower.
“There are a lot of reasons we want to explore helping with gastrointestinal health and one reason is if you have problems, like a leaky gut, and start to suffer inflammation, that may then lead to other conditions, like arthritis and heart disease. Keeping your gut healthy and making sure you have good barrier functions so you’re not getting this leaky effect would be really big,” said Gary Perdew, the John T., and Paige S. Smith Professor of Agricultural Sciences, Penn State.
Having good barrier function refers to the gastrointestinal tract helping to protect the intestine from toxins and harmful microorganisms. Good function protects while still allowing nutrients to pass into the system.
Key receptors in the gut
It is believed that the key to good barrier function in the gut is controlled by a receptor called the Aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR). This receptor helps the body regulate its reaction to certain environmental contaminants as well as triggers other responses to toxin exposure.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and cabbage all contain an organic chemical compound called indole glucosinolates. This chemical breaks down in the stomach into other metabolites, including one called indolocarbazole (ICZ). When ICZ binds to AHR, it becomes activated in the intestinal lining, helping to maintain a healthy balance of the gut flora, immune surveillance, and enhances host barrier function.
The researchers go on to say that this effect may even help prevent diseases. Various cancers and Crohn’s disease are caused by inflammation in the lining of the gut, of which this biochemical process helps mitigate.
While the argument could be made that by simply activating AHR directly with drugs could provide the same effects, the researchers say that hyper-activating AHR can cause toxicity. Instead, locally activating the receptor in the gut by consuming broccoli is a much better choice.
Eating the right amount
Humans need about 3.5 cups each day according to the researchers.
“Now, three and a half cups is a lot, but it’s not a huge amount, really. We used a cultivar—or variety—with about half the amount of this chemical in it, and there are cultivars with twice as much. Also, brussels sprouts have three times as much, which would mean a cup of brussels sprouts could get us to the same level,” said Perdew.
This finding could help people suffering from a condition such as colitis, who are often advised to avoid too much roughage in their diets. While more investigation is still needed, choosing broccoli or other vegetables with similar benefits could be one of the best ways to avoid causing digestive problems from fibrous vegetables.
Related: What to eat: Broccoli vs. cauliflower