We all know that it’s important to eat our vegetables — and especially dark, leafy green vegetables. However, if you’re still skimping on the kale or spinach on your plate, a new study has found one more reason to double up those verdant portions.
This new research, recently published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology, focused on the sulfoquinovose (SQ) content of green vegetables. SQ is the only sugar molecule on Earth that is known to contain sulphur. All green plants contain SQ, and the ones that are the greenest (i.e., leafy green veggies) contain the most.
So, what’s so special about SQ? Researchers have found that it may play a pivotal role in supporting the health of friendly gut bacteria, while keeping bad bacteria at bay.
Professor Spencer Williams of Australia’s University of Melbourne, co-author of the study, explains:
“Sulphur is critical for building proteins, the essential components of all living organisms. SQ is the only sugar molecule which contains sulphur, and ‘digestion’ of the molecule by bacteria releases sulphur into the environment, where it re-enters the global ‘sulphur cycle’ to be reused by other organisms.”
Scientists have long understood the importance of sulphur in the diet. It aids in the body’s creation of proteins, as well as the manufacture of numerous enzymes, hormones and antibodies. The presence of SQ in green veggies is no new discovery. However, before this study, it was unknown how gut bacteria were able to use SQ for energy, as humans cannot actually digest this compound.
The study’s lead researcher, Ethan Goddard-Borger from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, also in Melbourne, Australia, stated:
“No one had any idea where it went or what happened to it when the plant died. But it is actually being used by bugs that live in the gut to promote their growth, which is a good thing for you.”
“Bacteria in the gut, such as crucial protective strains of E. coli, use SQ as a source of energy. E. coli provides a protective barrier that prevents growth and colonisation by bad bacteria, because the good bugs are taking up all the habitable real estate.”
For those who hear mention of E. coli and automatically think, “That’s one of the bad ones,” Goddard-Borger explained that it isn’t always so.
“E. coli is a key bacterial coloniser needed by our gut. We speculate that consumption of this specific molecule within leafy greens will prove to be an important factor in improving and maintaining healthy gut bacteria and good digestive health,” he extrapolated.
Our gut microbiome is a delicate ecosystem, the health of which is fundamentally tied to the health of the entire body. Much of our immune system is located in our gut, and healthy gut bacteria have been linked to numerous health benefits, from proper digestion to longevity. Because of the crucial role that our gut bacteria play, taking care of our gut is of utmost importance.
This research gives us all the more reason to enjoy fresh, organic, leafy greens as often as possible. Of course, with all of the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that kale, spinach, Swiss chard and arugula (to name just a few) provide, we should all be munching on plenty of them already!
To give your gut even more love, try these five superfoods along with a healthy dose of greens.
What’s your favorite way to serve leafy green veggies? Let us know your favorite recipes!
Tanya is a writer at The Alternative Daily with a passion for meditation, music, poetry, and overall creative and active living. She has a special interest in exploring traditional Eastern remedies and superfoods from around the globe, and enjoys spending time immersed in nature.