The study, which was published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology, was conducted by researchers from Australian and the U.K.
Data from the study suggests that a certain type of sugar in leafy greens such as cabbage, kale, and spinach, is crucial to maintaining a healthy gut environment.
Sulfoquinovose, leafy greens, and improved gut health
Spinach doesn’t usually top the list of foods that contain sugar, but the study suggests that similar leafy greens are an essential food source for the “good” bacteria that live in your gut. (Related: One of the most nutritious green leafy vegetables, spinach is versatile and easy to incorporate into your diet.)
In the study, the researchers found that the unique sugar sulfoquinovose (SQ) is produced through photosynthesis, a process wherein plants use energy from the sun to convert substances into plant food. Bacteria in the gut then use a special enzyme to turn the SQ in leafy greens into a source of usable carbon and sulfur.
Sulfur is critical for the long-term survival and growth of living organisms because it is used to build proteins.
SQ is the only sugar molecule that contains sulfur, and the study findings show that important strains of protective bacteria in the gut use SQ as an energy source. To illustrate, protective strains of E. coli use SQ to form a protective barrier that can prevent the growth of other bad bacteria.
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Dr. Ethan Goddard-Borger, a senior author for the study from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, explained that you consume a significant amount of SQ sugars when you eat leafy green vegetables. These vegetables provide preferred sugar for your gut’s beneficial microbial colonies.
The researchers suggest that leafy greens produce a lot of SQ for beneficial bacteria. As good bacteria thrive in your gut, they also prevent the colonization of bad bacteria.
YihQ and SQ
In the study, the researchers discovered that bacteria extract SQ from leafy greens use an enzyme called YihQ. This enzyme breaks down the sugar to help bacteria absorb and metabolize sulfur and other essential components.
Aside from good bacteria in your gut, fungi and other organisms utilize YihQ to feed on the abundant supply of SQ from leafy greens. The discovery of YihQ helped researchers understand how living organisms use and recycle sulfur.
Other organic or homemade foods that can help heal your gut include:
- Kimchi – Kimchi is a spicy, fermented Korean dish that is made from cabbage. Full of probiotics, kimchi is also “an excellent fuel for gut health.” Studies suggest that kimchi helps fight aging, cancer, constipation, and obesity.
- Miso – Miso is a traditional Japanese bean paste that is full of good bacteria. Research suggests that miso can help prevent cancer and lower blood pressure.
- Sauerkraut – Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage that is a staple in German cuisine. Homemade sauerkraut is full of in B vitamins.
- Tempeh – Tempeh is a traditional soy product that increases healthy bacteria like Lactobacillus.
This study highlights the need to increase your intake of fresh fruits and leafy greens. Try to eat more salads made with leafy green vegetables like broccoli, collards, kale, or turnip greens to improve your well-being and boost your gut health.