Unusual sugar found in leafy greens promote gut health
(NaturalHealth365) Here’s a new reason to eat your greens: your gut bacteria will thank you. Researchers from the United Kingdom and Australia recently discovered that a sugar found abundantly in leafy greens like kale, cabbage and spinach, is essential for a healthy gut environment.
The results support the idea that consuming plenty of leafy greens is critical to ongoing good health, although not just in ways you’re used to hearing about. While spinach may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think sugar, scientists say it is a welcomed treat and critical food source for the healthy bacteria living in your gut.
Feed yourself, feed your gut bacteria
The sugar, known as sulfocquinovose or SQ, is produced through photosynthesis, the process by which plants use energy from the sun to convert substances into their own food. Bacteria in the gut use a special enzyme to convert the SQ found in leafy greens into a source of usable carbon and sulfur.
Locating a source of sulfur is key to long-term survival and growth, since it is vital for building proteins. SQ, say the researchers, is the only sugar molecule known to contain sulfur. According to the research findings, which were published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology, crucial strains of protective bacteria in the gut use SQ as a source of energy. For example, protective strains of E.coli utilize SQ, and are then able to develop a protective barrier to prevent growth of other, bad bacteria.
Dr. Ethan Goddard-Borger, of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Parkville, Australia, served as one of three senior authors for the study and points out that a significant amount of SQ sugars are consumed whenever we eat leafy, green vegetables, providing the supply of preferred sugar for the gut’s beneficial microbial colonies. As the good bacteria grow and thrive, they prevent the colonization of bad bacteria. Scientists believe leafy green vegetables produce enormous amounts of SQ to be used by bacteria.
Discovery of enzyme solves mystery for scientists
The researchers also learned that bacteria extract the SQ from the leafy greens using an enzyme, YihQ. The enzyme’s purpose is to break down the sugar so bacteria can more readily absorb and metabolize the sulfur and other components. It is used not only by bacteria, but by fungi and other organisms to feed on the abundant supply of SQ.
The discovery cleared up the mystery of how sulfur is used and recycled by living organisms. The scientists remarked that the enzyme may hold a clue to some day targeting a new style of antibiotics at specific harmful bacteria, avoiding many of the negative aspects of today’s broad-spectrum antibiotics.
Promote healthy gut bacteria through your daily diet
When planning meals, it’s important to think about promoting gut health and not just feeding your body. By understanding the need for supporting growth of critical, helpful bacteria, you can further avoid foods with little or no nutritional value that are detrimental to your health.
The discovery that leafy greens supply an important food for useful gut bacteria should signal the need to incorporate plenty of these veggies into your daily meals. If you are used to turning to the same old lettuce, liven up your meals with a different leafy green, such as kale, turnip greens or collards. Get plenty of broccoli, and incorporate a new type of leafy green into a salad or smoothie.