This superfood may strengthen the gut lining and ward off disease

This superfood may strengthen the gut lining and ward off disease
This superfood may strengthen the gut lining and ward off disease

Broccoli on a cutting board.Share on Pinterest
Eating broccoli may have more health benefits than previously thought, new research suggests.Cameron Whitman/Stokesey
  • Broccoli may be considered a superfood, researchers say.
  • Superfoods are packed with nutrients and are good for your health.
  • Sulfur compounds in broccoli are known to help prevent disease.
  • Now, a new study suggests that broccoli may help gut barrier function in mice.
  • A healthy small intestine helps ensure that only the right stuff gets through its walls.

Broccoli is one of those foods that most people know is good for them, and everyone should be eating more of it.

In fact, it contains sulfur compounds that act as anti-inflammatory agents and have been linked to a lower risk of cancer and heart disease, according to Sharon Palmer, registered dietitian, author, and blogger at The Plant-Powered Dietitian.

Now, researchers at Penn State University say it may qualify as a superfood. According to them, it has the potential ability to protect the lining of the gut, which in turn may help prevent disease.

The authors point out that an important function of the small intestine wall is to control what enters the body, allowing water and nutrients to pass but keeping undigested food and bacteria out.

Broccoli may help with this process because it contains certain molecules that bind to receptor sites in the small intestine, helping to strengthen the barrier function of the gut wall.

All cruciferous vegetables appear to be good for our diets, the authors say.

A wide variety of vegetables fall into this category, including:

The new study, published in the journal Laboratory Investigation, looked specifically at molecules called aryl hydrocarbon receptor ligands and found that they were able to bind to the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) site in the small intestine of mice.

Once bound to the receptors, they affect the function of the cells lining the gut.

To study the role of these molecules, the team of scientists fed a group of mice 15 percent broccoli. They note that this is about the same as a human’s daily intake of 3.5 cups of broccoli.

Control animals were fed their normal diet.

Their tissues were then analyzed to see to what extent the AHR was activated. They also looked at the numbers and mucus concentrations of various gut cell types.

Mice that did not eat broccoli did not have any AHR activity. This altered their gut barrier function, causing food to move through the small intestine more quickly and reducing the amount of goblet cells (mucus-secreting cells) and mucus.

There were also fewer Paneth cells (cells that help maintain a balanced microbiome), lysosomes (cells that break down worn-out cells and bacteria), and enterocytes (cells that help absorb nutrients).

According to the authors, those mice that weren’t fed broccoli suffered from impaired gut health in ways that are known to be associated with disease.

Therefore, they believe that broccoli and other similar foods are natural sources of AHR ligands that can help keep the small intestine functioning in a healthy manner.

Nutritionist Shereen Jegtvig, who co-authored “Superfoods for Dummies” and teaches at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, says superfoods are nutrient-dense foods thought to be especially beneficial for health and well-being.

“They’re often high in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that are important for maintaining good health and preventing disease,” she explains, noting that a few examples of superfoods include berries, leafy greens, nuts and seeds, whole Wheat, fish, and beans.

Broccoli is considered a superfood because it’s packed with nutrients that are essential for health, Jegtvig said.

“It’s a great source of vitamins C and K, fiber, and folic acid. It also contains phytonutrients like sulforaphane, which have been shown to have cancer-fighting properties,” she explains.

“Additionally, broccoli is low in calories and high in water, making it an excellent choice for those looking to maintain a healthy weight,” says Jegtvig.

Palmer said she recommends eating cruciferous vegetables like broccoli at least a few times a week.

“Broccoli is also well suited to many cultural diets…from Mediterranean to Asian eating patterns,” she added, “and these vegetables are affordable, versatile and delicious for people of all ages.”

Finally, Palmer noted that for those eating a more plant-based diet, broccoli may be a great source of plant-based calcium.

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