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Let’s Talk Nutrition: Broccoli Belly

We’ve heard about effects of GMO frankenfoods on our gut bacteria, as discussed in a recent book called Wheat Belly. Bloating, weight gain, and skin problems are just a few of the problems that people can develop from eating GMO wheat.

What can we do to keep our digestive system healthy? Eating veggies, especially cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, directly stimulates the growth and healthy balance of good bacteria.

These good bacteria are living organisms that help us detoxify harmful residues on food, maintain healthy hormone balance, and produce B vitamins and immune factors. Eating broccoli salad or a red cabbage slaw is a tasty way to support your digestive system.

Broccoli brings happy to a sad gut

Broccoli can help to revive healthy gut bacteria. A study of 17 people showed that when they were fed a diet of bagels, high fat, and sugar, their gut bacteria changed dramatically, shifting to an unhealthy bacterial community or microbiome. When the participants were given a diet of cruciferous veggies, the population of bacteria changed quickly to a healthier one. The study found that each of the participants had their own unique microbiome, but that it was modified rapidly depending on diet. It was interesting that while broccoli did have a positive influence on the balance of gut bacteria, the result was unique for each person.

Broccoli boosts bifido

If you have ever bought supplements containing bifidobacteria, it’s nice to know that eating broccoli could also increase your levels of these beneficial bacteria. One study of 17 adults showed that levels of bifido increased when cruciferous vegetables were consumed, specifically because of the glucosinolates found in cruciferous vegetables. Samples of the gut bacteria were collected and observed in the lab. The bacteria consumed the glucosinolates. The researchers stated they felt it was a combination of cruciferous vegetables that led to this effect.

Another study examined human gut bacteria before and after consuming a diet loaded with broccoli. The bacteria had become “tuned-up”, showing an enhanced their capability to metabolize the glucosinolates.

Trying to lose weight? Don’t starve – eat broccoli!

Ever feel like it’s hard to maintain a healthy weight even when you are eating less? Maintaining a healthy weight is in part related to our gut microbiome, according to researchers. The type and balance of bacteria can influence how much energy can be obtained from the food. The influences on metabolism and body weight are complex, but the action of our gut bacteria is a part of the picture that is not reflected in the “calorie count” of a food.

For instance, looking at a diet plan, we would see a banana listed as providing 100 calories. Gut bacteria help to metabolize the banana and release its energy as calories. Changes in bacteria – which could result from a number of causes such as diet changes, antibiotics or toxins - could alter gut metabolism, resulting in an increase in calories obtained from eating the banana.

Studies in mice showed that mice gained or lost weight when their gut bacteria were altered- not because of calories, but because the new combination of bacteria changed the amount of energy harvested from the food they ate.

There are many changes to processed foods such as fat/sugar combinations, additives and lack of fiber that alter our metabolism. One way to counter this is to eat fresh broccoli and other veggies, to help keep our gut microbiome balanced.

Chew it, don’t stew it

Do you wake up in cold sweats over memories of cafeteria broccoli, boiled to gray oblivion? If you’ve decided to avoid overcooked broccoli in favor of crunchy raw or lightly steamed version, you’re on the right track. According the Linus Pauling Institute, raw broccoli has higher amounts of glucosinolates and myrosinase, the enzyme that activates glucosinolates. When the cell wall is disrupted (by chewing), the myrosinase acts on the glucosinolates to release compounds such as isothiocyanates that help protect the entire digestive tract. Isothiocyanates reduce the risk of stomach and colon cancer.

What happens when broccoli is cooked? Glucosinolates can leach out into water. The myrosinase enzyme is mostly/all destroyed (depending on how the broccoli is cooked) so chewing can’t activate the release of isothiocyanates.

For a healthy digestive tract, consider having a fresh red cabbage slaw or a raw broccoli salad today...a tasty way to improve your health!

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