If you’re wavering between carrots, tomatoes, or spinach to accompany your next meal, go for the greens. Researchers at the University of Vienna in Austria have found that when green vegetables are broken down, something called sulfoquinovose (SQ) is released, a plant-based sugar that is an important food for good intestinal bacteria.
“Our research has shown that SQ promotes gut microorganisms that are known to be associated with healthy people,” says the study’s lead author, Buck Hanson, Ph.D. Specifically, SQ is broken down into acetate and hydrogen sulfide, metabolites that aid the body in functions ranging from brain signaling to appetite regulation to cardiovascular health, says Hanson. (To find out all of this, the scientists examined stool samples from a group of vegetarians – hello, herbivores – and worked their way backwards to find out the impact of SQ on gut microbes.)
The tricky part: researchers are still determining exactly how much of the green stuff to eat for maximum results that encourage good gut bacteria.
“It’s too early for us to quantify healthy SQ consumption,” says Hanson, who confirms that spinach has the highest SQ content of all green leaves.
Nonetheless, in addition to health microbes, eating green vegetables has “other distinct benefits, including its vitamin and mineral content, antioxidant properties, and fiber”.
To get your SQ-loaded greens, try a Swiss chard and Swiss cheese omelet for breakfast, add kale to your lunch salad or sandwich, and steam yourself a side of spinach for dinner.
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