Broccoli is often touted as a superfood, and for good reason. It has been shown to decrease the incidence of cancer and type 2 diabetes among those who consume it regularly.
But why is broccoli so beneficial? Researchers at Penn State have been working to uncover the mechanisms by which cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, help to promote good health.
“Our research is helping to uncover the mechanisms for how broccoli and other foods benefit health in mice and likely humans, as well. It provides strong evidence that cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts should be part of a normal healthy diet,” said Gary Perdew, H. Thomas and Dorothy Willits Hallowell Chair in Agricultural Sciences at Penn State.
The researchers focused on the small intestine and the important role it plays in nutrient absorption while also preventing harmful bacteria and food particles from entering the body. Certain cells that line the intestine, including enterocytes, goblet cells, and Paneth cells, help to keep a healthy balance.
In a study published in the journal Laboratory Investigation, Perdew and his colleagues found that certain molecules in broccoli, called aryl hydrocarbon receptor ligands, bind to a type of protein called a transcription factor called aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR). This binding activates a variety of activities that affect the functions of intestinal cells.
To test their theory, the researchers fed one group of mice a diet containing 15% broccoli, which is equivalent to about 3.5 cups per day for humans. The control group was fed a typical lab diet that did not contain broccoli.
The experts then analyzed the animals’ tissues to determine the extent to which AHR was activated, as well as the quantities of various cell types and mucus concentrations, among other factors, in the two groups.
The team found that the mice that were not fed broccoli lacked AHR activity, which resulted in altered intestinal barrier function, reduced transit time of food in the small intestine, decreased number of goblet cells and protective mucus, decreased Paneth cells and lysosome production, and decreased number of enterocyte cells.
“The gut health of the mice that were not fed broccoli was compromised in a variety of ways that are known to be associated with disease,” said Perdew. “Our research suggests that broccoli and likely other foods can be used as natural sources of AHR ligands, and that diets rich in these ligands contribute to resilience of the small intestine.”
“These data suggest that dietary cues, relayed through the activity of AHR, can reshape the cellular and metabolic repertoire of the gastrointestinal tract,” said Professor Andrew Patterson.
This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health Grants, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Penn State Cancer Institute. The findings further reinforce the idea that including cruciferous vegetables in a healthy diet can have significant benefits for overall health.
What are superfoods
Superfoods are nutrient-dense foods that are believed to offer extraordinary health benefits beyond their basic nutritional value. These foods are often rich in antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, which are essential for maintaining good health and preventing chronic diseases.
Superfoods can come in many forms and include foods like berries, leafy greens, nuts and seeds, fish, and whole grains. Some well-known superfoods include blueberries, kale, salmon, quinoa, and chia seeds. However, the term “superfood” is not a scientific term, and there is no official list of superfoods.
Many people turn to superfoods as part of a healthy diet to help manage weight, prevent disease, and improve overall health. Some superfoods, like berries and leafy greens, have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, which may help reduce the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. Others, like nuts and seeds, are a good source of healthy fats, which can help lower cholesterol and improve heart health.
It’s important to note that no single food can provide all the nutrients our bodies need. Instead, a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods is the key to good health. While superfoods can be a great addition to any diet, they should not be relied on as a sole source of nutrition.
In summary, superfoods are nutrient-dense foods that offer extraordinary health benefits beyond their basic nutritional value. While they can be a great addition to any diet, it’s important to remember that a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods is the key to good health.
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