Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables are a great source of glucosinolates.

Broccoli has quite the impressive nutritional resume: low in calories, high in fiber and vitamin C, nearly the same amount of calcium as a serving of milk, rich in phytochemicals, and a high concentration of protein for a non-starchy vegetable. Outside of its relatively high content of raffinose, a sugar that tends to cause bloating and other gaseous side effects, it is one of the most legit superfoods out there. And that is without mentioning some of the recent research into is benefits for the gut.

Researchers from Penn State decided to examine the influence of broccoli consumption on various biomarkers of gastrointestinal health. The results, published in the most recent issue of Journal of Functional Foods, were significant, although not terribly surprising to the researchers or to this health scientist. In the animal model study, the researchers supplemented the diet of mice with broccoli, an amount that would be proportionally equal to approximately 3 cups per day for an adult human. The supplementation of broccoli improved several metrics of gut microbiome health and digestive problems were reduced. It was discovered that broccoli’s hypothesized gut-healing benefits were likely a result of its influence on aryl hydrocarbon (AHR), a receptor in the gut whose primarily role is to assist the body in modulating responses to environmental contaminants. The mechanism: an organic compound contained in high concentrations in cruciferous vegetables (so yes, the benefits likely also come from eating more Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.) known as indole glucosinolate binds to AHR in the intestinal lining, helping to promote a healthy balance of intestinal flora and boosting immune surveillance. The improved microbiome population and enhanced barrier functions of the intestinal lining could decrease the risk for a host of inflammation-related conditions, everything from various forms of cancer to Crohn’s Disease.

So the question now becomes, how do we take advantage of the amazing gut-healing and anti-inflammatory benefits of the vegetable that George Bush proclaimed at his inauguration that he would never eat again now that he was president? First, for those of you who share our former president’s disdain for the florets, Brussels sprouts actually contain three times as much indole glucosinolate as broccoli, most varieties of cauliflower have at least twice as much, and many leafy greens are also great sources.

A few ideas from Dr. Damian’s kitchen:

  1. Add it to pasta sauce. This is an old parenting trick. Kids don’t tend to like green vegetables, but they love some spaghetti. Chop it up into small pieces and throw it into the mix. You and your food-tossing monsters will never even see or taste it.
  2. Bake it. Everything tastes good when tossed with a few pinches of salt and pepper, covered in olive oil, and cooked directly over really high heat. Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, and a lot of minced garlic result in a glucosinolate medley made in heaven.
  3. Cauliflower rice. If you haven’t tried this, well, welcome to the internet. Break up the head of cauliflower, cutting away most of the stem, throw it into a food processor, and pulse until it becomes the texture of couscous. Add a dash of your favorite healthy fat and cook in a skillet over medium-high heat with some finely diced onions. If rice isn’t your thing, cauliflower mash tastes better (IMO) than the potato version.
  4. Kale chips. It’s up there with cauliflower rice and avocado toast as one of the trendiest snacks, and it’s probably better for you (and your gut) than the alternative. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, cover a baking sheet with parchment paper, remove the thick stems, spritz a little olive oil over the top, salt and pepper to taste, and bake until edges begin browning (10-15 minutes).

A healthy population of intestinal flora has been associated with better weight management, decreased risk for countless chronic diseases, and (of course) better and more comfortable digestion. Take care of those friendly bacteria and their microbiome home by getting your daily dose of cruciferous vegetables.

Dr. Damian Rodriguez is the health and exercise scientist for doTERRA International, LLC. He holds a doctorate in health science, a master’s degree in exercise physiology, and countless professional certifications. He has spent most of his life researching nutrition, exercise, and the lifestyle behaviors associated with optimal health. Along with his passion for health, as someone who lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is also involved in bringing awareness to autism spectrum disorders. There are varying opinions about many health and fitness topics. His opinions are his own and not necessarily that of doTERRA International, LLC. Consult your healthcare provider before making any changes to diet and exercise.