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Sweet news on leafy greens

You know leafy greens such as spinach and kale are good for you and you probably know that they provide antioxidants and a range of other phytochemicals that promote health. What you probably didn’t know is that leafy greens also contain a unique sugar known as sulphoquinovose (SQ) and now researchers from the University of Melbourne and University of York have discovered an enzyme that means this sugar is very important for the health of the bacteria in your digestive tract.

The new enzyme discovered by researchers has been called YihQ, which in truth sounds more like a bounty hunter from Star Wars than an enzyme. Nevertheless YihQ does produce a bounty of its own because the researchers have discovered it in E. coli bacteria. These bacteria are plentiful in the human gut and while some strains do cause illness such as diarrhoea and cystitis when they escape the gut, other strains of E. coli are important for a healthy gut environment as they displace other bad bacteria and protect against conditions like irritable bowel syndrome.

The researchers have discovered that beneficial E. coli use the YihQ enzyme to absorb and metabolise SQ by breaking the sulphur off from the sugar. This is important on many levels.

For a start it helps keep the E. coli alive and therefore keeps your gut bacterial population in a healthier state. It is also important because SQ is the only sulphur containing sugar and sulphur is an essential nutrient for many biological processes and therefore life on Earth. According to the researchers, since we now know this enzyme is present on bacteria it may provide a focus for future antiobiotics.

So there you go, you have another reason to tuck into your leafy greens!

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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