Transform your microbiome… with sugar?

Today, I want to talk about the health benefits of sugar.

No, this isn’t a belated April Fool’s joke. Scientists really have uncovered some very interesting advantages of an unusual sugar molecule called sulfoquinovose (SQ). But I’m not talking about the granulated white stuff that’s fueling the diabesity crisis. Quite the opposite, in fact.

SQ comes from leafy greens. And researchers believe it may turn out to be a real game-changer when it comes to nurturing a strong microbiome and improving digestive health.

Let me explain: Green leaves generate SQ as a byproduct of photosynthesis. (The process by which plants covert sunlight into energy — in the form of sugars, like SQ.)

As luck would have it, SQ is one of your gut bacteria’s favorite foods. (It seems as if every living thing in this universe loves sugar — but at least this kind doesn’t kill.) Why? Because SQ is the only sugar molecule that contains sulfur — an essential component of protein, which forms the building blocks of all living organisms.

The research team discovered that bacteria rely on an enzyme called YihQ to break down SQ so that they can absorb and metabolize its sulfur — a process that had remained a mystery until now.

And believe it or not, universally reviled E. coli is the bacteria responsible for producing YihQ. Yes, it’s true. Everyone thinks E. coli is a bad bug. But, in fact, there are protective strains. And they’re key bacterial colonizers that your gut very much needs to crowd the real bad guys out. But in order to do that, they need food from sources like SQ.

In other words, the best way to protect your microbiome is to eat a salad.

Pretty cool, right?

What you don’t need is a pump of hand sanitizer or antibacterial soap — which will only serve to wipe out the ordinary bugs that live inside of us and that play a very important role in our health. (Think about that next time you reach for the Purell.)

Which brings me to another fascinating implication of this discovery: The research team thinks it may be possible to use enzymes like YihQ to develop highly specific antibiotics. These antibiotics would be able to attack harmful forms of E. coli and other bacteria (like Salmonella) — without wiping out good bacteria, too. Now wouldn’t that be a welcome change?

In the meantime, you can still reap the benefits of SQ. Just eat more leafy greens: arugula, kale, watercress, you name it. With every serving, you’ll be getting a hearty dose of probiotics and natural protection against leaky gut — not to mention a long list of other life-saving nutrients, too.