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The benefits of cruciferous vegetables

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Eating your greens is crucial for good mental and physical health. Read about the research behind this claim, especially when it comes to improved gut, brain and cardiovascular health.

1. Greens and gut health

Green veggies have more to do with gut health than most of us realise. The lining of the bowel goes through similar cycles of regeneration as the skin, with cells lasting between four and five days before they are shed, and cruciferous vegetables are vital in the process. Research published in the journal, Immunity, investigated a chemical called indole-3-carbinol, which is produced when chewing cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, kale and broccoli.

This chemical travels through the digestive system and is modified by stomach acid. Once it reaches the large bowel, it changes the behaviour of stem cells that regenerate the bowel lining, and suppresses immune reactions involved in inflammation. Without this regulation, the bowel lining could become inflamed and more prone to bowel cancer due to unregulated cell proliferation. Cruciferous veggies essentially keep your gut calm. Although the study was carried out in mice, it is an exciting development in the fight against bowel cancer, and suggests that it is not just the fibre present in fruit and veg that is protective.1

2. Greens and cardiovascular health

A study published by the Journal of the American Heart Association recently showed that cruciferous vegetables could reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. The risk of atherosclerosis - the underlying cause of cardiovascular diseases - can be predicted by the thickness of the walls of carotid arteries in the neck. This study showed women who ate the most vegetables had artery walls 0.05 millimetres thinner than those who ate the least. While 0.05 millimetres doesn't sound like much, according to the researchers, every 0.1-millimeter decrease in carotid wall thickness is associated with a 10 percent to 18 percent decrease in the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

What's interesting is the team looked at all sorts of vegetables and found cruciferous greens were the only type that reduced the thickness of artery walls. The study, using data on 954 women living in Australia aged 70 or older, found evidence that every ten extra grams of cruciferous vegetables consumed per day equated to a 0.8% reduction in the average thickness of carotid artery walls. Along with eating plenty of green veggies, the authors of the study suggest a Mediterranean diet has been linked with reduced thickness of artery walls as well as prolonged heart health.2 Experts put it down to a diet rich in vegetables and omega 3 fatty acids.

3. Greens and brain health

Surveys show that a failing mind, becoming forgetful and developing dementia are among the top worries for people over the age of 50.3 But a recent study, published by the journal, Neurology, shows the nutrients in green, leafy vegetables can significantly slow cognitive decline. In fact, eating one portion of leafy veg such as spinach, kale, or Brussels sprouts daily is enough to achieve cognitive abilities similar to those over a decade younger.

Those who took part in the Memory and Ageing Project were aged between 58-99 years. Assessed over a period of 4.7 years, 960 participants underwent memory tests which showed that eating 1 to 2 portions of green leafy veg a day could rewind the cognitive clock.4

While it's no secret that eating vegetables is good for your health, this study shows a direct link between diet and brain function. I'm off to eat another portion of baby leaf spinach!

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