You may have been told by some desperate parent, in an effort to make you eat your cruciferous vegetables, that broccoli is “the toothbrush of the colon.” In our ongoing efforts to answer every dumb question we’ve ever had, we checked in with our favorite food expert, Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, to see if this is really the case.
The answer? Pretty much!
“That’s an interesting analogy, and it’s almost appropriate,” Hunnes says. “Broccoli isn’t so much brushing away plaque, like a toothbrush does in the mouth. But its fiber content is extremely healthful to the colon—fiber is good for the microbiome (gut bacteria) and can also help prevent colon cancer. So in some ways, broccoli is more like a broom, sweeping away the detritus.”
All of which helps explain why researchers are using broccoli-based yogurt (OH GOD) to prevent and treat colon cancer.
A recent study also found that broccoli contains—prepare yourself for some extremely scientific language—indole glucosinolates, which are broken down into a class of compounds called indolocarbazole when they enter the stomach. Indolocarbazole activates the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, which maintains the microbiome by triggering a protective reaction when the gut is exposed to toxins.
In less scientific terms, this reaction—which can be achieved by consuming 3.5 cups of broccoli per day—provides protection against certain cancers (including colon cancer) and Crohn’s disease, which is an inflammatory bowel disease.
But this colon-cleansing effect isn’t limited to broccoli—all cruciferous vegetables contain these indole glucosinolates. “Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, but also brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage and kale,” Hunnes explains, which means you have options if just the smell of broccoli makes you want to vomit yourself inside out.
On that front, should you need a little helping making that broccoli more edible, Hunnes advises, “It’s best prepared by roasting with a fruity extra virgin olive oil until caramelized.”
*tries to get excited*