This Weird Food Is This Doc's Top Choice For Fighting Inflammation & Healing Your Gut
Kohlrabi is a staple of CSA boxes everywhere, but many people have never heard of the funny-looking vegetable. It's from the family of vegetables known as cruciferous, Brassicaceae, which have an array of benefits for liver detoxification pathways and create a positive effect on digestion, helping the gut repair and eliminating toxins and other bodily waste.
Kohlrabi is not widely grown commercially, though it has been a staple of German cuisine for hundreds of years. The German translation of kohlrabi is "cabbage turnip."
To better understand the power of this vegetable and its effect on the gut, I want to first talk about what's important for a healthy gut. Most people don't realize that the liver is part of the digestive system and that it plays a vital role in the elimination of toxins via bowel movements. The liver also produces bile, which aids in the breakdown of fats from our diet. The liver is located in the abdomen underneath the bottom of the right rib cage and is directly connected the gallbladder and the small intestine. It is involved in many systemic processes in the body, one of which is to make toxins less harmful and to aid in the elimination of toxins through the gut. One of the requirements for the proper elimination of toxins through the bowels (otherwise known as pooping) is a healthy microbiome, dietary fiber, and hydration. We also need to consider the amount of inflammation that is present in the gut that can contribute to gastrointestinal distress or conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Breaking this down, to have a healthy digestive tract we need:
- Proper stomach acid and digestive juices
- Lack of inflammation that could cause irritable bowels, reflux, or other intestinal disease
- Healthy microbiome with plentiful good bacteria and no harmful bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infections
- Adequate hydration
- Sufficient amounts of dietary fiber
The beauty of kohlrabi is that it supports and encourages many of the processes needed for healthy digestion. Kohlrabi has a positive impact on stomach acid and the breakdown of food, which is required for a healthy gut. As a bitter vegetable, it will provide stimulation of bile and other digestive juices, which aids in the absorption of nutrients.
Kohlrabi has been studied for its effects on an inflammatory marker called C-reactive protein. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition investigated the effects of vegetables and fruit on markers of immune functions, including nonspecific markers of inflammation. The study found that a high intake of carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables, including kohlrabi, reduces plasma C-reactive protein. Consuming kohlrabi on a long-term basis, then, will provide anti-inflammatory benefits. Unfortunately, one or two servings over a lifetime will not provide long-term benefits.
Kohlrabi offers generous amounts of dietary fiber, which aids in proper bowel movements to eliminate harmful bacteria and toxins from the gut. Fiber is a necessary part of the diet, and most Americans are only getting 50 percent of the recommended amount.
As a cruciferous vegetable, kohlrabi will also promote phase 2 liver detoxification which will move toxins out of the body via the gut. The sulfur-containing compounds called glycosylates, found in kohlrabi, improve these pathways, which improves the motility of the bowel. Accordingly, kohlrabi tends to be great for people who suffer from constipation. A food scientist, Kantha Shelke, also found that glycosylates in kohlrabi have antifungal, antiparasitic, and antibacterial benefits. These benefits keep the "bad guys" out of the gut that can cause inflammatory conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis.
As mentioned, phase 2 liver detoxification needs sulfur-containing amino acids and nutrients that can be found in cruciferous vegetables but also garlic and onion. Often we hear how individuals with gut issues cannot tolerate foods high in sulfur, especially garlic and onion. A common reason for this occurrence is that sulfur compounds can create further irritation in a condition of the small intestine condition called SIBO, also known as small-intestinal bacterial overgrowth. The irritation occurs as the sulfur compound increases the level of methane gases, which causes pain, pressure at the bottom of the sternum, gas, bad breath, reflux, heartburn, and even burping. On the contrary, the sulfur-based compounds from cruciferous vegetables can mobilize toxins from the liver into the gut, which can cause discomfort in a person with constipation. The liver detoxifies through the intestine to allow toxins to leave the body via a bowel movement. If the person is not having regular bowel movements, the toxins can get stuck in the gut and then get pushed into blood, causing an inflammatory response.
How to eat kohlrabi for maximum benefits.
Kohlrabi, as a cruciferous vegetable, tends to be slightly bitter. However, each person's flavor palate is very different. For example, people who like black coffee tend to tolerate bitter foods well while those who choose to add milk or cream to coffee or tea may have a lower tolerance for bitter foods. If you fall into the latter category and do not tolerate bitter foods well, when preparing kohlrabi, I suggest adding fat in the form of olive oil or butter, and acid in the form of lemon or vinegar. This easy salad, from my Eat for Your Gut cookbook, utilizes lemon, apple cider vinegar, and anti-inflammatory olive oil.
Kohlrabi and Celery Salad
- 3 celery stalks, sliced thin (preferably using a mandoline)
- 1 bulb kohlrabi, sliced thin (preferably using a mandoline)
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 medium apple
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice from a fresh lemon
- ½ teaspoon truffle salt or Himalayan salt
- 3 teaspoons nutritional yeast
- Place a large bowl to the side.
- Slice the apple into thin slivers and place into the bowl.
- Slice the fennel and celery as thin as possible and place into the bowl.
- Chop the parsley and place into the bowl.
- Add the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, yeast, and spices to the bowl and mix well.
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