Bitters, A Natural Digestive Aid

How often do you eat artichoke, parsley, arugula, radicchio, endive, angelica, chamomile, dandelion, goldenseal, horehound, milk thistle, peppermint, wormwood or yarrow?

Most of us don’t, but maybe we should be. These foods can help control blood sugar, stimulate digestion, reduce inflammation, control hunger, balance the thyroid, and more. 

So why aren’t they a normal part of our diet?

Since bitter flavors indicated toxicity to our hunter/gatherer ancestors, we evolved thinking that if something tastes bitter, we’d better not eat much of it s. But we were wrong. According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, “Many of the diseases riddling our modern culture—from indigestion and gastric reflux to metabolic disorders ranging from elevated cholesterol to Type 2 diabetes—seem to all point back to the deficiency of bitterness in our diets, and the lack of the protection and tone it imparts to our digestion and metabolic functions.

What are bitters?

Bitter flavors result from a class of plant compounds that with serious scientific names: iridoids, sesquiterpene, lactones, and alkaloids. They are used by plants to protect themselves from pests.

What affect do bitters have on the body/?

Bitters help boost the microbiome, strengthen the liver, and improve detoxification. Ingestion causes a “bitter reflex” that stimulates the release of digestive hormones within 15 to 30 minutes to :

  • Increase saliva output to help to break down complex carbs.
  • Stimulate the release of hydrochloric acid, which helps break down proteins, absorb minerals, destroy harmful microbes, and ultimately helps reduce sources of inflammation.
  • Stimulate the release of intrinsic factor, which is needed  to absorb B12.
  • Improve the muscles of the stomach, which can help food move in its intended direction.
  • Promote bile production and release so that we can absorb fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamins A, D, and E; absorb our fats; and rid the body of waste products.
  • Supply prebiotics essential for maintaining gut health

Moreover, bitters also help to control blood sugar by providing a sense of satisfaction much sooner than sweets do. Bitters also reduce the “incretin effect,” which means that bitters help lower glucose by stimulating the release of insulin. According to Dr. Jeffrey Bland PhD, the best bitters for controlling blood sugar control would be hops, prickly pear cactus, bitter melon, and cow plant.

What foods contain bitters?

Dr. Axe provides a good list of 20 common foods:

  1.  Apple cider vinegar
  2.  Artichoke
  3.  Arugula
  4.  Bitter melon
  5.  Broccoli rabe
  6.  Brussels sprouts
  7.  Chicory
  8.  Coffee
  9.  Cranberries
  10.  Dandelion greens
  11.  Dark chocolate
  12.  Dill
  13.  Eggplant
  14.  Endives
  15.  Ginger
  16.  Grapefruit
  17.  Kale
  18.  Mint
  19.  Saffron
  20.  Sesame seeds

How do I use bitters?

You can eat a bitter containing food or drink 15-20 minutes before a meal to aid in digestion.

Bitters are also available in liquid form. Dr. Nagel 30-day bitter challenge involves 10 to 30 drops of liquid bitters 10 minutes before or after meals. The amount consumed should be enough to create a strong bitter sensation and induce a physical “bitter shudder.”

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