The Food 411: Are you eating your Bitters?

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. Research indicates that these foods can help control blood sugar, stimulate digestion, reduce inflammation, control hunger, balance the thyroid and more.

So why don’t aren’t they a normal part of our diet? We evolved thinking that if something tastes bitter, we’d better not eat much of it since bitter flavors indicated toxicity to our hunter/gatherer ancestors.

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.”

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—in effect, these compounds are the plant’s immune system. Bitter plants are amazing—they can actually stimulate the release of digestive hormones within 15 to 30 minutes. This process is known as the “bitter reflex” and is best described by Dr. Nagel, ND:

  • Bitters increase saliva output to help to break down complex carbs.
  • Bitters stimulate the release of hydrochloric acid, which helps break down proteins, absorb minerals, destroy harmful microbes, and ultimately helps reduce sources of inflammation.
  • Bitters help stimulate the release of intrinsic factor, which is needed for us to absorb B12.
  • Bitters help improve the muscles of the stomach, which can help food move in its intended direction.
  • Bitters promote bile production and release so that we can absorb great fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamins A, D, and E; absorb our fats; and rid the body of waste products. This also helps strengthen the liver and detoxify our bodies.

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

Bitters may provide a potential safety net for your health and can be a simple addition to your diet. Dr. Nagel invites folks to take his 30-day bitter challenge to witness for themselves the power of these wonder foods. Bitters are also available in liquid form for easy use. If you’ve ever had a Whiskey Old-Fashioned, you’ve had bitters—they’re often used in cocktails. He recommends taking 10 to 30 drops of liquid bitters 10 minutes before or after meals. You will need to take enough to get a strong bitter sensation and the physical “bitter shudder.” Or you can just eat one of these foods (or drink a tea) 15-20 minutes before a meal to advise the gut to be get ready, a meal is on its way.

What do you have to lose except for a few pounds, bad digestion, poor liver function, and the like?

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