Bitter foods often get a bad press. They are far from being considered as snacks of choice and are therefore not very popular. However, despite a taste that does not make everyone agree, there are several health benefits associated with them.
Among the stars of bitter and healthy foods are artichokes, kale and arugula, which are rich in nutrients. But their contribution is not limited to that since they are also excellent for intestinal health, digestion and appetite. Let’s take a closer look at how these foods affect your health and why it’s important to include them in your diet. In an article published on Dr. Axe’s website, Rachael Link, a New York-based dietitian, sheds some light on the subject.
Bitter foods. What are they?
It is clear that these foods do not shine by their popularity and their taste. Two elements that are closely linked. What we must remember, however, is their considerable nutritional contribution.
Sometimes referred to as “bitters”, these foods offer a multitude of health benefits. Our elders used to consume green vegetables, herbs or roots in the form of tonic drinks. These same foods were also used to facilitate digestion while giving a feeling of comfort. This is why they were served after heavy meals.
The holistic approach to medicine has also glorified these foods for their excellent medicinal properties.
In fact, they are also mentioned in Ayurvedic medicine as natural diuretics. They can be used in drinks that combat bloating and reduce water retention.
In addition, Chinese medicine attributes other virtues to these foods: they neutralize heat, reduce the accumulation of body fluids, improve the health of the small intestine and the heart. In addition, it is best to eat them with the other four flavors (sweet, sour, salty and hot) to maintain a certain body balance.
The health benefits of bitter foods
Regarding the recognized benefits of including bitter foods in one’s diet, studies have validated a handful of significant benefits.
- Promote healthy digestion
It seems that research here is in line with traditional practices that used bitter foods as a tonic for digestion. It has been found that these foods help to stimulate the secretion of saliva and stomach acid, which aid digestion. Others use them to stimulate bile, which is a fluid produced by the liver and which plays a role in the decomposition and digestion of fats.
The digestion process is further enhanced when you add more bitter foods to your diet. This increases the production of digestive enzymes. Their role is to digest and absorb many essential nutrients in the body.
- Nutrients are better absorbed
Thanks to a more optimal production of digestive enzymes in the body, vitamins and minerals are better assimilated, as this study shows. If you are lacking these essential elements, bitter foods are proven to prevent deficiencies. In addition, they contribute consequently to the well-being since they help to increase the energy levels.
- Help prevent leaky gut
When intestinal permeability is increased, toxins, food particles and bacteria pass from the intestine into the bloodstream. This is known as intestinal hypermetabolism.
This condition can cause symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, chronic inflammation, skin and digestive problems. Nutrient deficiencies are among the most common triggers of leaky gut.
In order to ensure good intestinal permeability, it is therefore recommended to add more bitter fruits and vegetables to your daily diet.
- Promote appetite
A good balance between feeling full and feeling hungry is important for your health. Bitter foods play a key role in improving appetite. This has been supported by a study which states that the consumption of these foods activates the bitter taste receptors, which stimulate the secretion of ghrelin. Ghrelin is a hormone responsible for the feeling of hunger.
- Strengthen your gut microbiota
Your intestinal flora contributes greatly to the functioning of your immune system and the prevention of many diseases.
If you add a daily dose of bitter foods to your diet, your gut microbiota will benefit greatly. As a result, your healthy gut bacteria will have the energy they need to function optimally.
This energy comes from specific fibers, called prebiotics, which are present in almost all bitter vegetables, as Rachael Link explains.
20 of the best bitter foods
Bitter foods remain particularly accessible since they are available in several forms: concentrated capsule, tonic drink and extract. But in order to make the most of their virtue, it is advisable to prefer whole food sources. Indeed, food supplements provide a lesser range of vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients.
Besides, not only do whole foods contribute to better health, but they are more easily absorbed by the body. Here is a selection of the best bitter foods to include in your diet:
- Apple cider vinegar
- Bitter melon
- Broccoli rabe
- Brussels sprouts
- Dandelion leaves
- Dark chocolate
- Sesame seeds
It is no coincidence that ginger is used in many recipes to improve digestion.
To be healthy, balance is the key word
It is important to remember that the inclusion of Brussels sprouts or artichokes will not be as effective as if you combine it with a healthy and active lifestyle and a balanced diet.
What you can do to ensure better results is to enjoy these foods with a good combination of vegetables, whole grains, fruits, lean proteins and nutritious fats.
Be careful not to increase your intake of bitter foods too quickly. Although fibre is essential for good digestion, taking too much at once will have unpleasant side effects.
You can gauge your tolerance by gradually adding these high-fiber foods to your diet.
There are other methods to improve digestion that can be beneficial for people with digestive problems. Herbal teas are one such method.