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Bitter foods aid your digestion

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

During a consultation with a client, we discovered from a hair mineral test analysis session, that they had a problem producing an enzyme that breaks down protein, so following some investigation I discovered that bitter foods could aid a sluggish digestion.

Today’s modern medicine is incredible for all that has been discovered about the body. However, even without modern science, our ancestors instinctively learned insightful things about the body. Using modern science to explain the mechanism behind such insights can be extremely fascinating.

Bitter foods is an example of this. The use of bitters to aid digestion has a long history. We now understand that a reflex exists, termed the “bitter reflex,” that prepares our digestive system for the food we are about to eat.

Bitter foods stimulate your body’s digestion by helping increase digestive secretions, such as enzymes, in your stomach and colon. They help break down food more quickly and effectively.

Because bitter foods stimulate digestion, they are also helping your body stay actively in the parasympathetic nervous system (think rest and digest). So, if you’re feeling a little gaseous, nauseated, bloated or anything else tummy-related, bitters can help.

The best way to incorporate bitters into your diet and stimulate the ‘bitter reflex’ is to eat bitter foods with each meal.

Here’s a list of over 20 bitter foods:

Rocket is commonly considered a leafy green, but it’s actually from the Brassicaceae family of vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower). This vegetable is particularly useful in helping your liver stimulate bile production, which helps detoxify the body. It also regulates immune function and aids in cancer prevention. Rocket’s peppery flavour has a natural cooling effect on the body, and like other greens, it hydrates.

In antiquity, both Romans and Egyptians valued Rocket for its naturally bitter flavour and the oil content of its seeds. This leafy green lettuce is grown worldwide. The bitter substances and spicy mustard oils are naturally anti-bacterial and the high antioxidant content is great for strengthening the immune system and digestive health.

Coffee is a powerful detoxifier for the liver and the colon. The aromatic legume contains theobromine, theophylline and caffeine, which increases bile flow and dilates blood vessels. Some studies show drinking coffee may also help the liver regulate itself. And as most athletes know, it can boost performance.

Dill is a natural antibiotic and has the ability to fight free radicals. The oils in dill contain a compound called carvone, which can relieve an upset stomach, reduce gas and help push food through the digestive system, making it a good toxin flusher. Hippocrates used dill as a mouth cleanser because it also fights bad breath. Put fresh dill in sauces and salad dressings and pile it on top of salmon.

Dandelion Greens seem to be able to do it all: cleanse the liver, relieve constipation and diarrhoea, reduce gas build-up, assist in weight reduction, prevent and lower high-blood pressure, reduce inflammation and the long list goes on. They’re also high in protein.

Jerusalem Artichokes are knobbly potato-looking vegetables are rich in inulin, which is a starch that’s handled by the body differently than sugars. Although it’s not used for energy metabolism, starch has been shown to control blood sugar and improve the immune system. They are also high in iron, magnesium, potassium and B vitamins.

Saffron is one of the most highly valued–and expensive–spices in the world. Good news, however: A little goes a long way. You only need a thread or two to flavour an entire dish and reap its rewards. Saffron is an antioxidant and improves blood circulation. It also helps athletes ease fatigue and muscle inflammation by assisting the tissues in getting rid of lactic acid, which is built up after vigorous exercise.

Kale - If vegetables held popularity contests, kale would reign as king. With all its vitamins, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties and calcium, its superfood status is warranted. And kale’s sulphur and soluble fibre make it a great detoxifier. Add it to salads, soups and superfood bowls.

Sesame Seeds are one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world and was used as medicine in Egyptian times, some 3,600 years ago. Roman soldiers also ate sesame seeds and honey for energy and strength. Sesame seeds, which help cleanse the colon, are high in calcium and magnesium. Choose raw and unprocessed seeds when you can.

Turmeric - This common Indian spice helps cleanse the blood, regenerate damaged liver cells, and fight indigestion and inflammation. Turmeric is also a natural painkiller, which bodes well for those who want to enhance performance. Add the ground spice to curries or throw fresh turmeric into rice, marinades or smoothies.

Ginger - The powerful exotic roots, ginger and galanga add unique, spicy bitter flavour to soups, curries, salads, and tea. These are also well known for treating nausea, motion sickness, and strengthening the immune system. As a natural bitter, ginger is a great asset to any modern diet.

Citrus Fruits like lemon, lime and grapefruits. Of all the citrus fruits, grapefruit is the most abundant source of natural bitters. You’ll find the best source of bitter flavour among grapefruits with a yellow rind. You can also add some lemon juice to warm water in the morning to kickstart your digestion

Peppermint has a wide variety of medicinal uses, but it's especially good for gut and bowel problems as it helps expel gas and stop gas build-up. It's also used to treat headaches, nausea, morning sickness, diarrhoea, and anxiety associated with depression.

Pure cocoa is extremely bitter. Connoisseurs know that chocolate with 80% cocoa content provides a special taste experience. You can improve your tolerance for bittersweet chocolate by starting with some variety of milk chocolate, and gradually increasing the cocoa content.

Aubergine not only tastes good, but also has impressive healing properties. It can be used to relieve constipation, hypertension and stomach ulcers. Aubergine helps dispel toxic heat from the body and improves blood circulation. Aubergine contains bitters that provides are an excellent digestive aid.

Artichoke - A delicacy prized by ancient Egyptians and Romans alike, the artichoke derives its unique flavour from Cynarine. This bitter constituent gives the vegetable its bitter and tart tastes. Artichokes are associated with reducing cholesterol, preventing gallstones, and stimulating bile runoff from the liver. Artichoke contains vitamins C and B1, the provitamin A, as well as the minerals iron, calcium, and magnesium. Artichokes are also a natural bitter that can aid digestive health — not to mention they taste great too.

In addition to green tea benefits for digestive health, the polyphenols found in green tea have been shown to have cancer-fighting, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties. The consumption of green tea for digestive health dates back thousands of years to its earliest uses in India and China.

Brussel Sprouts - like with the sinigrin found in broccoli, the same compound in Brussel sprouts contributes to the potent vegetable’s cancer protecting properties. Natural heirloom Brussel sprouts contain valuable bitters, Vitamins B and C, potassium, and fibre. The cruciferous family contains many bitter-tasting vegetables including broccoli, cabbage, kale, radishes and rocket.

Cranberries are tart, bitter red berries that can be enjoyed raw, cooked, dried or juiced. They contain a type of polyphenol known as type-A pro-anthocyanidins, which can prevent bacteria from sticking to surfaces, such as your bodily tissues. In addition to their antibacterial properties, cranberries are incredibly rich in antioxidants. In fact, they contain the highest concentration out of 24 of the most commonly eaten fruits. This may explain why regular consumption of cranberry juice has been linked to better heart health, including reduced inflammation, blood sugar, blood pressure and triglyceride levels.

Red wine - The health benefits of red wine are often debated, but when it comes to bitter substances red wine contains more in the way of bitter substances than white wine. The bitter substances contained in grapes are primarily concentrated in the skin and cores. Since wine becomes milder through the ripening process, younger wines preserve a prominent tartness. As with so many fruits and vegetables where bitter flavours have been intentionally eliminated because of modern dietary preferences, we typically find only sweet varieties grapes.

The Radicchio is an Italian breed of chicory and closely related to the endive. Radicchio typically resembles red lettuce or cabbage and has a noticeably pleasant bitter taste. This decorative salad garnish prepares particularly well with other salads and vegetables.

Chicory ranks among Hildegard’s the most valuable digestive vegetables. Chicory is low in calories, contains minerals and trace elements such as potassium, magnesium and manganese and is also an important source of vitamins in the winter. Chicory is also a great natural alternative to coffee.

White Asparagus - 20 years ago, white asparagus still had a strong bitter aroma. Today, in an effort to improve broad appeal, most of the bitter substances have been bred out in favour of a pleasantly sweet taste. Natural heirloom white asparagus is a great source of bitter flavour, but conventional white asparagus is still a healthy source of bitter flavours. Incorporating this natural digestive bitter into your diet can do wonders for digestive health and function.

Endive - The uniquely spicy and bitter flavour associated with endives derives primarily from lactucopicrin (Intybin), a pleasant bitter herb with a sedative and analgesic effect. This bitter substance makes the endive lettuce particularly good for overall health. It can be eaten raw or stewed, both preserving the healthy bitters of the plant.

If you are looking for help with your digestion or any nutritional advice, please get in touch. My contact details are at the bottom of the page.

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