Sweet and salty get all the attention from our taste buds. But if you have digestion issues after going high fat/low carb, bitter is better.
Some people who go keto (aka ketogenic diet) are having a rough go at it. Switching from a high carb/low fat diet to one that’s 180 degrees in the opposite direction can place a heavy burden on the digestive system—especially if your gallbladder struggles to secrete bile, the greenish soap-like substance that helps break down dietary fat.
Our distant ancestors chewed the roots of bitter plants to help break down fats in meat. We no longer forage for bitter roots. Instead, the modern industrial food complex has most of us hooked on salty and sweet stuff.
If you struggle with indigestion, acid reflux, bloating, belching, and elimination problems, try consuming bitter herbs and other bitter foods on a daily basis.
What Are The Benefits Of Digestive Bitters?
They stimulate digestion by increasing hydrochloric acid, digestive enzymes and bile. Bitter herbs and foods actually start working way before they reach the stomach. When you place something bitter on your tongue, the approximately 10,000 taste buds spring the vagus nerve into action. The parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” branch of the autonomic nervous system) stimulates the activity of the salivary glands and digestive organs.
Your tongue isn’t the only organ to perceive bitterness. The stomach, too, contains bitter taste receptors. And when bitterness is perceived by the receptors, satiety-inducing hormones secrete into the bloodstream. So not only can bitter herbs and foods improve digestion, they may actually help prevent overeating.
Researchers in 2015 discovered a new mechanism by which bitters may work. Writing in Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the researchers found that bitters help elicit a cephalic response, which basically means that bitters send sensory signals that prepare the gastrointestinal tract for the optimal processing of food. Another benefit the researchers found of bitters: they increase blood flow to the digestive system.
Low stomach acid is arguably an epidemic in Western society. This is because of the preponderance of processed foods and the overuse of antacids.
Examples of Bitter Herbs and Bitter Foods
The most common examples of bitter herbs are dandelion and ginger.
But there are several others, including:
- Citrus peel
- Cassia bark
- Bitter melon
- Milk thistle
In addition to these bitter herbs, there are a select few standout bitter foods that may help improve your digestion. These include endives, cabbage, lettuce, cruciferous veggies, cranberries, cacao and, great news for caffeine addicts: coffee!
How To Use Digestive Bitters
Obviously, with bitter foods, just eat them daily. For bitter herbs, it can be as simple as placing them directly on your tongue and chewing a little bit of it, if it’s an edible root. You can also place bitter herbs in pure or sparkling water. For best results, make sure you consume bitter herbs before meals to optimize digestion.
According to nutritionist Dr. Ann Louise Gittleman, bitters also improve digestion by increasing the population of beneficial bacteria in the gut and decreasing harmful bacteria.
“The presence of even one strain of bacteria known to cause weight gain is enough to shift your entire microbiome and cause you to pack on the pounds. Bitters help rebalance the microbiome with intestinal flora in your favor,” Dr. Gittleman writes on her blog.
One of the selling points of the keto diet is fast weight loss. But if you can’t digest all that dietary fat, you may have trouble shedding unwanted pounds. By incorporating bitters in your diet, you may better digest dietary fat and improve digestion.
Do you use digestive bitters? Let us know by leaving a comment below...