Diet and Nutrition

Monday Meals – Benefits of Bitter Greens!

“Take the bitter with the sweet…” It’s more than just an old proverb, good advice to remind you that life is full of ups and downs. It’s also a directive from Mother Nature – and it’s speaking to your digestion! 

From our earliest days as hunters and gatherers we knew the importance of including bitters into our dietary regimen. The first days of spring brought forth a bounty from the earth in terms of bitter flavors and we harvested them, eating them raw to gain their full health benefits.

From our earliest days as hunters and gatherers we knew the importance of including bitters into our dietary regimen. The first days of spring brought forth a bounty from the earth in terms of bitter flavors and we harvested them, eating them raw to gain their full health benefits. These days we find our bitter greens in radicchio, arugula, watercress and dandelion. Whether in a salad, a smoothiejuiced or souped – these greens pack a powerhouse of health benefits into a tiny, tasty package.

The Need for Bitter

We all know we’re supposed to eat our greens, and the darker the better. They are full of vitamins and fiber and we know those are important. But bitter greens like those mentioned above – as well as kale, fenugreek and chicory and so many others – have added bonuses for your digestion.

In our early days, winter was a time of heavy foods. Dried, salted meat and starchy vegetables that could last throughout the cold season bogged down our digestive tracts. Yes, they kept us alive and functioning, but come the springtime our systems were crying out for a cleanse. And Mother Nature came to the rescue. Tiny new shoots of bitter greens popped up and we instinctively knew to eat them for all the following reasons.

Improved nutrient absorption  Eating bitter things stimulates the production of gastric acid in the stomach. Taste receptors for bitter on the tongue signal to the liver and the gallbladder that digestion is imminent. These organs begin to work on bile and enzyme production which are necessary for successful digestion. The better you digest the foods you eat, the more nutrients your body is able to absorb and use from those foods.

Helps control that sweet tooth It’s no secret that Americans love our sugar. It’s in everything from breads to sauces, drinks to cereals. Nutritionists warn us about not only the health detriments to eating excessive sugar, but also its addictive qualities. Traditional Chinese Medicine entreats us to stay ‘in balance’ in all things. Increasing our consumption of bitter things can naturally bring our sugar consumption into alignment as a byproduct of improved digestion. When we are optimally digesting our foods we reduce cravings.

Detoxify, fight free radicals & lessen infection Bitter foods are generally pretty nutrient dense. As mentioned earlier, the fiber that is prolific in greens and other bitter vegetables keeps things moving through our systems. A constantly moving system flushes out things that don’t belong more efficiently. Bitter greens are also a great source of vitamins like vitamin K – which is blood strengthening – vitamin C – great for immunity – and beta carotene – an antioxidant that contributes to improved immune function.

Get Your Green On

Lucky you! You live in the age of Pinterest. Do a simple search for bitter greens recipes and you’ll come up with a plethora of palatable options. Additionally, it’s easier than ever to grow your own greens and these crops are generally quick growers and early producers.

Try the following recipes to get started!

Autumn Quinoa Salad with Sweet Potatoes, Pecans and Bitter Greens ~ From The Endless Meal

Sauteed Tofu with bitter greens ~ From Martha Stewart

Lentil and Escarole Soup ~ From The New York Times Cooking

Blueberry Dandelion Green Smoothie ~ From 1 Million Health Tips

Kale Pesto Toasts with Red Onions and Grilled Peaches ~ From Epicurious

Want more?

Read ~  The Wild Medicine Solution: Healing with Aromatic, Bitter and Tonic Plants. By Guido Masé

Listen ~ From Coffee To Chicory To Beer, ‘Bitter’ Flavor Can Be Addictive From NPR’s The Salt

Tell us!

Have you a great recipe for bitter greens? Have you tried any of the above? What is your favorite bitter green and your go-to tips for preparing it? Any tricks for getting your resident reluctant eater or rampant sweet tooth to give bitters a try?

Share with our community below!

Now, I’m off to whip up a batch of kale pesto and google whether I can grill canned peaches!

Sources

McMullen MK, Whitehouse JM, Towell A. Bitters: Time for a New Paradigm. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM. 2015;2015:670504. doi:10.1155/2015/670504.

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Holly Tellander

Holly Tellander

Author Holly Tellander is a guest contributor to Womenshealth.com.

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