Do Digestive Bitters Help With Digestion?
Did you know that your taste buds are only capable of tasting five different flavors? There are sweet, salty, unami, sour and bitter. Interestingly, these flavors each correlate with different properties and benefits in our food and that’s why many traditional cultures believed that it was crucial we get all of these flavors in order to enjoy a balanced and healthy diet!
Today, there is certainly an abundance of sweet flavors however and a fair amount of salt too. Sugar and salt is added to just about everything we eat on a regular basis, which is certainly responsible for at least a decent number of the different health problems that are so prevalent today.
So what is the issue here? Is it that we aren’t getting enough of the nutrients that are associated with bitter foods? That by relying on sweet foods we’re only getting the nutrients that come from sweet foods (and not even that when the sugar is added artificially to processed, empty calories!).
Actually, there are those that suggest that there might also be an issue with the lack of bitter itself. That is to say that we may experience some health issues simply because we aren’t getting bitter flavors in our diet. Could it be that this is damaging our appetite? That it is preventing us from craving the right foods? In this post, we’ll look at this potential issue in more detail, as well as a potential solution: digestive bitters.
What Are Digestive Bitters?
A digestive bitter is anything that can provide a bitter taste in your food. A lot of people will try to avoid this bitter taste, but the reality is that it plays an important role.
Here’s an interesting fact: did you know that bitter taste receptors (called T2 receptors) are not just found in the mouth? Rather, they are actually found in all the different organs of the body from the oral cavity, to the liver, to the pancreas and even the colon. They are found in large quantities in the stomach.
One theory then, is that bitter tastes actually stimulate certain functions throughout the body. One research paper concluded:
“The other recent revelation in taste research is that the receptors …are not restricted to the tongue. They are distributed throughout the stomach, intestine and pancreas, where they aid the digestive process by influencing appetite and regulating insulin production. They have also been found in the airways, where they have an impact on respiration, and even on sperm, where they affect maturation.”
For those that are interested in ‘biohacking’, this should make a lot of sense. How do you hack any system? You first look at the inputs. And what is one of the least talked-about inputs for the human body? The taste! By hacking the taste receptors, you may be able to stimulate certain responses and this makes a lot of sense – of course the body would alter its function based on what it knew about what it was eating!
And it seems that the bitter taste in particular might play an important role in digestion. It appears to undulate the oesophagus, to stimulate important digestive enzymes and to produce bile for breaking down fats. Even the intestines become primed and ready for the food that’s coming.
Digestive Bitters for Weight Loss
What’s more, is that getting the right balance of flavors might actually prove useful in curbing hunger. That’s because the body associates those different flavors with things it needs. Have you ever woken up with a craving for a specific food? Chances are that you don’t really need that food itself but rather nutrients associated with that taste.
And likewise, if the body can eventually ‘tire’ of a certain taste or adapt to tastes that are incoming. Eating more bitters might actually help you to lessen your ‘sweet tooth’ to the point where sweet foods taste less alluring and you actually start seeking out a better balance naturally.
And what happens once you reduce your sweet tooth? Simple: you start to remove the sugar from your tea and coffee, to raid the fridge for snacks less often and generally to stick to less rich foods!
There also appear to be a number of other benefits of digestive bitters, including:
- Curbing sugar cravings
- Soothing gas and bloating
- Relieving heartburn
- Encouraging the production of enzymes
- Calming stomach pains
- Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels
- Improving the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K
- Balancing appetite
- Supporting health skin
- Improving liver function
- Easing constipation
How to Get Bitters for Digestion
While the research on this topic is relatively limited, the reality is that there’s definitely something to the use of digestive bitters and you might as well try adding to them to your diet. At the very least, they will reduce your sugar cravings and that is reason enough to go ahead!
Okay, so how do you start getting the benefits of digestive bitters? Where can you find digestive foods?
One option is to look to herbs. There are many supplemental herbal tonics and tinctures that provide a natural bitter flavor. Some of the most popular include urban moonshine bitters. Another option is to look for flora Swedish bitters.
Coffee beans are also naturally bitter, as is coffee itself – so why not just drink some coffee black with your dinner? Other choices include kale (which is also an amazing superfood in its own right), bitter melon, bitter orange, dill, saffron, Jerusalem artichokes and saffron among others.
The best time to enjoy these is just before dinner or during, in which case it should stimulate the stomach and the digestive tract to begin preparing for the incoming food. Otherwise, just adding some bitter flavors to your diet should be enough to help you balance out your sweet tooth.
Similarly, try gradually removing the many sweet things you drink. I personally recommend removing the sugar from your tea, which will help you to mature your taste more quickly!