Our tongue can distinguish between five different tastes: sweet, salty, sour, savory (umami), and bitter. Some tastes we enjoy more than others, but how something tastes could also signify how it can aid in our digestion. Case in point, food items that are typically bitter have been shown to improve digestion.
You may have heard of the French term apéritif, which is a beverage consumed before or after a meal. Apéritif usually contains bitters, and when consumed prior to a meal it prompts the salivary glands to start working, which in turn causes the stomach to start secreting juices. Basically, when we consume bitter, it sends a message to the brain to get the entire digestive system started, so by the time you consume food, you’re primed and ready for digestion.
When the brain gets the signal from consumed bitters, it prompts the release of the hormone gastrin, which is responsible for secretion of gastric acid and bile flow along the digestive tract. Anything that has a bitter taste will cause this reaction, including arugula, beer, coffee, and dandelion greens, to name a few.
The best bitter herb available is called gentian, which has been shown to be the best herb for digestion. Unfortunately, for many people it is so bitter they can’t bear to ingest it. Research has shown that consuming gentian can help those who have trouble digesting fat, so you may have to just grin and bear it, if you want to improve your digestion.
Other notable bitter herbs include milk thistle, artichoke, and beet leaf.
How to improve your digestion with bitter herbs
So if you’re ready to improve your digestion by incorporating more bitter herbs into your diet, here are some pointers to consider.
- Start each meal with a salad that contains bitter, dark leafy greens, like arugula and kale, and flavor it with some lemon juice.
- Drink gentian or hops tea up to 20 minutes before meals.
- If you eat too much at a restaurant, ask for a shot of angostura bitters. Dilute the shot into some water and consume.
Bitter tasting foods may not be enjoyable, but if you’re tired of the bloating, gas, and abdominal cramps after each meal, it’s the easiest solution you can resort to in order to feel better.