It’s universally accepted that humans can taste five dominant basic flavors: sweet, salty, savory (umami), sour, and, of course, bitter. While salty or sweet are pleasing to our taste buds, bitter foods like grapefruit or broccoli with their unmistakable strong and pungent character aren’t always as easy to get down the hatch. The reason for that lies in our evolution.
While not all bitter compounds are dangerous, plants began producing these bitter compounds to make them less delicious to predators and to defend against disease. Scientists believe that about 1 million years ago, a genetic mutation gave our early human ancestors the ability to taste bitter compounds as a tool for survival since it could be a sign of something toxic or rancid. 
Over time, we eventually figured out what we could not safely eat. Along the way, cultures around the world embraced many bitter plants and herbs for not only their taste but also the variety of health benefits they could provide.
Unfortunately, in the last century, bitter foods have fallen out of favor for more salty and sweet-tasting processed foods which are easier on the palette. Farmers and food producers have even tried to breed the bitter out, to make bitter-tasting fruits and veggies more friendly.
Luckily, with the popularity of healthy plant-based eating and global flavors on the rise, bitter flavors from veggies like kale and cauliflower are coming back to our plates. Research is showing bitterness is something we should all learn to love again. If you find bitter foods hard to swallow, using a supplement like Flora Swedish Bitters makes getting your bitters super easy.
Not only are bitter foods wonderful for balancing flavors and creating more complex dishes, but these foods have a variety of benefits that you shouldn’t overlook.
Here are a few health benefits of bitter foods:
1. Bitter Foods Can Help Aid Digestion
When the compounds in bitter-tasting herbs and foods hit the bitter taste receptors on our tongue known as TAS2Rs, our digestion gets kicked into high gear.* 
Bitter compounds trigger the release of saliva and other digestive juices like stomach acid and digestive enzymes, all of which help us break down and absorb our food properly so we can stay healthy and keep our metabolism running smoothly.* 
For centuries bitter foods and “bitters”—which are tonics steeped with a variety of bitter plants—herbs and spices have been used in cultures throughout the world as a remedy to improve digestion and promote regularity while reducing feelings of digestive upset including bloating, feelings of fullness and gas.
2. Bitter Foods Can Help Us Absorb More Nutrients
Bitter foods encourage the release of digestive enzymes, which are proteins that help us break down and extract the nutrients from the food we eat so we can use them for fuel.* 
Plant-based bitter compounds also stimulate bile production, a substance produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, which is needed by the body to break down and digest fats. Bile helps to emulsify the fat in our gut, increasing its surface area, so we can absorb more of those very important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K locked within.*
3. Bitter Foods Encourage the Body’s Natural Cleansing Process
Besides digesting fat, bile also helps carry away waste products filtered from the liver, including excess cholesterol and bilirubin, a byproduct produced by the breakdown of old, damaged, or dead red blood cells.
Keeping your bile moving and your gallbladder contracting with bitter foods can help support the liver and encourage one of the body's own natural cleansing processes. They also may help prevent stagnant, sludgy bile, which can lead to the formation of gallstones.*
4. Bitter Food is Great for Gut Health and Can Support Immunity
Many healthy bitter foods also contain prebiotics, a type of fibre that feeds the trillions of beneficial bacteria in the gut, which, combined with our own immune cells, account for upwards of 70% of our body’s immune system. 
Research shows the effect bitter foods have on our digestive system can help increase the diversity and numbers of beneficial microbes in our gut while reducing the bad. [6, 7] A healthy population of bacteria in our gut protects the gut lining, may stimulate the immune system, and can affect almost every aspect of our health. 
- Synthesize vitamins (Bs and K) 
- May produce up to 90% of the brain’s “feel-good” chemical, serotonin, which can affect mood and sleep 
- Promote healthy weight and cholesterol levels* 
- Break down food and waste products. 
Having a healthy variety of “good gut bugs” may also help prevent leaky gut, a condition where tiny holes develop in the gut line that allows toxins, undigested food particles, and foreign invaders to enter the bloodstream. If not addressed, a leaky gut can cause a variety of health problems, including headaches, diarrhea, skin issues, low energy, bloating, food sensitivities, and inflammatory chronic diseases. 
5. Bitter Foods Are Antioxidant-Rich
Another benefit of eating more bitter plant-based foods is that you’ll also be nourishing your body with antioxidants. In fact, it’s the antioxidants in every bite of broccoli or sip of coffee that make them bitter.
Antioxidants protect the body by neutralizing free radicals—unstable chemicals that can damage cells and even change the important information stored in our DNA. Unchecked, free radicals can lead to premature aging (including the formation of wrinkles!) and have been linked in studies to the development of chronic diseases. 
While the antioxidants in bitter foods are your body’s cleaning crew for rogue free radicals, it’s not a one-size-fits-all job. There are many types of plant-based antioxidant compounds, including over 200 types of glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing phytochemicals found in cruciferous veggies, and over 8000 types of polyphenols stored in other bitter foods like cocoa, green tea, and kale. [15, 16]
Aim to eat a variety of these bitter anti-rich foods for the most benefits.
6. Bitters May Fight Sugar Cravings and Reduce Appetite
Promising research has shown that bitters may control sugar cravings, slow the absorption of sugar, and also encourage healthy blood sugar levels.* [17, 18]
While bitter foods stimulate appetite in the short term, they can also slow the release of food from the stomach. This can lead to feelings of satiation and fullness, helping us reduce our overall calorie intake. 
While not all bitter compounds may have the same effect, one small study found that quinine, a bitter compound extracted from trees, reduced overall calorie intake in 20 subjects. 
7. Bitter Foods are Packed with Nutrients and Support the Immune System
Bitter greens and veggies like arugula, kale, and broccoli are chock-full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and beneficial plant compounds including vitamins A, C, E, and K, as well as calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
When compared to spinach, bitter-tasting dandelion greens have eight times more antioxidants, three times more vitamin A, five times more vitamin E and twice as much calcium as spinach.
How to Work Bitter Foods into Your Diet
Studies show that much of our taste preferences, including those for how we perceive bitterness, are coded in our DNA. While children are naturally more sensitive to bitterness (also an evolutionary tool to help increase their survival), researchers have found that some adults are genetically more sensitive to certain bitter foods and may experience them differently than others. 
Even our age, gender, and culture can play a part in the way we accept bitter things onto our plates.  It’s also possible to enjoy some bitter compounds while turning your nose up at others. That’s why you may love bitter foods like cocoa powder and coffee, but still not be able to get on board with broccoli.
With more exposure though, you can train your palette to enjoy healthy bitter foods, making it a flavor you can look forward to. Besides being healthy, bitter foods can make otherwise boring dishes, cocktails, or mocktails more complex.
To get the benefits, all you have to do is start eating more bitter foods.
Bitter foods to include in your diet include:
- Lettuces and leafy greens: kale, radicchio, endive, arugula, dandelion leaves, watercress, frisee, collard
- Veggies: cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts, artichoke,
- Fruits: grapefruit, cranberries, bitter orange, citrus zest, bitter melon
- Herbs: peppermint, chamomile, milk thistle
- Spices: cumin, turmeric, saffron, caraway
- Other foods: bitters, coffee, apple cider vinegar, green tea, dark chocolate
Simple Ways to Make Bitter Foods Taste Better
Mix Up Your Veggies: Add bitter foods to dishes with non-bitter veggies, legumes, or whole grains.
Balance Your Flavors: Sweet ingredients, including berries, honey, and maple syrup, can balance the bitterness. So can adding salt, fat, or sour from citrus! For a delicious salad with the benefits of bitterness, try a lemon vinaigrette over chopped kale with dates and goat cheese.
Spice Things Up: Try fresh herbs and spices like basil and rosemary to disguise bitterness.
Go Cold: Cold food or drinks tame the intensity of bitterness.
For a Boost of Bitter Try Swedish Bitters from Flora
Bitters are a botanical infusion or tonic made with a wide variety of bitter fruits, spices, barks, fruits, roots, and herbs used for centuries to ease and promote healthy digestion.
While they’re often used to add complex flavor to beverages, they can also promote healthy digestion when taken alone.*
For a quick boost of bitterness, adding Swedish Bitters to your daily routine is simple and easy. Plus, they’re alcohol-free.
Well-known Austrian herbalist and famed author of the book ‘Health Through God's Pharmacy,’ Maria Treben developed this powerful Swedish Bitters formula. In fact, the recipe is based on a centuries-old folk elixir that was popular throughout Europe dating back to the Middle Ages.
Why Swedish? Around 1850, a Swedish doctor by the name of Claus Samst refined and promoted his own version of the early folk recipe. A believer in the power of bitters, he eventually died in a riding accident at 104, during a time when the average life expectancy was 20 - 40 years of age.
Swedish Bitters from Flora contain a proprietary blend of 13 bitter herbs and spices, including:
- Rhubarb root
- Aloe vera leaf juice
- Angelica root
- Valerian root
- Camphor wood
- Cinnamon bark
- Cardamom seed
- Carline thistle root
- Manna sap
- Saffron flower
- Senna leaf
- Myrrh resin
- Zedoary root
What’s unique about these Swedish Bitters is that unlike many other bitter tonic formulas on the market, this one is alcohol and additive-free. It also comes in an environmentally friendly amber glass bottle to help keep freshness and preserve flavor.
What Do Swedish Bitters Taste Like?
Swedish Bitters are indeed herbal, woody—and bitter! Try adding it to herbal or iced teas like chamomile or hibiscus to dilute and ease into the taste and give your body a boost of the bitterness it loves. It can also help avoid any irritation on an empty stomach.
Should Anyone Stay Away from Bitters?
Avoid bitters or consult with a doctor if you’re pregnant or if you have digestive disorders like GERD, gastritis, ulcers, or gallbladder disease. If you are taking medication, check with your doctor or pharmacist before adding bitters or bitter foods to your diet, as certain plants and herbs may affect the way they work.
When is the Best Time to Enjoy Swedish Bitters?
A teaspoon of Swedish Bitters 15 minutes before meals is all you need to promote digestion and ease feelings of fullness.* I’ve had success taking bitters right after a meal, too! Some may feel the benefits of improved digestion immediately, while others may find more benefits with continued use.
Support Your Digestion with Bitters!
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