The Bitter Principle


We all know that what is good for us is not always the easiest or most pleasurable experience.

But often over time our reaction to these experiences change, and we learn to enjoy or even crave the taste we once disliked.

This has been my experience with the green smoothie, the one I make for myself is a gnarly one, full of fresh ginger, herbs and kale.

It is half goop, half smoothie and one that takes a fair amount of chewing! Did you know that chewing, or at least swilling your smoothie is an important step in ensuring that your stomach is gastrically prepared for this liquid onslaught?.

Swilling and chewing brings flavours into contact with your lingual taste receptors, this causes your stomach to increases gastric juices meaning the contents of that smoothie are broken down and absorbed properly.

Historically the bitter taste would have been included in our diet and was just as revered as the sweet, pungent, salty and sour tastes. Unfortunately over the decades the connection to the individual functions of each flavour has been lost and none more so than the bitter taste.

Increasing the amount of bitter herbs and leafy greens to your diet is a sure fire way to your digestive system. When a bitter substance is consumed, the bitter receptors recognise the substance and a chain of reactions are started –known as the bitter reflex. Saliva is released to help you begin mechanical breakdown, gastrin is released which stimulates the release of hydrochloric acid which helps break down protein, enhances bioavailability and destroys harmful microbes that may be hiding in your food.

People who suffer from reflux or heartburn in particular should look at adding more bitter to their diets as these conditions are brought about from low rather than too high stomach acid.

The smooth muscle of the stomach is positively affected by the bitter reflex, increasing the rate of digestion and toning the oesophageal sphincter. This prevents the movement of undigested food and stomach juices into the oesophagus ( i.e heartburn or reflux).

But the bitter reflex’s work is not done yet! Further along, the gastro-intestinal tract, the liver and gall bladder also love the work of those bitters.

By way of increasing bile production and secretion, bitters enhance fat digestion and the absorption of fat soluble vitamins (A, D & E) and allow the proper channels of waste elimination.

So pop a few leaves of rocket or kale in to your next salad or smoothie, or even better –a few dandelion leaves - your whole gastro intestinal system will thank you for it!

Written by Fleur, May 2016