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What Does Bitter Do for The Body?

What Does Bitter Do for The Body?

The bitter taste, while often avoided, is critical for digestion. Bitter stimulates the stomach to bring acid levels up to the proper level and encourages the liver, pancreas and gall bladder to produce digestive enzymes. In short, bitter makes sure we can break down our food and pull out the nutrition inside.

The American diet is currently lacking bitter tastes.  We have plenty of salty.  We get quite a lot of sour.  We get too much sweet though and that’s part of the problem.  Somewhere along the line we became convinced that we should avoid bitter.

Bitter Emotions

Even from an emotional standpoint we don’t really explore bitter.  There is unspoken pressure to hide away any feelings of bitterness.  This is an emotion that we are not supposed to feel if we are being “nice”.  Unfortunately for us, this is a human emotion no matter how you slice it.  Denying its existence or hiding it away does the same thing any kind of suppression of emotion might cause…. bigger problems.

Bitters for Sweet Tooth

Can Bitter Flavors Curb a Sweet Tooth?

YES! We NEED bitter. Our tongues have gotten so out of practice in the expression of what it means to crave the bitter taste that many of us experience this craving as a sugar craving. Our body KNOWS how to communicate with us in that sugary taste... but not so much in the bitter, until we get back into the habit of eating it.

On the tongue and throughout our digestive tract we have areas that specialize in bitter reception. We have evolved with a need for bitter so strong that we are actually hard-wired to seek it out. The Western diet has become all about emotional pay-off in food- we seek the sweet or the salty far too often. We find it readily because our way of eating is governed by marketing experts that are most interested in giving people what they want to the detriment of what they need.

When we respond to our cravings with sugar, the bitter receptors in our body are still not satisfied so they continue to signal. In fact, most of our sweet cravings are really just the body trying to tell us that it needs some help with digestion.

Responding with more sugar, instead of the help the body actually needs results in more and more eating and the notion that we have a “sweet tooth”. While we can respond with a number of bitter foods, we have made a convenient bitters formula that can just be dropped onto the tongue instead. All of our bitters can be enjoyed right from the dropper, but they also can be added to sodas and teas (or cocktails!!!) to make interesting flavor combinations!

We make a variety of bitters in both vinegar and alcohol:

A shot of bitters every time you think you’re having a sweet craving is a great way to find out what your body really needs. In most cases it will head off unnecessary sugar eating… when it doesn’t, you know you truly want something sweet. There are other benefits to a sip of bitters than just responding to cravings.

Can Bitters Help With Digestion?

Most of the herbs found in a bitters formula are important for proper digestion. They are the herbs that tone and strengthen the liver and gall bladder. They ensure that there are proper levels of digestive fluids produced by these organs and being made available in the stomach. We have a plague of digestive problems in our culture, malabsorption of nutrition, constipation, acid reflux, gas/bloating, immune system deficiencies, behavioral maladies, skin problems, the list goes on and on. Most of this is due to a clogged liver and a lazy digestive system that is no longer producing appropriate levels of acid.

How Do I Use Bitters?

Getting into the current bitters craze at your local bar is actually a good first step- these were originally health tonics and can continue to be used as such. Buying a good herbal “Bitters” compound is even better. For digestive problems you would want to take a capful (or at least half of a dropperful) about 15-20 minutes before eating. It is BITTER! You will feel your mouth fill with saliva in response. This is a good thing- it means the same thing is happening in your stomach… filling it with the digestive juices you will need to more thoroughly digest your food.

Bitter Melon Bitters

What Is the Healthiest Bitter?

The healthiest bitter is the one that you like to use most often! Truthfully, anything bitter will do the trick. There isn't a magic formula here. The magic is in stimulating your body to do what it is already designed to do naturally. It's replacing a missing piece that we removed when we started playing with our food.

If you like food options, these are all examples of food that can readily be incorporated back into our diet to get the balance we need.

  • Bitter melon
  • The peel on that summer cucumber
  • Dandelion greens
  • The white peel of an orange 

Herbal options fill a much longer list. Some of the most popular are those that we use in our bitters formulas:

  • Gentian
  • Artichoke Leaf
  • Dandelion
  • Hops
  • Angelica

Who Should Avoid Bitters?

Pregnant women should avoid most bitters, but don’t need to avoid our All Hopped Up formula.

Bitters aren’t unsafe for pregnant women- in fact, they are probably the group that need them the most! When you are pregnant, high levels of progesterone encourage your digestion to slow. This can often lead to uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous, constipation. It can also increase the occurrence of acid reflux.

If you are using bitters all the way through your pregnancy, you don’t need to worry about some of the most common symptoms. Bitters keep your digestion moving!

As I said, not all bitters are safe for pregnant women. Many of the most common formulas contain herbs that are not good during pregnancy because they can encourage contractions. This is about the herbs itself, not the bitter flavor! Because we work so closely with the birthing community, it was so important to us to have a pregnancy safe bitters formula.

One other group of folks should be mentioned here as well. We typically suggest that those with open lesions and active inflammation in their digestive tract start with our Pie Spice formula first. Bitters are a necessary next step to health, but it is good to heal up the gut and aim for peace and calm before the activity that bitters will encourage.

Is Bitter Taste Good for the Liver?

Absolutely! As mentioned above, the bitter flavor encourages our liver, pancreas and gall bladder to produce digestive enzymes. This means a gentle exercise every time we eat! Imagine what is going on in the bodies of those who are not getting this exercise….

When our liver, pancreas and gall bladder are left inactive for long periods of time they get fatty, congested, lazy (they stop doing other jobs too!)… and in the case of the gall bladder, they can accumulate stones because of their inactivity.

To sum it up…If you want healthy organs, find some way to incorporate bitters into your diet as soon as possible!

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