Diving into Digestion: Using Bitters to Optimize Digestion
At some point, you have probably tried a digestive bitter, whether you knew it or not. Maybe you’ve eaten some bitter tasting greens with your meal such as arugula or dandelion greens, or finished off a dinner sipping an aperitif. Bitters have been used throughout history to help stimulate the digestive process; However, in North America we have shifted our diets to avoid the bitter flavour.
The Digestive Process:
Like many other processes in the body, the digestive system is unique and fine tuned to help us break down our food into nutrients which in turns provides energy, growth and cell repair. The digestive process starts in the mouth as soon as we start salivating from the smell of food. Chewing breaks down food into smaller pieces, and saliva contains the first wave of digestive enzymes, including amylase, to further break down what we are eating. Our stomach continues the breakdown, as it secretes stomach acid and enzymes, while mixing and grinding our food. In the small intestine, more enzymes such as trypsin, amylase and lipase are released and bile is added to further break down fat. In the small intestine most of our absorption of nutrients occurs. From there a few more processes take place and eventually waste is eliminated as a bowel movement.
So What About Herbal Bitters?
When we consume herbal bitters, we are awakening our metabolism. The bitter flavor stimulates bitter receptors starting on the tongue and continuing throughout the digestive tract. It is telling our tongues – its time to digest! They also help gallbladder and liver function including the production and release of bile. Bitters enhance the body’s natural digestive juices. Examples of bitter herbs include gentian, dandelion, artichoke and angelica.
Bitter have many benefits to the digestive process including:
Helping stimulate appetite and digestion
Increasing digestive secretions, which in turn improves the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats and proteins
Helping relieve digestive disturbances such as gas and bloating
Tonifying the digestive tract and promoting regular bowel movements
I often recommend bitters combinations be consumed 5-10 minutes before a meal. Adding bitters into your meal time routine helps the body switch into the parasympathetic mode, or rest and digest as discussed in Dr. Heather's article, being a perfect addition for a mindful eating routine. As always, it is best to consult a qualified health care practitioner before the additional of any herbal products. While herbal bitters sound magical, they are not for everyone. Bitters may aggravate gastritis, stomach ulcers and GERD.
Happy digesting friends :)