Oct. 5. 2016
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

Learn simple ways to incorporate bitters to help improve digestion.

Is bitter the forgotten taste? We all know in the standard American diet we’re bombarded with sweet and salty, but what about sour and bitter – where did these go? Why are our bodies able to detect these tastes in food, yet we’re not consuming foods that actually contain these tastes?

Digestion has always fascinated me, from the time I was studying nutrition in undergrad through grad school to when I started to really figure out what was going on with my own digestive system. It’s a fascinating world – gut research is ever changing with ongoing studies and new practices, yet we can also revisit ancient remedies and functional foods that may help improve our digestion.

Enter in: bitters. I’ve become really intrigued by bitters as of late. My love is in the cocktail industry, and he’s opened my eyes to that world from the flavor, texture, aroma, balance, and also…bitters! Of course, the flavor is beautifully balanced when made well in a cocktail, but there are many health and digestive benefits to bitters (with or without alcohol) and digestifs that we can all take note on.

There are, of course, the bitters that are commonly found in tinctures, but there are also whole foods that are naturally bitter or act as a pungent/bitter/aromatic compound to help stimulate or relax digestion such as citrus, cinnamon, ginger, coffee, dandelion or other bitter greens.

Think of bitters as “toning” our digestive system. They engage our digestion to do more work and to do the work it should be doing. Beyond digestion, bitters have actually been shown to help stabilize blood sugars and reduce hunger. First things first, let’s dive into some of my favorite bitters you can try today, ways to use them, and where to get em’:

1. Coffee

Coffee contains theobromine, theophylline, and caffeine that increase bile flow for better digestion. Note that coffee should be consumed in moderation, and for more on how much you should be drinking read this post.

2. Dark Chocolate

Just be sure that it’s high-quality dark chocolate. I recommend 80% cacao dark chocolate or cacao nibs to help keep your digestive juices flowing.

3. Dill

Dill contains oils called carvone that can help keep digestion moving and relieve gas build up. Try it in my Crunchy Cucumber Tomato Salad or Fingerling Potato and Dill Toss.

4. Ginger

Ginger has been known to ease digestion for quite some time. Try it in a smoothie like the Creamy Ginger Green Smoothie or a tea like the Zinger Tea.

5. Kale

Is there anything kale can’t do? It’s packed with vitamins but also a soluble fiber that supports digestion. Try it in the Massaged Kale Salad.

6. Arugula

Start your meal with an arugula salad like the Simple Greens Salad in the #NScookbook to kickstart your digestive system

7. Radicchio

Like arugula, add it to a salad before a meal to support digestion.

8. Dandelion

Try it in an herbal dandelion tea like this one. You can also add dandelion greens to a salad before a meal.

9. Peppermint

Try it in peppermint tea or add a few drops of peppermint oil to a beverage to help digestion. Some people even chew on peppermint leaves to aid in digestion, but you can still get its benefits from teas or oils.

10. Citrus

Think of more bitter tasting citruses like lemons or grapefruit to boost digestion. Try it in the Citrus-4 Juice or add some lemon juice to warm water in the morning to kickstart your digestion.

Have You Tried Them?

I’m really interested to see bitters become more of a trend and incorporated into foods/recipes rather than just hanging out in the cocktail industry. What do you think? What are your favorite digestive friendly herbs or bitters that you’ve tried? How did you use them? I’d love to hear them (and I know the NS community would love it too!). Share it below and share any digestive friendly meals you love on Instagram with #nutritionstripped so I can see em’ in action!

xx McKel

Photo by Katie Newburn