Bitter is Better
When asked about flavor profiles it is rare for folks to respond enthusiastically that they “love bitter.” Bitter is one of the basic tastes that our taste buds identify along with sweet, salty, and sour. An affinity for bitter is influenced by several factors including taste experiences, culture, and environment. Bitter plays two roles—it can signal toxins and something that is dangerous to consume and it can also serve as a stimulant for the appetite and as an aid in digestion. Bitter foods can protect against illness, and contribute to good health.
Vegetables that you’ll find on the bitter list include Arugula, Brussels sprouts, and Kale. Arugula also known as salad rocket is a green with a peppery, somewhat mustardy flavor that has long been popular with Italians. It has become increasing popular in the United States. Most often it is served raw however arugula can be sautéed to serve as a cooked vegetable. It is low calorie and a good source of Vitamins A, C, K and folate. It also contains iron and calcium and is a good choice to provide plant-based iron in your diet. This green is high in glucosinolates which de-toxify the body and fight cancer. It is also high in antioxidants which strengthen the immune system and can prevent damage to the body’s cells.
Brussels sprouts are a member of the cabbage family and one of the vegetables that traditionally were not the most popular. They’re now trendy and are often prepared roasted which brings out a sweeter somewhat nutty flavor. Roasting reduces the sulfurous odor and bitter taste which many people dislike. But they are good for you. They are low in calories, provide protein and are high in Vitamins C and K. They also contain Vitamin A, B-vitamins, folate, potassium and fiber. This vegetable also contains glucosinolates and antioxidants, and can aid in reducing cholesterol.
Kale fans love this popular bitter green. It appears throughout the supermarket from the fresh produce aisle, to deli-counter prepared salads, to the snack aisle as kale chips. Kale is low calorie, contains protein and fiber along with Vitamins A, C, and K. It also contains folate, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium. Kale contains a small amount of good fat—an omega-3 fatty acid. Kale however can interfere with blood thinners due to the amount of Vitamin K it contains. It also can suppress thyroid function in some people.
Though we’ve been focused on bitter, I also wanted to share info about a food we typically see at the end of the meal—chocolate. Chocolate is produced from cocoa beans which are naturally bitter and astringent. The more cocoa solids the chocolate contains, the more bitter and astringent the chocolate flavor with higher antioxidant content. Cocoa beans are rich in plant nutrients called flavonoids, the primary type of flavonoids found in cocoa and chocolate are flavanols which have antioxidant properties.
The amount of cacao beans and flavanols can vary. Bittersweet or dark chocolate contains the most generous amounts from higher cacao content chocolate. Dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure and aid in maintaining healthy arteries that are relaxed and flexible thus increasing blood flow. This bitter sweet can have a positive effect on heart health, reduce insulin insensitivity and lower the risk of diabetes. Dark chocolate can also increase the feeling of fullness which can reduce cravings for sweet and salty foods.
I’ve just touched on a few bitter choices, remember it’s important to eat a variety of foods and be mindful of all things in moderation.
Take Away-Include bitter foods in your diet; they stimulate appetite and digestion, can protect against illness and are an aid to good health.