Are you feeling sluggish and stodgy after a long winter filled with your favourite cold-weather comfort foods? Do you feel like everything you eat just sits in your stomach for far too long? As a holistic nutritionist, I see numerous clients with gastrointestinal dysfunction and a sluggish digestive system tops the list.
One of my favourite group of foods to use in practice (and on my own dining table) are “bitter greens.” Bitter greens, as the name suggests, are bitter tasting veggies that enhance digestive function by stimulating the release of stomach acid and digestive enzymes to help our bodies break down the foods we eat. The whole process begins the moment the bitter taste hits your mouth, which triggers the release of saliva and sends signals to the brain to jumpstart the rest of the digestive system. Bitter greens also stimulate the gallbladder to contract and release bile, which in turn helps break down fats, which are vital for the transport of essential fatty acids like Omega 3 and fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Apart from being an “appetiser” for the whole digestive system, bitter greens are also rich in other nutrients such as vitamin C, folate, iron, magnesium and antioxidants.
Which greens are actually classed as bitters? Radicchio and chicory (both pictured above) are two of my favourites but other examples include dandelion greens, rocket, silverbeet (or chard), watercress, mustard greens, mizuna, bok choy, kale, tatsoi and collard greens (for those Stateside). Most of these are readily found in green grocers and the fresh produce section of the supermarket. They are also one of the easiest things to grown in even the smallest of kitchen gardens! Optimising your digestion with bitter greens may help ease symptoms of gas, bloating, nausea and abdominal pain. So before you reach for that Mylanta, start your meal with a little salad of mixed bitter greens with a squeeze of lemon! You can even make a light lunch of it like our salad below–Bitter green salad with pear, raw walnuts, goat cheese and lemon juice: