You survived the holidays, Congratulations! You made it through all the preparation, conversing, cleaning, managing relatives, and most of all, digesting decadent meals. If you are at all like me during this festive season and tend to overeat, poorly combine food, and delight in sugary treats, you will be relieved to find out that help is on the way.
When aiding complex digestion, I turn to the trusted and Ancient Ayurvedic tradition that incorporates bitter foods and plants into the diet. Bitter foods are important because they stimulate digestion and cause an increase in metabolism, thus helping move food through the gastrointestinal system. This helps avoid unwanted bloating, congestion, constipation and all around sluggishness. Most of the natural world consists of bitter foods and plants, yet they are mostly excluded from the average American plate. Here are a few simple suggestions on how to incorporate bitter foods into the diet to counteract a sluggish system.
Many are familiar with the tradition of serving a salad as the first course to a meal. Salads traditionally included bitter greens that prepare the GI tract for digestion. Some of these greens include chard, mustard greens, arugula, cabbage, kale, dandelion, and chicory (a common “weed”). So while your preparing your mesclun and spinach salad, throw in a few of these greens and prime your stomach for the meal to come.
Ginger keeps intestinal muscles toned which enables easier transportation of food particles through the digestive tract. This lessens the irritation to the intestinal walls and moves food efficiently through the GI tract. Ginger also improves the production and secretion of bile from the liver and the gallbladder. These secretions also include enzymes that aid in digestion of fats and help to lower the cholesterol in the bloodstream.
Dark chocolate is one of my favorite bitter (and medicinal) treats. And by dark, I mean at least 70% cocoa content. Darker chocolate typically has less sugar and milk added and a higher cocoa content providing more bitter power. City Market and Healthy Living carry a variety of dark, tasty, organic, and fairly traded chocolate bars. If you don’t enjoy dark chocolate, try incorporating baking cocoa into your baked goods.
If you prefer an easier, simpler way of naturally tuning your digestion, try bitter tonics or tinctures. There are a variety of tinctured bitter herbs that can be taken 30 minutes before or after meals. Some bitter medicinal herbs include Gentian, Angelica, Hyssop, Anise, Oregon Grape Root, Dandelion, and Yarrow. If you’d like to add a little more fun and flavor to your bitter tonics, try Burlington based company, Urban Moonshine’s, famous Maple Bitter Tonic.
Bitter foods and tonics can be taken for immediate indigestion relief or as a long-term GI tonic. The essence of physical and mental health is rooted in good digestion. All the fuel, energy, and material needed to support a healthy body begins with the digestion of our food. So get the most of your New Years Resolution diet and start the year off right by incorporating bitters into your lifestyle.