In today’s world of sweet, sour, savory, and salty flavours, the bitter taste is rarely seen on the plate in western cultures. However, recent discoveries suggest that incorporating bitter foods and herbs into our diet can significantly improve hormonal health and digestion, which would be very helpful during menopause. In this blog, we’ll explore the importance of bitter foods, their impact on our health, and how to incorporate them into our daily lives.

The Bitter Truth

Understanding the role of Bitter Taste Receptors traditionally, it was believed that bitters stimulated digestion by interacting with receptors on the tongue, which then sent signals to the brain and digestive organs. Recent research has identified around 30 bitter taste receptors (TAS2Rs) and has also discovered that these receptors are not restricted to the mouth but are also present in the gastrointestinal tract. This new understanding of bitter receptors changes our perception of how bitter herbs work and suggests that tasting them is not essential for their digestive benefits.

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Bitter Benefits

Understanding the role of Bitter Taste Receptors traditionally, it was believed that bitters stimulated digestion by interacting with receptors on the tongue, which then sent signals to the brain and digestive organs. Recent research has identified around 30 bitter taste receptors (TAS2Rs) and has also discovered that these receptors are not restricted to the mouth but are also present in the gastrointestinal tract. This new understanding of bitter receptors changes our perception of how bitter herbs work and suggests that tasting them is not essential for their digestive benefits.

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Bitter Greens

The addition of leafy bitterness to your diet by simply adding bitter leaves and vegetables into your meals can improve digestion and hormonal health. Examples of bitter leaves include dandelion greens, arugula or rocket, endive, and radicchio. Try adding these greens to your salads, sautéing them with garlic and olive oil, or blending them into a green smoothie.

Bitter Herbs

Incorporating bitter herbs into your daily routine can be as simple as enjoying a cup of digestive herbal tea. These teas often feature a blend of bitter herbs that work synergistically to improve digestion and overall health. Here are some popular herbal blends and formulas that you can try to experience the benefits of bitter herbs:

Traditional Digestive Tea Blend

Gentian root, Wormwood, Fennel seeds, Peppermint leaves, Chamomile flowers

This classic blend combines the digestive benefits of bitter herbs like gentian and wormwood with the soothing and calming properties of fennel, peppermint, and chamomile. The result is a tea that not only enhances digestion but also relaxes the gastrointestinal tract, reducing discomfort and bloating.

Scandinavian Bitter Tea Blend

Dandelion root, Burdock root, Licorice root, Calendula flowers, Orange peel

This Scandinavian-inspired blend offers a milder bitter taste with the addition of licorice root and orange peel. Dandelion and burdock roots provide gentle bitter properties, while calendula flowers offer anti-inflammatory benefits to help soothe the digestive system.

Liver Support Tea Blend

Milk thistle seeds, Artichoke leaves, Boldo leaves, Ginger root, Lemon balm

This liver-supportive blend features artichoke leaves and boldo leaves, both of which have bitter compounds that stimulate bile production and aid in detoxification. Milk thistle seeds provide further liver support, while ginger and lemon balm add flavor and digestive benefits to the mix.

Ayurvedic Digestive Tea Blend

Cumin seeds, Coriander seeds, Fennel seeds, Cardamom pods, Ginger root

Inspired by the ancient Indian system of Ayurveda, this warming blend incorporates aromatic spices with gentle bitter and digestive properties. Cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds all support digestion, while cardamom and ginger add a spicy kick and additional digestive benefits.

Bitter Greens Tea Blend

Nettle leaves, Dandelion leaves, Raspberry leaves, Peppermint leaves, Lemon verbena

For a green tea experience that provides a range of beneficial bitter compounds, try this blend of nettle, dandelion, and raspberry leaves. Peppermint and lemon verbena add a refreshing touch to this nourishing and healthful tea.

Remember to consult with a healthcare professional or a naturopath before incorporating any new herbs into your routine, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or are taking medications. Enjoying a cup of bitter herbal tea daily can be a great way to include these powerful herbs in your diet and support hormonal health and digestion during menopause or perimenopause.

 Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a long history of using bitter herbs and herbal formulas to support digestion and overall health. These formulas are often composed of various herbs that work together to address a wide range of digestive issues. Here are some popular TCM herbal formulas that incorporate bitter herbs for digestive support:

Bao He Wan

  • Hawthorn fruit (Shan Zha)
  • Massa fermentata (Shen Qu)
  • Radish seed (Lai Fu Zi)
  • Tangerine peel (Chen Pi)
  • Forsythia fruit (Lian Qiao)
  • Pinellia rhizome (Ban Xia)
  • Poria (Fu Ling)

Bao He Wan is a classic TCM formula for indigestion, bloating, and acid reflux. This formula combines bitter herbs like hawthorn fruit and forsythia fruit with other herbs known to support digestion and reduce excess stomach acid.

Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang

  • Codonopsis root (Dang Shen)
  • Atractylodes rhizome (Bai Zhu)
  • Poria (Fu Ling)
  • Licorice root (Gan Cao)
  • Tangerine peel (Chen Pi)
  • Pinellia rhizome (Ban Xia)
  • Aucklandia root (Mu Xiang)
  • Amomum fruit (Sha Ren)

Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang is a modified version of the classic Liu Jun Zi Tang formula, with the addition of bitter herbs aucklandia root and amomum fruit. This formula is used to treat poor appetite, bloating, and diarrhea caused by weak digestive function and is particularly suitable for those with a weak spleen and stomach in TCM terms.

Huang Lian Shang Qing Wan 

  • Coptis rhizome (Huang Lian)
  • Scutellaria root (Huang Qin)
  • Forsythia fruit (Lian Qiao)
  • Gardenia fruit (Zhi Zi)
  • Mint (Bo He)
  • Licorice root (Gan Cao)

Huang Lian Shang Qing Wan is a powerful formula that contains several bitter herbs like coptis rhizome, scutellaria root, and forsythia fruit. This formula is used to clear heat and dampness in TCM terms, which can manifest as digestive issues, such as acid reflux, gastritis, or ulcers.

Remember to consult with a TCM practitioner, healthcare professional, or a naturopath before incorporating any new herbs or herbal formulas into your routine, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or are taking medications. Including TCM herbal formulas in your daily routine can provide an additional layer of support for hormonal health and digestion during menopause.

Bitter Recipe Inspiration

Embrace bitter flavours in Your kitchen, including bitter foods into your diet can be as simple as adding a handful of bitter greens to your salad or experimenting with bitter herbs in your cooking. Here are some recipe ideas to get you started.

Dandelion green salad with goat cheese, walnuts, and a lemon vinaigrette

Bitter green smoothie with kale, arugula, cucumber, and green apple

Roasted radicchio and endive with balsamic glaze

Wormwood tea or gentian-infused digestive cocktail

Arugula and Fennel Salad

Combine fresh arugula, thinly sliced fennel, and toasted walnuts with a simple lemon vinaigrette for a refreshing and bitter green salad.

Sautéed Dandelion Greens

Sauté dandelion greens with garlic and olive oil, then finish with a splash of lemon juice or vinegar for a nutritious and bitter side dish.

Bitter Melon Stir-Fry

Stir-fry thinly sliced bitter melon with your choice of protein, vegetables, and a savory sauce for a flavourful and healthy meal.

Radicchio and Pear Salad

Toss chopped radicchio with sliced pears, goat cheese, and toasted pecans, then dress with a balsamic vinaigrette for a delicious, bitter salad.

Endive and Smoked Salmon canape

Fill Belgian endive leaves with smoked salmon, cream cheese, and capers for a tasty and elegant appetizer featuring a hint of bitterness.

Broccoli Rabe with Chili and Garlic

Sauté broccoli rabe with garlic, red chili flakes, and olive oil for a spicy, bitter, and delicious side dish.

Bitter Greens Soup

Prepare a nourishing soup with a mix of bitter greens, such as kale, collard greens, and mustard greens, along with onions, garlic, and vegetable broth.

Grilled Chicory with Balsamic Glaze

Grill halved chicory heads and drizzle with a balsamic glaze for a deliciously bitter and slightly sweet side dish.

Bitter Chocolate Smoothie

Blend raw cacao powder, banana, almond milk, and a touch of honey for a bitter chocolate smoothie packed with antioxidants and nutrients.

Artichoke and Spinach Dip

Combine steamed artichoke hearts, spinach, cream cheese, and Parmesan cheese for a delicious and creamy dip featuring the bitter taste of artichokes.

 

Experiment with these recipe ideas to include more bitter foods in your diet and enjoy the potential health benefits they provide. Don’t be afraid to get creative and incorporate bitter ingredients into your favourite dishes! For more recipe ideas and cooking classes which always include some bitter foods, check out The Cooking Naturopath for some inspiration.

To further enhance your menopausal journey, consider joining our Menopause Makeover program, a holistic approach to managing menopause symptoms that includes personalised guidance, support, and additional resources tailored to your needs.

Together, we can help you transition through menopause with greater ease and confidence. Contact us today to get started on your health and vital life.

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Check out my blog post on Healthy recipes to support you in menopause.

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