Happy Gut Kitchen

How Bitter Foods & Herbs Can Relieve IBS + Heal Your Gut

Besides welcoming spring, April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Awareness Month. This becomes the perfect time to learn more about IBS along with incorporating Happy Gut strategies to heal this condition.

Running to the bathroom, gastric distress, living in extreme discomfort, and other symptoms shouldn’t be part of your daily routine. These are not normal problems.

Signs of IBS include diarrhea, stomach pain, constipation, and general changes in bowel movements. Emotional and psychological stress often accompanies these and other digestive issues as you, say, panic that you won’t have a bathroom nearby after a big meal.

You’re not alone if you have IBS. In fact, 10 – 15 percent of Americans struggle with this condition. (1) That number could actually be much higher, considering that many people haven’t been officially diagnosed with IBS.

As its name implies, IBS is a syndrome or a cluster of symptoms, and we don’t have a definitive test to diagnose this digestive disorder. Instead, you’ll want to pay close attention to your specific symptoms, diet, and external stress to better understand what triggers or exacerbates IBS.

Several factors can trigger IBS, and they all begin in your gut. Your microbiome is a complex environment of bacteria strains. Ideally, you should maintain a balance of beneficial bacteria to fight off invaders such as fungi, parasites, and other bad bugs. An imbalance between good and bad bacteria can adversely impact your gut.

Numerous things contribute to those imbalances, including:

  • Processed foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates (pasta, cereal, bread, bagels)
  • Medications
  • Emotional stress
  • Environmental toxins

These imbalances can manifest as gut conditions including leaky gut. In fact, the symptoms of leaky gut show up as IBS. (To learn more, check out my blog post on leaky gut syndrome.) Addressing underlying causes of these imbalances can create relief from your IBS.

That’s where Functional Medicine comes in. This approach treats the individual as a system—like a symphony orchestra. Any underlying imbalance in one part will be felt throughout the entire system.

The focus then, becomes identifying and addressing the underlying causes of the problem and bringing them back into harmony.

The first place to restore balance comes from the end of your fork: Food becomes powerful medicine to heal IBS and so much more. In fact, a number of Happy Gut-approved foods can reduce your pain and symptoms to help you live a life free from IBS.  

The Bitter Solution

Bitters make a great but often-overlooked way to alleviate IBS symptoms and heal your gut. Bitter-tasting herbs and foods have been used in many cultures for years to support digestion and alleviate symptoms of IBS. The bitter taste stimulates receptors in your gut that rev up the digestive juices. (2)

Bitters support production of hydrochloric acid, digestive enzymes, and bile flow: All crucial to optimally digest your food and absorb nutrients. Among their benefits, bitters can help normalize bowel movements and improve digestion.

In Chinese medicine, practitioners sometimes use bitters to balance the liver and gallbladder meridians. The liver and gallbladder are associated with agitation and anxiety. (In fact, bilious means “bad-tempered.”)

If you feel irritated, bothered, and anxious, add bitters to your next meal to help balance out your liver/gallbladder Qi meridians. You may find bitters create a calming effect on your internal angst.  

Incorporating Bitters

There are a few ways you can add bitters. One is to take a tincture of bitter herbs before or after meals. You can also incorporate bitter foods as a dish at the dinner table.

Bitter greens make a great side dish or main salad, and they come packed with fiber, magnesium, as well as vitamins A, K, and C. These leafy greens are nutrient powerhouses to help heal your gut and alleviate symptoms of IBS.

Bitters also promote detoxification. Dandelion greens, for instance, are powerful liver-kidney cleansers. You can even drink dried dandelion as a tea.

Visit your local farmers market or grocery store to add bitters to your diet this spring! (3) This list can help you get started:  

  • Arugula
  • Beet Greens
  • Broccoli Rabe
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Escarole
  • Endive
  • Radicchio
  • Radish Greens

Bitter is Better

Many foods in the American diet are what we call hyperpalatable: Loaded with sugar, salt, and unhealthy fat to make us crave more. These foods exacerbate symptoms of gut problems including IBS (especially gluten and sugar) and contribute to weight gain.

If you’re new to bitter foods or herbs, you might not find them pleasant tasting initially. Keep using them: Over time you will become accustomed to the flavor.

Adding more bitter foods can expand your palate and reduce cravings. When you season bitter foods, they make delicious dishes.

If you’re curious to incorporate more into your meals, try my Happy Gut recipe that highlights bitter leafy greens as a delicious dish for your meals. Learn more about this amazing recipe here.

If you’re struggling with IBS or other gut issues, I’d love to give you more support with my Quick Start to a Happy Gut

Citations

1.About Us. (n.d.). Retrieved March 24, 2018, from https://www.aboutibs.org/ibs-awareness-month.html

  1. McMullen, M. K., Whitehouse, J. M., & Towell, A. (2015). Bitters: Time for a New Paradigm. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 2015, 670504.

3.Valussi M.Functional foods with digestion-enhancing properties.Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2012 Mar;63 Suppl 1:82-9.

Happy Gut-Approved Warm Bitter Greens Salad Recipe

 

Warm Mixed Bitter Greens Salad

DF GF SF V VG

Serves: 4

Along with warmer weather, April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Awareness Month. As my blog discusses, bitter foods and herbs are an often-overlooked way to heal your gut.

You can easily find the bitter leafy greens in this recipe at local farmers’ markets and grocery stores this time of year. This dish makes the perfect addition to any meal to support your gut and nourish your body.

Bitter leafy greens are nutrient rock stars. Along with fiber, they come loaded with calcium, fiber, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, and K. The bitter taste of these greens stimulates the digestive process so you better absorb these nutrients.

To learn more about bitter greens and why they’re Happy Gut-approved IBS-healing superstars, check out this blog post.

 

Ingredients

1 bunch broccoli rabe, chopped

1 bunch dandelion greens, chopped

½ cup bone broth

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tbs avocado oil

½ lemon, freshly squeezed

Sea salt and pepper

 

Step 1

Over low medium heat, add two cups of water to a pot. Then add broccoli rabe and dandelion greens. Allow to simmer about 10 minutes or until soft.

Step 2

In a skillet over medium heat, add oil. Transfer greens and sautee. Slowly pour bone broth and stir until there is only a couple of inches left of liquid. The bone broth will add flavor and balance the bitter taste. Then add garlic, sea salt, and pepper.

Step 3

Remove from heat, drizzle with fresh lemon, and serve.

 

If you’ve ever tried bitter greens, what’s your favorite? Did you find they relieved IBS or other gut issues? Share yours below or on my Facebook page.

5 Happy Gut Superfoods for National Nutrition Month

March heralds spring, but it’s also National Nutrition Month. That means saying goodbye to cold winter weather with all its potential demands for unhealthy comfort food and welcoming warmth (hopefully!) as the days become longer.Eating the right way has a huge impact on your health. Here’s a great way to reset your focus: March is National Nutrition Month, which focuses on nutrition education. Its theme (“Go Further with Food”) highlights healthy food choices and eating intelligently.

That’s the foundation of my Happy Gut Diet: Eat foods that are easy to digest, low in fructose and sugar, and devoid of the substances that are hard on the gut. I emphasize foods that are organic, pesticide-free, non-GMO, full of healthy fats, locally grown, and sustainably farmed.

Choosing them needn’t feel like a herculean effort. The right foods can improve your gut health, help you lose weight, and feel better without demanding excessive time, money, or effort.

These are 5 of my favorites. They’re nutrient rock stars that are #happygutapproved to add major flavor and nutrients into a variety of foods.

5 Happy Gut Superfoods for National Nutrition Month

Avocado

Loaded with monounsaturated fat, nutrients, and a whopping amount of gut-supporting fiber, avocado makes the perfect food to lower inflammation and blast belly fat. This unique fruit (yes, fruit!) also makes a great substitution for creamy dressings or dairy products. Make sure avocado is slightly soft before you eat it. Once ripe, grab a spoon, a little sea salt, and enjoy!

Blueberries

Frozen or fresh, these dark berries are packed with nutrients and antioxidants but low in sugar to make for a happy gut by not feeding bad bugs and yeast. Studies show the fiber and polyphenol content in blueberries can support growth of healthy bifido bacteria in your gut.[1] Blueberries are great in a smoothie, on a salad, or even as a snack with almond butter.

Cacao

With chocolate, the right kind makes all the difference. Many commercial chocolate products come loaded with gut-wrecking sugar, soy, and artificial ingredients. Not to mention, processing with dutch alkali reduces the antioxidant content of cacao. Make the switch to rich, decadent pure, raw cacao packed with magnesium, fiber, healthy fats, and antioxidants. Check out my raw cacao donut recipe for a delicious, guilt-free gut-loving dessert.

Dark Leafy Greens

You’re probably not meeting your recommended vegetable intake. Dark leafy greens are an incredibly versatile way to fix that. Among their benefits, they help balance and increase the diversity of your gut microbiome and fight off bad bacteria. [2] They’re loaded with nutrients and fiber to make you full and keep you full longer. Try dark leafy greens raw in your morning smoothie, sauteed in an omelette, or as a lettuce leaf wrap at lunch. Some smart, Happy Gut-approved leafy greens to add include:

Beet Greens

Bibb Lettuce

Collard Greens

Dandelion Greens

Mesclun Greens

Mustard Greens

Romaine Lettuce

Spinach

Swiss Chard

Radish Greens

Pili Nuts

Traditionally grown in volcanic soil in the Philippines, pili nuts are packed with heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, protein, and nutrients. In fact, they have the highest concentration of magnesium of any nut. They make the perfect gut-friendly snack without the gluten or sugar. Toss these in a salad or other vegetable dishes for an energizing, protein-boosting meal! You can find pili nuts here.

What nutrient-packed superfood would YOU add to this list? Share yours below or on my Facebook page.

Sources

  1. Guglielmetti S, Fracassetti D, Taverniti V, Del Bo’ C, Vendrame S, Klimis-Zacas D, Arioli S, Riso P, Porrini M.Differential modulation of human intestinal bifidobacterium populations after consumption of a wild blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) drink.J Agric Food Chem. 2013 Aug 28;61(34):8134-40.
  2. Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. “Sweet discovery in leafy greens holds key to gut health.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 February 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160215114005.htm.
  3.  Rhonda, et al. “Pili Nuts.” Nuts.com, 23 Feb. 2017, nuts.com/nuts/pili.html.