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The Wild Side of Eating

Wellness Woman
A Varied Diet is Key

Our diet is overloaded with sugar, especially artificial sugar, which is sweeter than natural cane sugar. Because of this, our taste buds have changed, naturally gravitating towards wanting a more sweet taste. When we consume too much sugar, it prevents our taste buds from detecting naturally sweet flavors. They start to taste bland in comparison and dull our sense of taste. Quitting sugar cold turkey can be difficult, but what if we change the goal to adding balance? We can do this by increasing our consumption of bitter and sour foods, which can train our tastebuds to tolerate and even crave other tastes.

You may think of taste as a singular thing: things taste good or bad. But our taste preferences are much more complex than that. We have five types of taste:

  • Sweet

  • Salty

  • Sour

  • Bitter

  • Umami

Everything we eat is a combination of these senses; different tastes make up a colorful palate for our tongues. In America, we tend to have little to no bitter foods on our plates. In addition, the foods we eat today have fewer nutrients than our ancestors consumed due to years of damaging farm practices and genetically modified engineering.

The detection of sour and bitter is thought to be essential for survival. It can help identify foods that could be dangerous to consume, poisonous, rotten, or spoiled foods. This does not mean that sour foods are always unsafe to eat. Many sour and bitter foods are nutritious and rich in plant compounds called antioxidants, which help protect your cells from damage.

What Are the Health Benefits of Sour and Bitter Foods?

Regulates digestion: Aids digestion by helping with nutrient absorption, stimulating immune function and reducing sugar cravings.

Anti-inflammatory properties: Full of antioxidants like flavonoids and phenols, these properties help your body produce a healthy inflammatory response, supporting disease and illness prevention.

Boost The Body's Detoxification Process: Fermented foods help your liver remove toxins and bolsters kidney function

Gut Benefits

Many sour foods are fermented; during fermentation, yeast and healthy bacteria process sugars in foods and convert ingredients into alcohol. Last week, I was carded for kombucha! Some kombuchas have a high concentration of alcohol, a whopping 0.5%. Check out my crafty kombucha project here.

The fermentation process gives sour foods their unique and distinct texture and flavor. This process creates benefits for your health. Sour and fermented foods are rich in vitamins and contain pre-and probiotics, providing beneficial bacteria for the gut. The gut microbiome is a world of good and bad bacteria and other microorganisms necessary for healthy digestive functioning. Many bitter foods are high in prebiotics and fiber, feeding the good bacteria and preventing leaky gut by helping your body absorb vitamins and decreasing digestive issues. Fermented and bitter foods support a balanced immune system and help the body eliminate toxins. We can maximize the benefits of these foods by taking steps to support a healthy gut: drinking enough water, reducing stress, exercising regularly, following a varied fiber-rich diet, and cutting back on sugar and salt.

How to reset your taste buds?

As we age, our number of taste buds decreases, and the remaining shrink and do not function as well. In fact, we have about 50 to 100 taste bud cells, renewing every ten days. Never fear! It is possible to change your tastes. The taste bud reset happens fast; try eating exclusively plant-based for two weeks. If that's too extreme of a jump, start increasing your intake of sour and bitter foods:

Sour and tart foods can enhance and stimulate the taste buds. Below are some examples:

  • Kombucha

  • Citrus (Lemons, Lime, & Grapefruit)

  • Tart Cherries or Cranberries

  • Sauerkraut

  • Kimchi

  • Yogurt

  • Kefir

  • Pickles

Bitter foods help regulate hunger and reduce cravings for sweets. Below are some examples:

  • Leafy Greens (Arugula, Kale, Dandelion)

  • Herbs (Fennel Seeds or Burdock Root)

  • Bitter Melon

  • Cruciferous Vegetables (Cabbage, Broccoli, Turnips)

I love to incorporate bitters through teas to bolster my digestive function. If you're curious about bitter flavors, try eating bitter herbs and foods three to four times a week. For thousands of years, people have used bitters as digestive tonics to improve digestion after a large meal. I am interested in experimenting with digestive bitters and will probably start taking them at least 15 minutes before meals (you can also take them after eating).

However, it's important to note that moderation is key. While bitter and sour foods can be beneficial, excessive consumption may lead to adverse effects, such as stomach upset or acid reflux. As with any dietary changes, it's best to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian to ensure that these additions fit well with your individual health needs and preferences.

Eating Wild

Fruits and vegetables contain very little phytonutrients compared to previous generations. Phytonutrients, the bitter and astringent-tasting compounds in whole foods, have seen a massive nutritional decline over the past 400 years. Phytonutrients power is displayed in fighting inflammation, a leading cause of chronic illnesses like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

While bitter flavors can be described as having a sharp taste and aren't a favorite among many, they come with many health benefits. Although plenty of bitter supplements or tonics are on the market, going for whole foods is always the best choice. Everyone can benefit from eating more fruits and vegetables. Try mixing bitter vegetables with mild foods (scallions on soup or tacos), regularly switch your leafy greens in smoothies and juices, or add wild foods like herbs to your diet until you become more accustomed to the flavors. It's ok if you don't love it at first; the longer you eat whole foods, the more you'll like them. As your taste buds regain sensitivity, you'll be able to truly taste and enjoy healthy meals.


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