The Potent Powers of Bitter Greens

Photo Credit: Relish Health MD

Imagine if you could take one supplement that would: 

  • Help cleanse your liver
  • Purify your blood
  • Improve your digestion
  • Reduce acid reflux, bloating, and gas
  • Eliminate acne
  • Lower high blood pressure
  • Prevent anemia
  • Lower your cholesterol

Now picture this miracle supplement having no negative side effects, fillers, or additives. If you saw this supplement being advertised on an infomercial, chances are you would switch the channel after concluding that it was too good to be true – I certainly would.   

Well while this supplement may not exist, bitter greens do exist and they boast all of the aforementioned health benefits! As a secondary bonus, you are in luck because these miracle plants are abundant in spring.

Dark and leafy, some great examples of bitter greens include dandelion, arugula, and watercress. Bitter greens have a distinct and somewhat sharp flavor that may take some getting used to, but the health benefits are worth sticking with them.

My top reasons for adding bitter greens in your diet include:

1. They are extraordinarily nutrient-dense. 

Bitter greens are loaded with essential vitamins and minerals. They are high in vitamins C, K, and A as well as minerals like magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Bitter greens contain a significant amount of fiber, which so many of us do not get enough of, and they also contain high levels of folate.  

2. Bitter greens are a godsend for our digestive systems. 

They go beyond the standard vitamin-rich benefit boasted by many common greens. They are also exceptionally beneficial for digestion. Drink a green juice made with bitter greens like dandelion or arugula, and you will quickly understand the reason for their name. Their strong flavor activates your salivary glands, which produce enzymes that assist with digestion. Contrary to popular belief, digestion begins in your mouth, and that is particularly true in the case of bitter foods. 

The better your food is digested before it reaches your stomach, the more nutrients you will absorb from it. Even if you eat the most nutrient-dense food, if you cannot properly absorb the vitamins and minerals, it will not be of many benefits to you. The high fiber content in bitter greens also helps your body with waste elimination. 

3. They are powerful detoxifiers. 

The liver is a hardworking organ that regulates cholesterol, balances hormones, detoxifies the blood, and metabolizes fats. High-fat diets, not just those centered on animal protein, but those comprised of too much plant-based protein as well, do not allow for the body to naturally detox as it should. Fat thickens the blood and makes the liver sluggish and as a result, it cannot release poisons. Furthermore, a slow-moving liver requires the heart to work harder. 

A bloodstream filled with fat also minimizes oxygen circulation, allowing pathogens to thrive. Toxins enter the excess fat cells which then accumulate around the organs. If you are someone who experiments with the Paleo diet, you should give special consideration to bitter greens to help digest fat and cleanse the body more efficiently.

4. Bitter greens reduce cravings. 

We are so accustomed to foods that taste salty, sweet, umami, and savory, but few of us regularly consume bitter foods. It is to our benefit to eat foods that activate all of our taste buds and there is no better way to start than with incorporating some seriously healthy bitter greens! Some research shows that bitter greens may also reduce food cravings and aid in weight loss.

On top of all of the other amazing benefits, bitter greens also lead to glowing skin, a strong nervous system, improved blood clotting, and enhanced eye health.

So how do you incorporate these leafy greens into your diet and get accustomed to the flavor?

It is surprisingly simple! When shopping, choose organic greens with crisp leaves and look for greens that are in season. Collards, kale, turnip greens, and mustard greens are in season from October through early spring. Swiss chard and beet greens grow from spring through fall. Dandelion greens are best if enjoyed in spring and summer.

To tame the bitterness, try this universal recipe: lightly sauté greens with a small amount of salt and healthy fat – I love adding a little free-range ghee. Adding sea salt and high-quality oil when cooking reduces bitterness, enhances digestibility, and even releases nutrients for easy absorption. I regularly use organic extra virgin olive oil or organic avocado oil if I will be heating the greens quite a bit.

Keep in mind, bitter greens get much more enjoyable the more frequently you eat or drink them, so keep at it even if they do not appeal to you at first.

Here is a list of my favorite bitter greens worth trying this spring:

  • Arugula
  • Endive
  • Broccoli Rabe
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Escarole
  • Frisée (a type of endive)
  • Kale (including Dinosaur Kale, Lacinato Kale)
  • Mizuna
  • Mustard Greens
  • Radicchio
  • Rapini
  • Rucola
  • Turnip Greens
  • Watercress