6 Bitter Foods You Should Be Eating

Article posted in: Nutrition
lemons zest on wooden surface

Everyone has at least one food they don’t like. For some, fish will always taste “fishy” no matter how it’s prepared. For many, cilantro is just plain awful.  Bitter foods in particular, like salad greens, can be tough to swallow because they’re, well, bitter. However, doctors and researchers tell us that bitter foods are some of the healthiest choices available.

In addition to containing large amounts of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber, bitter foods support and stimulate digestion in the gut. According to NBCNews.com, this is accomplished by triggering the production of saliva and stomach acid to aid in food absorption and help prevent malnutrition.

But what if you just don’t like bitter salad greens and veggies? Try them, try them, again and again.

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In July 2019, researchers at the University of Buffalo found that repeated exposure to bitter foods actually changes the way we taste them, says Science Daily. This is believed to be caused by the 1,000 different proteins within saliva that are designed to dissolve foods. According to Science Daily, your diet determines the specific types of protein your saliva contains. Changing up the foods you eat has been shown to change what proteins are present and how foods taste.

So, where should you start? We’ve rounded up some of our favorite low-carb, bitter ingredients that you can easily incorporate into the South Beach Diet. We’ve also included healthy recipes in which to use them (think DIY Days!).

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Here are six bitter foods you should add to your diet ASAP:

1. Citrus Peel

citrus peel

Tart is the word most people would use to describe the fruit of lemons, limes and grapefruit. But we’re not talking about the fruit. Instead, we’re focusing on the peels themselves and the white pith that separates the fruit from the peel. According to Healthline, the bitter flavor in both parts comes from flavonoids and is present to ward off pests. However, they are actually quite healthy and show promising cancer-fighting potential. Hesperidin and naringin are two specific antioxidants found in large amounts within citrus peels, says Healthline.

Put whole citrus slices into your water to enhance the flavor. Add citrus peel powder to your shakes and smoothie bowls (you can make your own or buy it already made in bulk!). Throw slices of whole, organic lemons in your food processor with a little water to make zesty ice cubes. Zest the peel to season sauces and dressings. The bright, beautiful colors of citrus fruits also make for a stunning presentation when garnishing soups, meats or salads.

Lime juice and zest add a zing to this Shrimp Celery Salad >

2. Broccoli Rabe


Much like broccoli, but longer, thinner and more bitter, broccoli rabe is actually part of the turnip family, says the magazine Bon Appétit. According to Men’s Health, it’s rich in vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C, folate and calcium. It also has plenty of keep-you-full power due to its protein and fiber content.

Never cooked with broccoli rabe? Bon Appétit suggests decreasing the bitter flavor by blanching it in boiling, salted water. Then, grill or sauté in a high-heat oil with spices and lemon juice.

Virtually any recipe that calls for broccoli can be made with broccoli rabe. Try this Chicken and Broccoli Stir-Fry >

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3. Mustard Greens


It may seem obvious that mustard greens come from the same plant as mustard seed. However, these zesty greens are often pushed aside for other popular options like kale and spinach. But don’t underestimate their nutritional power. According to DoveMed, mustard greens are rich in vitamin A, vitamin K and B vitamins and may help to support eye, bone, brain and digestive health.

How should you cook with them? The magazine Cooking Light explains that the peppery flavor of these greens goes well with a variety of simple dishes. Throw them in a salad, sauté or soup and enjoy the spicy flavor. Food & Wine magazine suggests a frittata with onions or wilted over fish with soy sauce or mirin. Try a white bean and mustard green stew or use the greens instead of pasta when you make meatballs.

Mesclun greens include spinach, arugula, baby chard, mustard greens, endive and more. Use mustard greens in this entrée salad or use a blend of any of the above.

4. Sauerkraut


Some say sour, others say bitter. We say sauerkraut has both flavor profiles. And we also say, you’re not eating enough of this superfood.

According to Healthline, sauerkraut contains a variety of probiotic strains and is said to improve digestive health. These probiotics also play a role in our immune system by supporting a healthy gut lining and balancing bacteria. Plus, thanks to its probiotic nature, high fiber and low calorie content, sauerkraut may help us drop pounds, says Healthline. Further, research shows that probiotics might be able to decrease the amount of fat your body absorbs.

When buying sauerkraut at the supermarket, Healthline recommends looking for unpasteurized varieties (pasteurization kills probiotics) that are in the refrigerator. Also avoid options with preservatives and added sugar. You can still enjoy sauerkraut with a hot dog (hold the bun) but also try it along-side pork or ham or in a warm salad with crushed nuts, carrots and celery.

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5. Cacao


Despite a sweet smell, pure cacao is incredibly bitter (By now, we hope you’ve learned that’s a good thing!). They might have a similar name; however, cacao is very different from the well-known cocoa. According to the magazine Women’s Health, cacao is made by cold-pressing raw cacao beans, while cocoa is created by roasting the beans first. Both are technically unsweetened, bitter foods yet the absence of heat preserves nutrients in cacao and gives it a nutritional edge over cocoa.

Cacao is a good source of magnesium, calcium, copper, zinc, iron and more, says Women’s Health. It’s also filled with flavonoids that have been shown to promote heart health.

Enjoy cacao powder often—daily, even, if you really like chocolate. Try mixing cacao powder into yogurt or chia pudding and sweeten your snack with stevia, monk fruit or erythritol. A sprinkle of nuts on top will add texture and a satisfying crunch. Sprinkle it into your shakes and smoothie bowls to add a rich, chocolatey flavor. You can even turn your treat into ice cream with the help of ice and a blender.

Easily swap in cacao in our Mini Cocoa Swirl Cheesecakes >

6. Coffee


What other diet tells you to eat chocolate and drink coffee? South Beach Diet does! Think about the bitter flavor in coffee. Those are those polyphenols again that we’ve talked about so much in this article. Coffee just so happens to be high in chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant tied to a reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes, says Healthline. Research has also tied coffee consumption (three to four cups per day) to lower risks of cancer and even death.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), coffee contains one calorie per cup. Despite its caffeine content, it counts towards your overall daily hydration. South Beach Diet recommends drinking half your body weight in ounces, including water, black coffee and unsweetened tea. A cup of joe in the morning and afternoon can fuel you through your day and accounts for a portion of your suggested water intake. If you must add sweetener, use stevia or another natural option. Half-and-half is permitted on the South Beach Diet, with one tablespoon counting as one Extra.

Satisfy your sweet tooth with this guiltless custard! >

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