Yellow grapefruits and bitter greens

Sep 3, 2015

When I was a child, all grapefruits were yellow and bitter. I didn’t like them. Come to think of it I didn’t like my greens either. They were also bitter.

One day I chanced across a new grapefruit which had pink flesh. It was sweet and delicious. It seems that I was not the only person who rather like these new sweeter varieties. Now the majority of grapefruits are those with pink flesh. Brussels sprouts are also now rather sweeter than they used to be which is why supermarkets talk about kid friendly sprouts. Similar things are happening to cauliflower potatoes tomatoes and of course juices.

But green tea, coffee, dark chocolate and broccoli are all known to have health benefits. These are due to bitter chemicals called phytonutrients. Although these nutrients can be toxic in large quantities, A small amount can be beneficial.

Take the white skinned grapefruit. It has a very bitter nutrient called naringin. This apparently has anti-inflammatory properties. It may also inhibit the growth of cancer cells. In a study of A diet rich in the nutrient quercitin which is found in Green tea, Broccoli and red wine, high levels of intake appeared to protect against lung cancer particularly in heavy smokers.

There are a whole load of these bitter nutrients which appear to have anti-cancer properties. They have been identified in Brussels sprouts cauliflower cabbage is Cale soya beans potatoes and tomatoes.

It turns out that is not just cancer that these nutrients are important for. Phytonutrients in coffee cocoa and berries can reduce the risk of heart disease by preventing build up of fur in the arteries. But too much of these nutrients is dangerous which is why we don’t like the taste. So our food manufacturers have been carefully removing them from our diets over the last 50 years.

Here’s an interesting fact that relates directly to your gut.  Drinking cocoa which is high in flavanols for four weeks has been shown to increase the presence of bacteria in the gut significantly. These are considered to be useful. Coco where this nutrient had been removed did not produce the same effect.

And it gets a little worse. It turns out that the receptors for bitter tastes are spread out along the whole of your gut, not just on your tongue. They are now known to have a pivotal role in many mechanisms including appetite regulation. Getting rid of bitter compounds may actually impair our ability to stop ourselves eating too much.

Perhaps we should go back to the good old days where a meal started with an astringent or bitter aperitif. Rich fatty dishes can be made more digestible by pairing them with bitter green vegetables. Chicory salad for example may help to cleanse your palate if you are eating a big meal.

Curiously if you feed a baby more bitter foods, the baby will tolerate bitter tastes better for the rest of their lives. And of course if you put sugar on your grapefruit it turns out that children like it more and then learn to tolerate the grapefruit.

So perhaps a little more bitterness in the diamond could give a whole host of benefits to your gut, your heart and your entire body. Something worth chewing over?

If you want to read more look at the book better: a taste of the worlds most dangerous flavour by Jennifer Mclagan. 

For recipes C: B I T. LY/bitterfood

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