The Forgotten Slimming Agent
Siegfried Gursche, MH
Whatâ??s missing in our food,bitters can replace. Bitters are fat burners-and nothing does it better. Dieting for weight control is not nearly as effective as including bitters with every mea.
Bitters are fat burners–and nothing does it better. Dieting for weight control is not nearly as effective as including bitters with every meal. It is a known fact that bitters help regulate fat metabolism to create energy instead of storing it around the hips and elsewhere in the body.
For thousands of years, bitters were part of human nutrition. Regular meals included bitter vegetables such as artichoke, dandelion and angelica roots. Salads were made with bitter lettuce leaves, chicory, radicchio, endive and other bitter herbs. Many ethnic groups that still include bitters in their daily diet are slender people. Just look at the population pockets where industrialized and western fast food has not yet replaced the natural way of eating. In my travels, I have found these people in Austria, Slovenia and alpine regions of Switzerland and Italy. My Italian friends from the garden club grow chicory, radicchio and artichoke in huge quantities. They still include bitters in their daily meals.
Our preference for sweet-tasting food has banished bitters from our menu, replacing them with high calorie, sugar-laden foods. With the introduction of boxed refined cereals and snack bars, which contain a lot of white sugar, as well as packaged salty food such as crackers and potato chips, the taste buds of the whole nation have changed. We prefer primarily sweet food, followed by salty and sour food, but we will no longer accept bitter tastes. The fact is, eating sweet-tasting food encourages overeating, supplying the body with more carbohydrates than it can turn into energy; the rest is stored as fat. The results are weight gain and obesity.
The exclusion of the wide variety of bitter-tasting salads, vegetables and even fruit from our menu is taking its toll in poor fat metabolism. Without bitters, bile production slows down and the liver becomes sluggish. In earlier years, grapefruits used to taste much more bitter, and the lettuce you buy nowadays, especially iceberg, has no bitters left. All popular edible plants have been cultivated to eliminate the bitters. Bite into a dandelion leaf for instance; this will give you an idea how our endive lettuce, arugula or radicchio used to taste. North Americans even prefer their beers to taste sweeter than the Europeans, who brew it with more hops for a stronger bitter taste. In India and China, where people still appreciate the bitter elements in their food for improved digestion and fat metabolism, and where much less sugar is consumed than in the West, obesity is far less rampant. When I returned in 1980 from a trip to Taiwan, it hit me like a tonne of bricks to see all these obese people at the airport.
How can bitters help to keep weight down? It’s actually quite simple. Bitters in our food give us a sense of satisfaction much sooner than sweets. That is one reason why salad is traditionally eaten before the main dish. Bitters in our food promote the production of digestive juices and suppress the appetite, while sweets are tempting, even when you are feeling full. It’s hard to skip dessert. And here is the clue: bitter foods have far fewer calories than sweets. In comparison, carbohydrate-rich food adds more pounds, while bitters take them off. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Last summer, at a naturopathic convention in Karlsruhe, Germany, experts gathered to explore all aspects of bitters and their role in fat metabolism. Ursel B?ng, director of the Freiburg Herbal College, explained the primary effects of bitters in the body. "They increase the digestion noticeably" she said. "The gallbladder is stimulated to produce more bile and, in conjunction with the activated pancreas, more gastric juices are poured into the stomach. This activates the stomach motions and increases the peristaltic movements of the intestines. Protein, carbohydrates and fats are better metabolized and the digested food moves faster. Bitters also prevent flatulence and putrefaction."
Among other health benefits this expert emphasized are the better absorption of vitamin B12 in the gastrointestinal tract, which helps the production of new red blood cells to prevent anemia. Also, the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K are better absorbed, as is iron, which is needed for making hemoglobin-rich blood. All in all, bitters are alkaline and therefore prevent the body from becoming acidic; this again helps to prevent numerous diseases, including cancer, which flourishes in an acidic environment. Acidosis, directly connected to the consumption of refined carbohydrates, white sugar and flour, has become a real health threat to just about everyone.
At the Karlsruhe naturopathic convention, experts agreed that bitters can invigorate a sluggish liver, have a positive effect on kidney function and normalize blood sugar levels. Today, as science advances, we already know a great deal about the effect of bitters; yet the empirical knowledge–the evidence learned from practice and observation–is overwhelming.
The recipe for a concoction of many different bitter herbs was found among the writings of a well-known Swedish physician, Dr. Samst. He died at 104 when he accidentally fell off his horse. His entire family reached a patriarchal age thanks to the help of the bitter tincture he invented, which became famous after his death as "Swedish Bitters." This formula has been around for almost 200 years, though the "original" recipe has been copied and changed by others many times.
Thanks to Maria Treben, an Austrian herbalist, Swedish Bitters became extremely popular again. She published the original formula in her best-seller Health Through God’s Pharmacy (1986, now out of print), which sold more than nine million copies. Maria Treben was a fascinating woman who attracted big crowds wherever she spoke. She kept her huge audiences spellbound for hours, explaining the healing magic of herbs. I experienced these phenomenal presentations firsthand when I invited her to Vancouver and accompanied her on lecture tours to Toronto and Kitchener. For her, Swedish Bitters was a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to treating illnesses of all kinds.
If you like, you can purchase the herbs already mixed and simply prepare them with a bit of vodka at home. Otherwise, a variety of Swedish Bitters, sometimes called Swedenbitters, are available in health food stores, even without alcohol content for those who are sensitive to it. But don’t worry too much about the alcohol, as the recommended dose of bitters is only one or two tablespoons in a small glass of water. Mixed into an orange juice, it resembles a Campari-orange, a palatable and healthy drink.
All other bitter tonics sold in health food stores are without alcohol to the best of my knowledge. Galexier herbal tonic, a bitter stimulant for the gallbladder and liver, was especially formulated for those who like a stomach bitter after heavy meals but want to stay away from alcoholic tonics. This tonic combines artichoke with dandelion, wormwood and other bitter herbs.
Herbal bitters should really be considered medicine. Milk thistle, or silymarin, for instance, is a bitter herb that has been successfully prescribed by naturopathic physicians to support liver function and repair toxic liver damage. It is also the preferred herb to use as a base for bitter tonics, such as Mariendistel, which helps liver problems, lowers cholesterol levels and improves digestion. Silymarin comes in different forms: liquid, capsule and tablet. Most health food stores carry a wide variety of bitters, which include popular herbs such as wormwood, aloe, yarrow and dandelion juice.
As our food no longer supplies enough bitters, it is highly recommended to supplement your diet with herbal bitter preparations to bring your metabolism back on track. Especially beneficial is a liver detoxification period of about 10 days to two weeks in the spring and fall, where you incorporate bitter tonics with a fast. You will speed up fat metabolism, lose a few pounds of storage fat and feel great. All your body functions will be invigorated and your immune system will be well prepared to fight off lurking viruses that cause colds and flus.
It may come as a surprise that bitter tonics also have a positive effect on the mind (psyche). According to Ursel B?ng, they are uplifting and helpful for people who are down, who have lost all energy and motivation and feel rather depressed. It is encouraging to know that bitters, with their overall tonic effect, can build up and strengthen both body and mind.