The Nutritional Benefits of Bitter Vegetables
Not many people are fond of food that taste bitter. Kids avoid it, and adults know they have to eat it but don’t like it. In fact, a lot of people outright despise it. Even enough to make the taste itself synonymous with someone who is feeling spiteful. However, bitter tasting foods, like leafy greens and other vegetables are an important piece to the overall puzzle that is getting healthy. But how does it all work? What makes bitter greens good for you? And why do we even hate how they taste in the first place? Let’s find out.
Why Bitter Vegetables are Good for You
There is no single reason that vegetables are good for you. This is because there is a myriad of reasons behind why there are good for you. In fact, there are so many reasons, that it would be more efficient to simply list them instead of sticking them in multiple paragraphs.
- Bitter Vegetables are Nutrient Dense
- Most, if not all vegetables are filled with various vitamins and nutrients that are part of a healthy diet. But bitter cruciferous vegetables have Vitamin K, Potassium, Sulforaphane, and Vitamin A. These nutrients are important for things like skin health, and are important in the prevention and reduction of colon cancer.
- Bitter Vegetables help with Diabetic Management
- Bitter vegetables carry little in the way of calories or fat. What fat they do have, if at all, is called, alpha-linolenic acid, an Omega-3 fatty acid that is responsible for lowering glucose levels and increasing insulin sensitivity. Essentially, this helps with managing diabetes.
- They are Diet Friendly
- According to Dr. Sears, “the body uses almost as many calories to digest vegetables as there are in vegetables in the first place. You’ll use up most of the 26 calories in a tomato just chewing, swallowing, and digesting it. The leftover calories don’t even have a fighting chance of being stored in a fat cell.” Vegetables can increase satiety by just taking a long time to digest.
So, there are countless reasons why bitter vegetables, (or really vegetables in general) are good for your body. But if there are so many advantages to adding more vegetables to your daily diet, then why do people seem to avoid them like the plague?
Why We Hate Bitter Vegetables
We all know the bitter struggle of eating vegetables in today’s day and age. In fact, learning to “eat your vegetables” is something of a rite of passage. You learn to do things you don’t want to do in order to benefit in the long run. But it shouldn’t be this hard if we all benefit from it, right? Why do we avoid bitter tasting vegetables in the first place?
Some of it has to do with basic genetic ancestry.
According to a researcher in the College of Agricultural Science at Penn State, who helped conduct a study on the very topic of taste, “In the early 1990s, researchers used bitter probes to identify individuals who experience all tastes and oral sensations more intensely, and thus the concept of supertasters was born,” Hayes explained. “More recently, we have learned humans have 25 different bitter-taste genes, and it seems each one is tuned to pick up a different group of chemicals.” “This study moves us beyond the one-size-fits-all approach,” he said. “It turns out that different bitter foods act through different receptors, and people can be high or low responders for one but not another. Thus, you may despise grapefruit but have no problem with black coffee.”
So, some people have a genetic disposition between handling the bitter taste of some vegetables but not others. But that isn’t the only reason why.
One contributor to a news blog pointed this out, “Evolutionarily speaking, we actually shouldn’t like veggies at all: We’re wired for an aversion to bitter tastes, a trait our ancestors developed to protect themselves against accidental poisoning. The problem with this, of course, is we’ve generally figured out by now which plants will kill us and which won’t, yet the aversion remains – even though plenty of bitter compounds, like those found in vegetables, are actually important sources of nutrition.”
A long time ago, our ancestors quickly understood that certain bitter tasting foods meant exposure to poison. But we have since then documented what is and isn’t poisonous. This leaves us with a tool that has turned into an obstacle.
Old Fashioned Attitudes about Meats and Vegetables
For as long as at least the Roman Empire existed, there has been a prevailing attitude that decadence and wealth is a good thing to have. Meat like beef, fowl, or fish was considered decadent for a long time in Western Europe. This is because it wasn’t available to the public for a long time until butchery and farming became mass produced.
Vegetables, for the most part, was considered peasant food for centuries. Even then if the nobility did have fruits and vegetables as part of their diet, all of the fiber would have been cooked out of it. According to a 1500’s cookbook, “‘Beware of green sallettes and rawe fruytes for they wyll make your soverayne seke’ (‘Beware of green salads and raw fruits, for they will make your master sick’).” At least some of the fruits and vegetables among the peasantry were preserved via fermentation, a cooking process that preserves the bacteria in your guts.
The point is, people, for centuries saw meat as something that rich people can afford, and bitter vegetables as either a potential danger or something only a low-class citizen would eat.
While the economic market has changed since the Middle Ages, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those old attitudes are still being carried subconsciously in our culture.
What Can I Do to Learn to Like Bitter Vegetables?
The main thing you can do is just repeat your exposure and experiment. Sometimes, the thing that you don’t like about the vegetable isn’t the vegetable itself. You could hate the result of a preservation method. Or you could dislike something about its texture. I specifically remember hating green beans as a kid but learned later on that I didn’t like them canned. Just try new ways of preparing it so you can find what works for you.