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A square pattern featuring illustrations of chocolate bars, cocoa beans, and various chili peppers with the text "tasty polyphenols for heart health" and a logo that reads "10 almonds" to the

Enjoy Bitter Foods For Your Heart & Brain

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When Bitter Is Better

A good general rule of thumb for “does this food contain a lot of healthy polyphenols?” is:

“is this (edible) plant bitter/astringent/pungent”?

If it is, it’s probably rich in polyphenols:

Deciphering the role of bitter and astringent polyphenols in promoting well-being

…which is why it’s no surprise that black coffee and bitter chocolate score highly, as do hot peppers and even garlic.

See also: Our Top 5 Spices: How Much Is Enough For Benefits?

Even fruits, generally considered something sweet to eat, often contain more polyphenols when they are bitter—many berries are great examples of this!

Read more: Goji Berries: Which Benefits Do They Really Have?

You can read more about the science of this here:

Sensory Nutrition and Bitterness and Astringency of Polyphenols

Important for multiple reasons (including heart and brain health)

Polyphenols have many benefits, and they’re most well known for their heart-healthy properties, but their antioxidant effect (and other mechanisms) also means these foods are generally neuroprotectants too:

A century of research shows eating these compounds can help protect against heart disease and Alzheimer’s

The science of this is not all as obvious as you might think!

It is reasonable to expect “ok, this has antioxidant effect, so it will reduce oxidative damage to brain cells too”, and while that is true (and yes, polyphenols do cross the blood-brain barrier), they also help in other ways, including through the gut:

Where to Look into the Puzzle of Polyphenols and Health? The Postbiotics and Gut Microbiota Associated with Human Metabotypes

What if I don’t like bitter/astringent/pungent foods?

If you do not have a medical condition that proscribes them (do check with your doctor if unsure), the best advice is to simply eat them anyway, and your tastes will adapt.

It will also help if you avoid sweet foods (though this too is also a good general rule of thumb!), as this will move the balance of where your brain’s “set range” is for “good taste”.

Bonus tip: dark chocolate (80%+ cocoa if possible, 95% if you can get it) and chilli peppers go great with each other. Here’s an example of a chilli chocolate product on Amazon; it’s 70% cocoa (which is not bad, but could be better). You might be able to get a higher percentage locally, especially if you ask your local chocolatière, or make it yourself! 😋


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