Bitter And Twisted

We all know that there are a number of taste receptors on our tongues that can tell the difference between sweet, sour, salt and the one I am going to talk about today which is bitterness. What has taste got to do with running? Everything.

As runners, we create a lot of free radicals or oxidative stress… Stuff that creates damage to our muscles, organs and arteries. This oxidative stress has been linked to premature ageing along with diseases like chronic inflammation, heart disease and cancer. The only way to counteract these things is to ensure we are getting enough antioxidants. This is where the bitterness taste comes in. You see, antioxidants have a bitter taste to them, and the foods that are most rich in these antioxidants tend to have the highest amount of bitterness. Sounds pretty logical doesn’t it? But not to the mass production food industry.

The mass producers want you to buy their foods. So if they have the most appealing product for the masses, they will sell more. Most people have developed an aversion to bitterness (our addiction to sweet foods hasn’t helped this) so the food industry has done the obvious thing and started to breed, or genetically modify foods to minimize the bitter taste and make them more palatable for the masses. Some have even looked upon these anti oxidants as plant based toxins which need to be removed. Not good for us health conscious people!

So how do we know which foods still contain all these antioxidants. There is a score foods have been given called an ORAC score. ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. This is a great idea, as we can compare which foods are, in theory, better for us compared to others. But there is one flaw with this theory. That flaw is the fact that there are five groups of antioxidants and ORAC only looks at one. The best analogy that I have heard is if you have a boat with five holes in it which are causing you to sink, and all you do is concentrate on plugging one hole, you are going nowhere fast. Sure you will slow down the sinking process, but only minimally. Likewise with antioxidants, you need a good range of antioxidants to “plug up the holes in your boat” to ensure this oxidative stress doesn’t get the better of you. This is where ‘Total ORAC’ comes in.

Total ORAC takes into account the 5 main oxidants (Peroxyl, Hydroxyl, Peroxynitrate, Singlet Oxygen and Superoxide Anion) and measures different foods in their ability to neutralize these five oxidants. The thing that doesn’t really surprise me though, is when you look at the charts to see which foods have the highest Total ORAC score, it comes back to the most nutrient dense foods. Things like fruits (especially berries), vegetables (leafy greens are highest), cacao, even red wine (very rich in resveratrol). I think you get the idea.

Really this just reaffirms the idea that we should concentrate on eating the fresh nutrient dense foods, regardless of their bitter taste, as they help us out in so many different ways. Our cell health will improve, we will look younger and more vibrant, have more energy to train and can recover faster from those hard sessions (especially those evil Bulletproof Legs sessions Shaun created). One other thing; if you don’t really like the taste of bitterness, just give it a go for a short time and your taste buds will adapt fairly quickly. I used to hate the taste of foods like spinach and avocado, but now, I eat plenty of them and actually enjoy the taste. Give it a go, for the sake of your health and well being.

Run Well,

Chris O’Driscoll.


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