Bitter melon, also known as bitter gourd or balsam pear, is commonly grown in tropical areas and is consumed both as a fruit and as a vegetable. In many cultures, bitter melon is also an accepted form of medicine due to its incomparable health benefits.
The pods of bitter melon can be light to dark green in color and have oblong or oval shapes with a pointed tip at the blossom end. The inner flesh is white with rough-edged seeds. The seeds turn red when ripe.
Nutritional Content of Bitter Gourd
Despite its nutritional perks, this gift of nature often gets a bad rep due to its bitter taste. Notorious for being the bitterest of all edible vegetables, bitter melon can send you running in the opposite direction if you consider it only for its taste. However, a quick rundown of its nutritional merits will have you come crawling back.
Enriched with protein, carbohydrates, calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, and several B vitamins, bitter melon is a holy grail for many of your health issues.
This is amplified by the fact that it is high in dietary fiber and low in calories. This fruit also contains linolenic acid (an essential omega-6 fatty acid) and oleic acid (an unsaturated fat).
Nutritional value of bitter gourd per 100 grams:
- Water – 94.03 g
- Energy – 17 kcal
- Protein – 1.0 g
- Total lipid – 0.17 g
- Carbohydrate – 3.7 g
- Fiber, total dietary – 2.8 g
- Sugars – 1.95 g
- Calcium, Ca – 19.0 mg
- Iron, Fe – 0.43 mg
- Magnesium, Mg – 17 mg
- Phosphorus, P – 31 mg
- Potassium, K – 296 mg
- Sodium, Na – 5 mg
- Vitamin C – 84.0 mg
- Niacin – 0.400
- Folate – 72 mcg
- Vitamin A – 24 mcg
- Vitamin E – 0.14 mg
- Vitamin K – 4.8 mcg
Precautions and Risk Factors
- Although the short-term consumption of bitter gourd which extends to up to 3 months is generally considered safe for most people, it may lead to digestive distress in some people. There also is not enough information about the safety of applying bitter melon directly to the skin.
- Pregnant women are recommended not to consume bitter gourd since it contains certain chemicals which can trigger menstrual bleeding and have been found to cause abortion in animals. Given the dearth of reliable information regarding the consumption of bitter gourd during the nursing period, the best way to is to avoid its use when breastfeeding.
- Bitter gourd might come in the way of effectively regulating your blood sugar levels during and after a surgery. Thus, it is well-advised to stop using bitter melon at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Bitter melon can lower blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes and take medications to lower your blood sugar, adding bitter melon might make your blood sugar drop too low. Monitor your blood sugar carefully.
Bitter Melon Juice
To prepare bitter melon juice, follows these steps:
- Wash 1 or 2 medium-sized bitter melons under cold running water.
- Slice them down the center with a sharp knife, and then scoop out the seeds and the white flesh with a spoon.
- Chop the remaining green flesh of the melon into small pieces.
- Soak the pieces in a glass of water for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Blend the soaked pieces along with the water.
- Strain the juice to remove any solid residue.
- Add honey, black pepper powder, lemon juice, or ginger juice for taste.
How Bitter Gourd is Beneficial to Your Health
Here are some benefits that you can get from bitter melon.
1. Controls Diabetes
Bitter melon has been found useful in managing diabetes due to its blood glucose-lowering effect; however, it is not considered an approved treatment on its own.
Bitter melon contains various substances that exhibit antidiabetic properties, including charantin, vicine, and polypeptide-p. Polypeptide-p mimics the function of insulin in diabetic patients by reducing blood sugar naturally. Charantin, on the other hand, facilitates glycogen synthesis within liver and muscle cells.
Furthermore, bitter melon is doubly effective in increasing pancreatic insulin secretion as well as preventing insulin resistance, making it beneficial for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, a 2,000 mg daily dose of bitter melon significantly reduced the blood glucose levels among people with type 2 diabetes. However, the hypoglycemic effect was comparatively less than that of a 1,000 mg/day dose of metformin, an approved medication for type 2 diabetes.
- Drink ½ to 1 cup of bitter gourd juice on an empty stomach each morning.
- You should also include a bitter gourd preparation daily in your diet.
2. Purifies Blood
Bitter melon works effectively as a natural blood purifier. Problems such as constant headaches, allergies, fatigue, and weak immunity, which are often rooted in the presence of toxins in the blood, are prevented and eliminated as a result.
The antifungal and antibacterial properties of bitter melon promote healthy and glowing skin. It helps treat skin ailments, such as blood boils and itching due to toxemia, acne, psoriasis, and eczema. Additionally, the vitamin C-laden bitter melon prevents the formation of wrinkles and deters skin aging.
- Add a tinge of lemon juice and honey to a glass of fresh bitter melon juice.
- Sip it slowly on an empty stomach daily for six months.
3. Supports Liver Health
Bitter melon juice has liver-protecting properties, making it an elixir for your liver health. It promotes the filtering functions of your liver, which helps rid the blood of impurities, and aids in eliminating harmful toxins in the body.
A properly functioning liver, in turn, reduces the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, chronic fatigue, headaches, digestive problems, jaundice, and other health issues.
- Drinking a cup of bitter melon juice at least once a day works as a tonic to keep your liver healthy.
4. Lowers Cholesterol
Bitter gourd is a magic ingredient for lowering the level of your low-density lipoproteins (LDL), also known as “bad” cholesterol, which prevents plaque accumulation on the arterial walls. Decongested arteries preserve your heart health and keep you safe from the threat of a heart attack or a stroke.
Moreover, the phytonutrients and antioxidants present in bitter melon help to increase your level of high-density lipoproteins (HDL), also known as “good’’ cholesterol. Thus, bitter melon aids in striking the perfect LDL/HDL balance.
According to a 2013 animal-based study published in Nutrition Research, bitter gourd was found to have a mitigating impact on cholesterol levels. While the findings of this animal trial can only be validated after further research on human subjects, they have nevertheless led researches to deduce that bitter melon can prove potent in managing hypercholesterolemia.
- Include bitter melon in your diet, or alternatively take a supplement but only after consulting your doctor.
5. Boosts Immunity
Regular intake of bitter melon can help bolster your immune defenses, thereby improving your body’s resilience to combat diseases, infections, and free radical damage. Enriched with antioxidants like vitamin C, bitter melon protects against allergies as well.
- Include bitter melon in your diet to prevent serious diseases.
- You can also drink 1 to 2 cups of bitter melon tea daily to boost your immunity.
- To prepare the tea, steep 4 to 5 bitter melon pieces in a cup of hot water for 5 minutes.
6. Protects Against Cancer
The antioxidant-rich bitter melon helps to curb the effects of free radicals within the body. Free radicals are responsible for the destruction of healthy cells and, thus, make the body vulnerable to numerous types of cancer.
Added to that, bitter melon also exhibits certain anticarcinogenic and anti-tumor effects, which make it helpful in preventing or reducing the risk of cervical, prostate, and breast cancers.
Researchers analyzed the anti-tumor activity of bitter melon in a 2010 study published in Anticancer Research. They concluded that bitter-melon-related products induce cell cycle arrest and apoptosis, or cell death, in cancerous cells without affecting the growth of normal cells, stopping cancer in its tracks.
- To help ward off cancer, make bitter melon a regular part of your diet or drink its juice on a regular basis.
7. Aids Weight Loss
Besides being low in calories, bitter gourds are replete with phytonutrients and antioxidants that help with weight loss. Bitter melon is composed of 80%-85% water; it induces a feeling of fullness for much longer and keeps you from binge eating or overeating.
This is further aided by its high fiber content, which facilitates a smooth digestive process. This vegetable also promotes the secretion of bile acids that promote fast metabolism of carbohydrates; as a result, less fat is stored in the body.
According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Nutrition, the anti-adiposity property of bitter melon is effective in reducing body fat accumulation.
- You can include bitter melon in your diet or take a high-quality supplement after consulting your doctor.
8. Kills Intestinal Worms
Bitter melon contains anthelmintic compounds that help kill intestinal worms. It even helps get rid of the toxins that these parasites leave behind as they die.
- Drink ½ cup of bitter melon juice on an empty stomach for a week.
- Another option is to crush 5 to 10 dried bitter melon seeds. Sauté the crushed seeds in a little clarified butter and consume it twice daily for a week.
9. Treats Hemorrhoids (Piles)
The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of bitter melon make it a very good remedy for hemorrhoids or piles.
Additionally, the dietary fiber present in bitter melon softens stools and increases the motility of the gastrointestinal tract. This helps prevent chronic constipation and, in turn, provides relief from hemorrhoids.
- Add 2 to 3 teaspoons of juice extracted from bitter melon leaves to a glass of buttermilk. Drink one glass of this concoction every morning on an empty stomach for about a month.
- You can also make a salve of the roots of the bitter melon plant and apply it topically to external hemorrhoids to reduce inflammation and relieve pain and bleeding.
Additional Tips and Warnings
- When buying bitter melon, choose the fresh, young, and tender bitter melons that are dark green. It’s better to avoid those that have turned yellow or orange or have soft spots.
- Always rinse your bitter melon under cold running water before juicing or cooking.
- To play down the bitterness, soak bitter melon pieces in saltwater for 10 minutes before cooking.
- To make the bitter gourd juice a bit appetizing, add honey, carrot juice, or apple juice.
- Do not consume more than 2 to 3 bitter gourds a day, as excessive intake can cause mild abdominal pain or diarrhea.
- Pregnant women should avoid taking too much bitter gourd as it can induce preterm labor.
- Full Report (All Nutrients): 11024, Balsam-pear (bitter gourd), pods, raw. USDA Food Composition Databases. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/2832. Published April 2018.
- Joseph B, Jini D. Antidiabetic effects of Momordica charantia (bitter melon) and its medicinal potency. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Disease. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4027280/. Published April 2013.
- Fuangchan A, Sonthisombat P, Seubnukarn T, et al. Hypoglycemic effect of bitter melon compared with metformin in newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes patients. Journal of ethnopharmacology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21211558. Published March 24, 2011.
- Parray ZA, Parray SA, Islam A. Bitter Gourd Momordica charantia): A Natural Gift in … Research & Reviews: A Journal of Biotechnology. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315379464. Published March 19, 2017.
- Naz R, Anjum FM, Butt MS, Mahr-Un-Nisa -. Dietary supplementation of bitter gourd reduces the risk of hypercholesterolemia in cholesterol fed sprague dawley rats. Pakistan journal of pharmaceutical sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27731813. Published September 2016.
- Manabe M, Takenaka R, Nakasa T, Okinaka O. Induction of anti-inflammatory responses by dietary Momordica charantia L. (bitter gourd). Bioscience, biotechnology, and biochemistry. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14730127. Published December 2003.
- Ru P, Steele R, Nerurkar PV, Phillips N, Ray RB. Bitter Melon Extract Impairs Prostate Cancer Cell-Cycle Progression and Delays Prostatic Intraepithelial Neoplasia in TRAMP Model. Cancer Backention Research. http://cancerpreventionresearch.aacrjournals.org/content/4/12/2122.full. Published December 1, 2011.
- Shim SH, Sur S, Steele R, et al. Disrupting cholesterol esterification by bitter melon suppresses triple-negative breast cancer cell growth. Molecular carcinogenesis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30074275. Published November 2018.
- Lee-Huang S, Huang PL, Sun Y, Chen HC, Kung HF, Murphy WJ. Inhibition of MDA-MB-231 human breast tumor xenografts and HER2 expression by anti-tumor agents GAP31 and MAP30. Anticancer research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10810336. Published 2000.
- Alam MA, Uddin R, Subhan N, Rahman MM, Jain P, Reza HM. Beneficial Role of Bitter Melon Supplementation in Obesity and Related Complications in Metabolic Syndrome. Journal of Lipids. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4306384/. Published 2015.
- Chen Q, Chan LL, Li ET. Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) reduces adiposity, lowers serum insulin and normalizes glucose tolerance in rats fed a high fat diet. The Journal of nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12672924. Published April 2003.
- Poolperm S, Jiraungkoorskul W. An Update Review on the Anthelmintic Activity of Bitter Gourd, Momordica charantia. Pharmacognosy Reviews. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5414453/. Published 2017.
- (PDF) HERBAL TREATMENT FOR HEMORRHOIDS. www.itpsonline.net. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/45166133_HERBAL_TREATMENT_FOR_HEMORRHOIDS. Published January 28, 2016.