Bitter Melon Benefits You Should Know About

Boons from Bitter Melon
Scientific Name: Momordica charantia

Bitter Melon Nutrition Facts

Bitter melon boasts a variety of essential vitamins and minerals needed for the smooth function of the body.1

But aside from these healthful components, bitter melon contains active compounds that may help combat or even improve some of the most common chronic diseases today. Here’s everything you need to know about it.

What Is Bitter Melon?

The easiest way to identify a bitter melon (Momordica charantia) is through its rough and wrinkled skin, which some might even call “warty.”2 But while the fruit might appear off-putting, bitter melon is actually famous for its effects on obesity and diabetes.3

Bitter melon, also called bitter gourd or Indian bitter melon, is a climbing shrub that typically grows in countries with a tropical climate. The bitter melon plant is a relatively fast-growing plant characterized by its thin stems, tendrils and bright yellow flowers that only bloom for a day.

Bitter melon fruits usually start off with a light green shade and become yellow or orange as they ripen.4 Native to India and other countries with warmer climates, bitter melon fruits are usually prepared in dishes, while the leaves are used in teas and soups. But aside from its culinary uses, bitter melon is also used as a traditional medicine in China, India and South America, specifically for tumors, asthma, skin and digestive problems.

One of the most well-known uses for bitter melon is for the management of diabetes, as the fruit contains three different components that help in blood sugar regulation, namely charantin, peptides and alkaloids.5

Get These Bitter Melon Benefits Today

Some of the benefits you can obtain from adding bitter melon to your diet are:

  • May improve blood sugar regulation. Bitter melon contains hypoglycemic compounds, which may help improve your body’s ability to utilize sugar for energy. In a 2018 placebo-controlled trial published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, bitter melon and cucumber juice were given to prediabetics. After a few weeks of administration, the individuals given bitter melon juice had significantly lowered fasting plasma glucose levels.6

    Bitter melon may also help boost fat metabolism, which may contribute to the prevention of obesity, which is one of the risk factors of diabetes.7 In an animal study done in 2016, bitter melon extracts were found to effectively reduce adiposity in obese mice by promoting balance in lipid intake and metabolism.8

    In addition, it has been found to significantly help improve insulin sensitivity. In a study done by the Philippine Department of Health, they found that bitter melon has the same mechanism as glibenclamide, an anti-diabetes drug.9 

  • Aids the immune system. Bitter melon is said to contribute to better immune function,10 as it is filled with numerous antioxidants and other essential nutrients, one of which is vitamin C. It contains about 55 milligrams of vitamin C per serving, which is an essential micronutrient for improved immunity as it supports cellular function and oxidant scavenging.11
  • Might reduce/prevent inflammation. Numerous studies show that the different components of bitter melon lend it its anti-inflammatory properties. A 2018 study published in the journal Phytomedicine showed that a peptide extracted from bitter melon seeds helps in alleviating inflammation by inhibiting pro-inflammatory cytokines.12 Another 2018 animal study shows that the administration of bitter melon polysaccharides may help in reducing gastric inflammation and oxidative stress.13

Bitter Melon Side Effects and Complications to Look Out For

Because of its active compounds, bitter melon may amplify certain medications’ effects. Bitter melon is largely recommended for diabetes patients due to its ability to help in the regulation of blood sugar. However, eating bitter melon while you’re on diabetes medications may cause your blood sugar to drop more than it’s supposed to, causing hypoglycemia.

If you’re planning on making bitter melon a regular part of your diet, it would be best that you ask your doctor if you would need the dosages for your diabetes medication lowered. Other subgroups that need to limit or avoid bitter melon consumption include:14

  • Pregnant or breast feeding women. Bitter melon contains active components that may trigger bleeding during pregnancy. There have also been insufficient studies focusing on the effect bitter melon has on pregnancy. To be safe, it would be best that you limit your intake.
  • Patients who will undergo surgery. The consumption of bitter melon may compromise the regulation of blood sugar during surgery. If you’re scheduled for surgery, it would be best that you avoid consuming this vegetable at least two weeks before.

How to Cook Bitter Melon: Follow These Preparation Tips

The rough and unique appearance of bitter melon might seem discouraging at first, but preparing it for cooking is relatively simple. However, the first thing you should learn is how to choose the best bitter melon possible. Some of the things you should remember when choosing your first bitter melon are:15

  • Choose those that are firm and light in color. Darker colored bitter melons usually have a much more intense flavor, which may prove to be overpowering for first-timers.
  • Small to medium-sized bitter melons are better. Bigger bitter melons are usually more bitter than the small ones. While you’re going to get more flesh from the bigger ones, you’re also going to get a much more bitter taste.

Once you’ve successfully chosen the best bitter melon, you should know how to correctly prepare it for cooking. To help you, here is a guide from Food Republic on how to prepare bitter melon:16

  1. Split the bitter melon fruit in half.
  2. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon.
  3. Slice the fruit into thin half-moons.

Optionally, you can toss the pieces in some salt and let them sit for about 30 minutes. This will help draw out some of the bitterness, if you’re not accustomed to the flavor yet.

Try This Tasty and Healthy Bitter Melon Recipe Today

Bitter melon, staying true to its name, is known for its sharp taste, with other variants being more bitter than others. While bitterness in other foods is usually seen as undesirable, cooks and regular bitter melon eaters note that its flavor is actually appetizing. If you’ve managed to get your hands on a bitter melon, you might want to try these healthy and tasty recipe to add some zing to your meals.17,18

Bitter Melon Healthy Recipes

Ingredients:

1 pound bitter melon

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1/4 teaspoon red chili powder

2 chopped onions

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons coriander powder

2 chopped tomatoes

1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder

1/2 teaspoon mango powder

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon Himalayan salt

2 potatoes, peeled, cut in long strip and half cooked

Procedures:

  1. Rinse bitter melon.
  2. Trim on both ends as needed and scrape any blemishes or hard skin.
  3. Cut into small rounds.
  4. Heat the oil in a skillet on medium-high heat.
  5. Add bitter melon in a single layer. Stir and cook until brownish.
  6. Reduce the heat if they tend to burn.
  7. Add the onions, potatoes and all the seasonings. Stir until the potatoes are cooked.
  8. Add the tomatoes.
  9. Cook slowly on medium low heat, half covered, stirring as needed, until everything is cooked.

(Adapted from Genius Kitchen)

Bitter Melon Juice

Bitter Melon Juice Healthy Recipes

Ingredients:

100 grams bitter melon

1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

250 milliliters water

 

Procedures:

  1. Wash the bitter melon thoroughly, removing any debris or dirt. Remove the seeds and inner pith.
  2. Cut the bitter melon into smaller pieces. Combine water, salt and turmeric powder. Soak the cut pieces in the mixture for about 15 minutes. Discard the water.
  3. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze out its juice. Set aside.
  4. Using a blender, blend the bitter melon pieces with water until it gets the consistency of a smooth paste.
  5. Filter the bitter melon with a strainer to get its juice. Add the lemon juice. Serve cold.

(Adapted from AVRDC, The World Vegetable Center)

Bitter Melon Nutritional Facts: What Nutrients Are You Getting?

If you’re planning on adding bitter melon to your diet, these nutritional facts are worthwhile to know so you can gauge which minerals and nutrients you’d need to get from other sources.

Bitter Melon Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: 100 g
  Amt. Per
Serving
% Daily
Value*
Calories    
Calories from Fat    
Total Fat 0.17 g  
Saturated Fat    
Trans Fat 0.0 g  
Cholesterol 0 mg  
Sodium 5 mg  
Total Carbohydrates 3.70 g  
Dietary Fiber 2.8 g  
Sugar    
Protein 1 g  
Vitamin A 471 IU Vitamin C 84 mg
Calcium19 mg Iron 0.43 mg

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Bitter Melon May Help You Achieve Better Overall Health

Diet is one of the main components in the journey to better health, and making sure you’re loading yourself with nutritious and healthy foods should be one of your top priorities. With the abundance of beneficial components that bitter melon is filled with, this fruit deserves to be one of your top choices when it comes to new additions to your diet.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Bitter Melon

Q: How do you eat bitter melon?

A: Bitter melon may be prepared in a variety of ways. In Chinese cuisine, bitter melon is stir-fried with some pork or beef, while in Indian cuisine, it is cooked with coconut or stuffed with spices. There are various recipes available in cookbooks and on the web you can try out.19

Q: What is bitter melon good for?

A: Bitter melon is rich in numerous vitamins and minerals that can influence numerous body systems and processes. It is especially popular due to its effect on insulin sensitivity, making it a good vegetable to add to your diet if you’ve been struggling with insulin resistance. Bitter melon also contains anti-cancer, anti-tumor, hepatoprotective, antimicrobial and antiviral properties, making it a relatively impressive vegetable.20

Q: Can I eat bitter melon when I’m pregnant?

A: While bitter melon is loaded with nutrients that you may deem beneficial for both your and your child’s health, its influence on blood sugar levels may cause numerous adverse effects. If you’re planning on eating bitter melon, it would be best that you consult your health practitioner to ensure your safety.21

Q: Where does bitter melon come from?

A: Bitter melon is usually cultivated in tropical countries, mainly in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. However, it is now being cultivated in other parts of the globe. Today, it is now being cultivated in the warmer parts of the U.S., such as Florida.22

Q: Is bitter melon an alternative for diabetes medication?

A: While bitter melon has been found to be beneficial for diabetes management, it cannot be used as a primary mode of treatment for diabetes, especially without specific instructions from your doctor. It’s important to note that a healthcare professional should also be consulted if you plan on adding bitter melon as a regular part of your diet if you’re on any kind of diabetes medication.23