Bitter melon (Momordica Charantia), also known as bitter gourd or bitter squash is a wonderfully healthy and nutritious fruit that originated in the Indian subcontinent. It was introduced in china in the 14th century and nowadays is widely grown in many regions of the world like Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. As the name implies, this fruit is quite bitter in taste. However, there are different varieties of bitter melon that vary in their shape and also bitterness. This fruit is of an oblong shape with warts on the skin surface and colors ranging between white and green. Although bitter in taste, the bitter melon is enjoyed as a culinary delicacy in many parts of the world.
Nutritional value of bitter melon
In spite of the bitter taste, many people love eating bitter melon because it is a storehouse of numerous health promoting nutrients. It is a very low calorie food that provides only about 17 calories per 100 gram servings. However, it is rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and powerful antioxidants. It is an excellent source of vitamin C, folate, vitamin A, and B vitamins like vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) and vitamin B3 (Niacin). Bitter melon is rich in iron content and is also a good source of other minerals like calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, phosphorus, and potassium. One of the reasons that make bitter melon a potential disease fighting fruit is the presence of phytonutrients (charantin, polypeptide-P) and flavonoids (beta-carotene, lutein, and zea-xanthin), all of which are powerful antioxidants.
Health Benefits of Bitter melon
When compared to bitter melon, there are not many fruits that offer the same nutritional and health benefits. Not only is this fruit used in cooking tasty dishes, it also valued for its many medicinal properties. Some of the health benefits of bitter melon are listed below.
Bitter melon stimulates digestion
Just like other bitter tasting fruits and vegetables improve digestion, bitter melon is also of no exception. It is found to aid digestion by stimulating the production of saliva and digestive acids. The high content of fiber in bitter melon helps in relieving digestive disorders like constipation by adding bulk to your stool and helping in its easy removal from your system.
Bitter melon and diabetes
One of the health benefits for which bitter melon is popular for, is its ability to control diabetes. It has long been used as an effective remedy for diabetes. Studies reveal that bitter melon may help in controlling insulin production by your body, consequently helping in promoting blood glucose control. The anti-diabetic properties of bitter melon can be attributed to the presence of three important compounds namely charantin, oleanolic acid glycosides and polypeptide-p. Charantin has been proved to have lowering effects on the blood glucose levels. Polypeptide-p is an insulin-like compound that has glucose lowering effects in people with type 1 diabetes. Oleanolic Acid Glycosides have found to help in improving glucose tolerance in people with type 2 diabetes. Bitter melon also contains lectin, which is considered to be a key factor that causes the hypoglycemic effect soon after eating it.
Read more: Natural food for diabetes
Bitter melon may lower cholesterol
Although the anti-cholesterol effects of bitter melon has not been studied in human beings, several animal studies indicate that this fruit has the potential to lower the levels of triglycerides and bad (LDL) cholesterol and increase the good (HDL) cholesterol levels.
Bitter melon and high blood pressure
Uncontrolled hypertension or high blood pressure is a very severe health problem that can increase your risk of many serious conditions like heart disease and stroke. Bitter melon is considered to be a great remedy for high blood pressure. Increasing the amount of nitric oxide in your blood is helpful in widening narrow blood vessels and in lowering your blood pressure. Bitter melon contains citrulline, an important amino acid that can increase the production of nitric oxide in your blood. Bitter melon is also a good source of potassium which is a powerful anti-hypertensive mineral.
According to the American Heart Association, a diet that contains natural sources of potassium can reduce the effects of sodium and hence is helpful in lowering high blood pressure.
Bitter melon improves heart health
Bitter melon contains phytonutrients and flavonoids that protects your heart and keeps it healthy. Drinking the juice of this fruit has been found to help in improving blood circulation. Additionally bitter melon is effective in reducing blood sugar, high blood pressure, and cholesterol, all of which are important in maintain a healthy and optimum functioning heart.
Bitter melon and cancer
A study in animals suggests that bitter melon extract is effective in inhibiting the growth of cancer cells in the head and neck. The effects of bitter melon on other types of cancers have also been widely studied. According to a study conducted by the University of Colorado Cancer Center, the juice of bitter melon has the potential to delay the process of glucose metabolization by the pancreatic cancer cells. Glucose metabolization is essential for the cancer cells to survive and hence delaying this process helps in destroying the cancer cells and in preventing pancreatic cancer. Another study published in the journal Cancer Research in 2010, showed that the extract of bitter melon helped in decreasing the proliferation of breast cancer cells.
Bitter melon enhances immune system
Bitter melon is rich in vitamin C and other antioxidants that help in improving your immunity, which in turn helps your body resist the different kinds of diseases and infections.
Bitter melon has anti-microbial properties
Bitter melon is high in various compounds that are found to have antibacterial and antiviral properties. An extract obtained from the leaves of bitter melon has been found to be very effective in fighting off many kinds of bacteria including Strep, Staph, E. coli, Helicobacter pylori and Salmonella. This fruit is also effective against viruses including herpes, HIV, and Epstein-Barr viruses.
Bitter melon for kidney stones
Kidney stones are small aggregations or stones of dietary minerals formed in the kidneys, causing kidney infections and excruciating pain to the patient. Proper nutrition and drinking plenty of water can lower your risk of developing kidney stones. Some compounds found in bitter melon are found to help in preventing kidney stones. According to the Mayo Clinic, a diet that is low in sodium and rich in dietary fiber may help prevent kidney stones. Bitter melon can provide you with both these requirements. It is also believed that bitter melon has the potential to break up the kidney stones and flush them out through the urine.
Bitter melon aids in weight loss
Bitter melon is an excellent solution for weight loss. One way that this fruit helps in weight loss is by lowering and controlling the blood sugar levels in your body. According to a number of researches, bitter melon increases the number of beta cells (cells that produce insulin in the pancreas) and also prevents the absorption of sugar, which helps in increasing the glucose tolerance. It also contains many compounds that are effective in lowering blood glucose levels. These properties help in maintaining proper blood sugar levels, which is helpful in losing weight. Since bitter melon is low in calories and a good source of dietary fiber, you feel full for a long period of time. As a result, you tend to avoid frequent snacking and overeating, which is also helpful in attaining a healthy weight.
Bitter melon for glowing skin
Proper nutrition is extremely important for the health of your skin. Bitter melon is a storehouse of essential nutrients that are beneficial for maintaining the beauty and youth of your skin. This fruit is a natural blood purifier and has been found to reduce acne and blemishes. The anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties of bitter melon helps in preventing and in treating skin infections like eczema, ring worm, athlete’s foot and psoriasis. Another benefit of bitter melon is that it contains vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that helps in fighting and eliminating the toxic free radicals. By reducing oxidation stress caused by these free radicals, bitter melon helps in slowing down the ageing process. It reduces signs of aging like wrinkles, dark spots and fine lines, and also protects your skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays.
Bitter melon for healthy hair
In addition to providing health benefits to your skin, bitter melon is great for ensuring the healthy growth of your hair. Washing your hair with the juice of bitter melon can make it shiny and glowing. The anti-microbial properties of this fruit help in preventing dandruff and other scalp infections. It has also been found to be helpful in strengthening your hair and in preventing hair loss, split ends and hair breakage.
Side effects of bitter melon
Too much of bitter melon juice can cause problems like diarrhea and abdominal pain. The intake of excess bitter melon can cause hypoglycemia and so people with hypoglycemia should avoid bitter melon as it may sometimes worsen the condition. The seeds of this fruit can be toxic and cause vomiting and diarrhea.
Bitter melon contains certain alkaloid substances that may not be tolerable by some people. The effects of such substances may be reduced to a great extent by soaking or parboiling the fruit in salt water for 10 to 15 minutes. This is also helpful in reducing the bitterness of bitter melon. Pregnant ladies are advised to minimize their intake of bitter melon as it contains a laxative that can lead to vaginal bleeding, premature contraction, and miscarriage.Image Credits: Flickr - Wayne Noffsinger, Flickr - Simon Law