Bitter gourd–also known as bitter melon and balsam pear, botanically labeled Momordica charantia–is a member of the large family that includes squashes, melons and cucumbers. Native to Asia and Africa, it has long been valued medicinally for its purgative properties and in dishes for its bitter taste. This is important in Asian diets that balance all tastes within one dish.
Bitter gourd properties and nutrient content
Bitter gourd fruit possess significant antioxidant, anti-microbial and anti-viral properties. Some varieties such as the white-fruit Indian bitter gourd are significantly higher in natural oxidants, antioxidants, and polyphenolic compounds. Bitter melon is also low in calories, while containing significant amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins such as A, B, C and minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium and phosphorus. It is also a good source of dietary fiber.
How does it affect diabetes?
In addition to being a food ingredient, bitter melon has also long been used as a herbal remedy for a range of ailments, including type 2 diabetes.The fruit contains at least three active substances with anti-diabetic properties, including charantin, which has been confirmed to have a blood glucose-lowering effect, vicine and an insulin-like compound known as polypeptide-p.
These substances either work individually or together to help reduce blood sugar levels.It is also known that bitter melon contains a lectin that reduces blood glucose concentrations by acting on peripheral tissues and suppressing appetite – similar to the effects of insulin in the brain.This lectin is thought to be a major factor behind the hypoglycemic effect that develops after eating bitter melon.
What other health benefits does it have?
Kerala also contains anti-cancer properties. You can find two compounds in Kerala, a-eleostearic acid which is found in seed and 15, 16-dihydroxy-a-eleostearic acid that is found in fruits of Kerala. It prevents cancerous cells and it is a good medicine for leukemia problem and also cures blood irregularities like anemia. It produces healthy red-blood cells and even-out the amount of white-blood cells in the body. It also controls blood pressure.
Bitter melon is used in traditional medicine for:
- Chronic cough
- Painful menstruation
- Skin conditions
It is also used to heal wounds, assist childbirth and, in parts of Africa and Asia, prevent or treat malaria and viral diseases such as measles and chicken pox.
In addition, researchers from Saint Louis University in the US say they have shown that an extract from bitter melon can kill breast cancer cells and prevent them from growing and spreading.
Availability of bitter melon
Bitter melon can be taken in several forms; it can be eaten as a fruit, made into juice, the seeds can be added to food in a powdered form, or it can be used in the form of a decoration by boiling pieces of the melon in water. Alternatively, bitter melon extract can be bought as a herbal supplement.
The fruit itself is available in Asian food stores and grocery shops, while other forms of the fruit-vegetable can be found in most health food shops. Bitter melon or bitter gourd is generally cooked in the green stage. In Chinese cooking, bitter melon is typically stir-fried, or used for soups. Bitter melon tea is also available. In Indian cuisine, bitter melon is stuffed with spices and cooked in very little oil.