Bitter gourd is a bitter plant that is popular for its use as medicine or vegetable. It belongs to the cucumber family; Curcurbitaceae and is widely grown in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbeans.
Scientifically, it is called Momordica charantia but is also known as bitter melon, bitter cucumber, balsam pear, Ewe Ejinrin (Nigeria), Karela (India), Ku-gua (China), and Ampalaya (Philippines).
The fruit is pale green when ripe and has an oblong shape with a bumpy, wrinkled surface. It favors hot and humid climates and grows well in plenty of sunshine and water.
Bitter gourd has been in use since ancient times to treat diabetes and other ailments. It is packed with nutrients and vitamins.
Health benefits of bitter gourd fruit and leaves
The following are impressive benefits of bitter gourd:
1. Rich in nutrients
One raw bitter gourd fruit (124 g) will provide you with :
- Energy: 21 calories
- Water: 117 grams (g)
- Carbohydrates: 5 g
- Protein: 1 g
- Dietary fiber: 3 g
- Fats: 0 g
- Calcium: 24 milligrams (mg)
- Potassium: 367 mg
- Sodium: 6 mg
- Vitamin A: 30 µg
- Vitamin C: 104 mg
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
Bitter gourd fruit also provides you with B-vitamins, zinc, magnesium, and phosphorus.
2. Reduces blood sugar
Bitter gourd is rich in compounds called saponins and terpenoids that are responsible for its bitter taste. These compounds help to lower blood sugar levels and fight diabetes.
Studies have found that extracts from the fruit and leaves of bitter gourd may help people with diabetes by improving insulin secretion and helping the liver break down glucose.
Additionally, it may aid glucose to enter the body’s cells where it is needed to improve response .
However, more human studies are required to understand bitter gourd’s exact mechanisms of action.
Also read: Diabetes Diet: Best Nigerian Foods to Eat and Avoid
3. Boosts immunity
Bitter gourd contains antioxidants such as flavonoids and vitamin C.
Antioxidants are substances found in plants that help fight against disease-causing free radicals that can cause diabetes, stroke, and cancers.
These antioxidants found in bitter gourd (Ejinrin) may also strengthen the body’s immune response against common infections.
4. Reduces inflammation
Inflammation is an immune system response that helps prevent infection and causes wounds to heal.
However, if the inflammatory process goes on for too long, it can become problematic – as chronic inflammation has been linked to heart disease and oxidative stress.
Studies have found that bitter gourd extracts can help fight excessive inflammatory reactions and reduce oxidative stress in the brain .
5. Reduces cholesterol levels
High cholesterol levels can cause a build-up of fatty plaque that narrows your blood vessel and forces your heart to work harder to pump blood – increasing your risk of heart disease.
Fruits and leaves of bitter gourd (Ejinrin) may help lower blood cholesterol levels.
Several animal studies have found that bitter gourd extracts can reduce cholesterol levels by decreasing the number of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and triglycerides in the blood .
6. Promotes weight loss
The fruits of bitter gourd can be a good addition to your weight loss diet. They are rich in fiber and low in calories. In fact, one fresh bitter gourd will give you roughly 3 g of fiber.
Fiber is great for weight loss because it fills you up, making you eat less, and stay full for a longer time period.
7. Traditional medicine
Since ancient times, bitter gourd (Ejinrin) has been used in Asian and African herbal medicine to treat various ailments.
The fruits, vines, leaves, and roots are used as a remedy for diabetes, malaria, toothache, diarrhea, cough, wounds, gout, eczema, dysmenorrhea, and worm infestation.
It is also often used as a natural contraceptive to prevent pregnancy in some regions.
How to prepare bitter gourd
Bitter gourd is delicious and can be added to many dishes and recipes.
The fruits and leaves have a sharp flavor that can be enjoyed raw or cooked.
To prepare the fruit: wash it, cut it open, scoop out the seeds from the center, and cut the fruit into thin slices.
Here are different ways you can enjoy bitter gourd:
- Stir-fry: Sauté sliced bitter gourd fruit or leaves with shrimp (or pork), tomatoes, garlic, and onions and eat as a side dish or add to scrambled eggs.
- Salad: Combine mango, tomato, and grilled bitter gourd with a dressing of your choice to create a fresh salad.
- Curry or stew: Add sliced seedless bitter gourd (Ejinrin) or leaves to tomato stew or curry as a garnish.
- Stuffing: Make a type of Indian curry dish, with bitter gourd stuffed with onions, cooked lentil, grated coconut mix, and fried or boiled in a broth.
- Beverage: Make a drink with puréed bitter gourd, lemon, and honey. Strain and enjoy.
Potential side effects of bitter gourd
Always take it in moderation. A high intake of bitter melon or its supplements may be associated with some mild adverse effects such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, and vomiting.
To prevent hypoglycemia; please consult with your healthcare provider before taking bitter gourd as a supplement or treatment for your diabetes, especially if you’re on glucose-lowering medications.
Additionally, if you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant, limit ingestion of high doses of bitter gourd, as it has been used to prevent pregnancy in some cultures .
The bottom line
Bitter gourd is nutritious, delicious, and easy to add to your diet.
It is full of nutrients and phytochemicals that help prevent diseases such as diabetes, inflammation, and high cholesterol levels.
However, people who are pregnant or on any glucose-lowering medications should consult their healthcare provider before consuming high amounts of bitter gourd.
- USDA, bitter gourd: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168393/nutrients
- Jia, S., Shen, M., Zhang, F., & Xie, J. (2017). Recent Advances in Momordica charantia: Functional Components and Biological Activities. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms18122555
- Nerurkar, P. V., et al. (2011). Momordica charantia (bitter melon) attenuates high-fat diet-associated oxidative stress and neuroinflammation. https://doi.org/10.1186/1742-2094-8-64
- Saksena S. K. (1971). Study of antifertility activity of the leaves of Momordica linn (Karela). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/5114004/
- Freepik image: Bitter gourd https://www.freepik.com/photos/bitter-gourd’>Bitter gourd photo created by jcomp
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