7 Health Benefits Of Bitter Melon (Bitter Gourd) & Nutrition

Reviewed by Madhu Sharma, RD
Written by Swathi Handoo, MSc (Biotechnology), Professional Certificate In Food, Nutrition & Health

It is that food most of us have been bitter about since our childhood! Yes, we are talking about bitter gourd. However, the benefits of bitter gourd tell you a different story and place it among the healthiest foods to eat.

Here is an interesting fact for you – bitter gourd is a fruit. Yes, it is! Also, it is a rich source of vitamins A, B, C, and E, zinc, potassium, and other nutrients (1), (2). Consuming its juice regularly is also said to help manage diabetes. Keep reading to learn about some important health benefits of bitter gourd!

More On Bitter Gourd

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Bitter melon or bitter gourd (Momordica charantia) is a member of the squash family, Cucurbitaceae. It is commonly known as balsam pear or karela and is widely cultivated in Asia, South America, the Caribbean, and East Africa (1), (2).

The USP of this gourd is its characteristic taste. Mature bitter gourd tastes sharp and bitter, which is why many people dislike it.

However, it offers a range of health benefits. All credit goes to its dense nutritional profile (2).

Scroll down the next section to find out the benefits and nutrients of bitter melon.

7 Health Benefits Of Bitter Gourd

There is ample evidence that throws light on the benefits of bitter gourd. Its fruit, pulp, skin, seeds, and leaves are good for your health. The phytochemicals of this melon have a positive effect on diabetes, liver health, obesity, and related conditions.

1. Controls Diabetes

Abundant pre-clinical studies prove the antidiabetic property of bitter gourd. It exerts a hypoglycemic effect by controlling glucose metabolism (2).

It inhibits glucose uptake in the intestines and boosts its use in the muscles. The extracts of bitter gourd protect the pancreatic cells from pro-inflammatory cells and compounds (2).

The fruit pulp, seeds, and whole plant extracts of bitter gourd are documented to have a hypoglycemic (insulin-like) effect. The saponins, alkaloids, and polyphenols present in bitter gourd are responsible for increased insulin tolerance and glucose uptake (2), (3).

2. Aids Weight Loss

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Along with glucose metabolism, bitter melon works on lipid metabolism as well. Studies have proven that it can reduce fat accumulation, thus exerting an anti-obesity effect (4).

Adding bitter gourd to the diet reduced the effect of high-fat food in rats. It was observed that the fruit could prevent weight gain by altering the corresponding gene expression (5).

Another recent study suggests that bitter melon seed oil may deplete the fat reserves in your body by selectively killing adipocytes (fat storage cells). This is because it contains active molecules like triterpenoid glycosides, alkaloids, flavonoids, polyphenols, carotenoids, and fatty acids that prevent the inflammation of adipose tissue, which is often linked to metabolic disorder (4), (5)

3. Promotes Liver Health

Pre-clinical trials on rats demonstrate the hepatoprotective (liver-friendly) properties of bitter gourd. Obesity, diabetes, high-fat diets, and alcohol lead to the development of a fatty liver. Inflammation and free radicals can worsen such liver injuries (6), (7).

Eating bitter melon can control oxidative damage as it can block the fat accumulation and lipid peroxidation mechanism. This slows down inflammation-induced cell death in the liver (6).

It also enhances your body’s antioxidant system, i.e., in-house enzymes like catalase and superoxide dismutase. Above all, bitter gourd extracts can stop the liver damage induced by chronic alcohol intake (7).

4. Relieves Constipation And Hemorrhoids

Bitter gourd helps ease bowel movement. It is a proven laxative and digestion stimulant. Patients with hemorrhoids showed signs of improvement when a bitter melon leaf extract was given to them (8).

Bitter gourd also stimulates your gut cells to secrete more digestive juices. That is how it helps digest food quicker and better (8).

Efficient digestion is often followed by smooth bowel movement. By preventing constipation, bitter melons relieve the pressure on the veins inside the hemorrhoids (8).

5. Treats Skin Conditions

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This squash family member has excellent anti-inflammatory properties. It can treat various skin conditions like eczema, rashes, leprosy, psoriasis, wounds, and sores. The indigenous tribes of Africa and Asia use a paste made from the bitter gourd plant to apply on blisters and injuries topically (9).

Rabbit studies demonstrated the effect of skin creams enriched with bitter melon extracts on wounds. Rabbits that received this cream treatment experienced improved and accelerated wound healing (10).

The peel of this fruit has the maximum potential to prevent skin cancers. Cancer studies found that bitter gourd extracts improved the quality of life and life span of mice (11).

6. Fights Cancer

Almost all parts of the bitter melon plant have anticancer properties. Its extract inhibits cancer cell growth by triggering programmed cell death (apoptosis) (11).

Its seed oil has biologically active fatty acids that interfere with the proliferation of breast and liver cancer cell lines. Also, the whole fruit and skin extract of bitter melon show high efficacy in battling colon cancer (11).

Bitter gourd extract was found to be selectively toxic to prostate cancer cells in mouse studies. It also regulates the levels of pro- and anti-inflammatory proteins in the affected tissue. It slows down the overall growth and migration of cervical, nose and pharynx, and blood cancers as well (11).

7. Impedes Helminthic Infections

Helminthic infections (diseases caused by parasitic worms) due to cestodes, nematodes, and trematodes affect humans and livestock. Extracts of various parts of bitter gourd showed anthelmintic activity against adult earthworms (12).

Recent studies claim that bitter melon phytochemicals are responsible for this activity. Saponins, alkaloids, oligoglycosides, flavonoids, and tannins are most effective in killing the nematodes (worms). They can paralyze them and disrupt their vascular and nervous system (12).

These phytochemicals can restrict the migration and survival of young nematode larvae. Having bitter gourd can reduce the worm load in your body and ultimately prevent such helminthic infections from worsening (12).

These benefits force you to overlook the bitter taste of bitter gourd, don’t they?

But have you ever wondered what makes bitter gourd so good for your health? It’s the phytonutrients. Check out the next section for the nutrition details.

Nutritional Profile Of Bitter Gourd

Nutritional value per 1 cup (1/2″ pieces) 93 g
NutrientUnitQuantity
Watergl87.45
Energykcal16
EnergykJ66
Proteing0.93
Total lipid (fat)g0.16
Ashg1.02
Carbohydrate, by differenceg3.44
Fiber, total dietaryg2.6
Minerals
Calciummg18
Ironmg0.40
Magnesiummg16
Phosphorusmg29
Potassiummg275
Sodiummg5
Zincmg0.74
Coppermg0.032
Manganesemg0.083
Seleniumµg0.2
Vitamins
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acidmg78.1
Thiaminemg0.037
Riboflavinmg0.037
Niacinmg0.372
Pantothenic acidmg0.197
Vitamin B-6mg0.040
Folate, totalµg67
Folate, foodµg67
Folate, DFEµg67
Vitamin A, RAEµg22
Carotene, betaµg177
Carotene, alphaµg172
Vitamin A, IUIU438
Lutein + zeaxanthinµg158

Source: USDA

This nutrient-dense food has a powerful phytochemical profile. Its main constituents include triterpene, steroid, alkaloid, inorganic, lipid, and phenolic compounds.

Charantin, cryptoxanthin, cucurbitin, cucurbitacin, cucurbitane, nerolidol, rubixanthin, spinasterol, steroidal glycosides, stigmasta-diols, stigmasterol, taraxerol, trehalose, verbascoside, vicine, zeatin, zeaxanthin, ascorbigen, citrulline, elasterol, lutein, and lycopene were identified in bitter gourd in biochemical analyses (2).

Organic acids like galacturonic acid, eleostearic acid, lauric acid, linoleic acid, linolenic acid, gentisic acid, myristic acid, rosmarinic acid, oleic acid, oxalic acid, pipecolic acid, and petroselinic acid also occur in various parts of the bitter gourd plant (2).

These bioactive ingredients act together to offer you the various health benefits. Making bitter gourd a part of your diet is the best way to put them to work. Here are a few quick ways.

How To Cook With Bitter Gourd

Bitter gourd is a versatile veggie. You can blend it into a drink, add it to soups and curries, or have it as deep-fried chips, crisps, or fritters.

Here’s a tasty recipe for fried bitter melon chips.

Crispy Bitter Gourd Chips

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What You Need
  • Thinly sliced bitter gourd: 2 cups, unpeeled, seeded (wheel-shaped/discs)
  • Bengal gram flour: ½ cup
  • Rice flour: ¼ cup
  • Chilli powder or pepper powder: 1 teaspoon
  • Turmeric: ¼ teaspoon (optional)
  • Salt: 1 teaspoon
  • Allspice mix or chaat masala: ½ teaspoon
  • Cooking oil: for deep frying (use accordingly)
  • Mixing bowl: small-medium
  • Frying pan or deep non-stick pan
Let’s Make It!
  1. To a clean mixing bowl, add the bitter melon discs and sprinkle salt over them.
  2. Mix the pieces and salt well. Cover with a lid and let them sit for about 30 minutes. (This will release the moisture from the bitter gourd pieces. You will also lose the bitter taste of the fruit this way.)
  3. Take a few pieces between your palms. Squeeze gently to remove excess water from the pieces.
  4. Leave them on a plate covered with tissue paper.
  5. Discard the leftover water/juice.
  6. To the same bowl, add the rest of the ingredients.
  7. Add two to three tablespoons of water to the spice mix.
  8. Transfer the squeeze-dried bitter gourd pieces to the mixing bowl.
  9. Mix all the contents thoroughly to coat the melon pieces with spices and flour uniformly.
  10. Meanwhile, heat oil in a deep non-stick pan.
  11. Once the oil is hot, deep fry the prepared discs.
  12. Fry until they turn golden-brown and crispy on the outside.
  13. Place them on an absorbent paper-lined dish/plate.
  14. Serve hot, warm, or cold.
  15. Enjoy the crispy-yet-healthy snack with a hot cup of tea.

Tip: Soaking the bitter melon pieces in salt water for about 30 minutes prior to cooking may help in getting rid of the bitter taste.

Also, seeding the melon before cooking it enhances the taste and texture of the dish. However, some people like to cook it without doing so.

Bitter gourd is a type of squash famous for its sharp, bitter taste. Nevertheless, its rich nutritional profile makes it a great addition to the diet. This member of the cucumber family is known for its nutritive value. Even its leaves, seeds, and peel have benefits. The plant is renowned for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity, anti-proliferative, and anti-diabetic properties.

Bitter gourd benefits can be attributed to its active compounds such as cucurbitin, zeatin, lutein, lycopene, and an array of beneficial organic acids. Apart from being healthy for the liver and heart, bitter gourd also stimulates digestion and is a natural laxative. However, it is important to know that most of the studies are conducted on rats, and the findings need to be validated on humans. While some believe this melon is toxic, the evidence is insufficient and uncertain. Thus, if you have any specific medical condition, consult your healthcare provider before consuming this vegetable.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much bitter gourd is safe to eat?

The upper intake limit for bitter gourd has not been established yet. There is almost no report on the toxicity of this fruit in humans. However, recent studies have pointed out herb-drug interactions with bitter gourd. Therefore, we recommend you follow the serving size advised by your healthcare provider. You may avoid undesirable cross-reactions this way.

Are bitter melon seeds poisonous?

There is no evidence proving the toxicity of bitter melon seeds. These seeds contain beneficial essential oils and fats that offer several health benefits. But, they also contain cucumber-like triterpenes that are not completely safe for human health. Talk to your nutritionist to find out more about the safety of bitter melon seeds.

Can bitter gourd be eaten raw?

Yes, you can eat raw bitter gourd. But, its bitter taste will be overpowering. This is why many people prefer blending it with other vegetables to make fresh green juice. You can add carrots, apples, and other naturally-sweet tasting fruits or vegetables to this drink as well.

References

  1. Bitter Melon” College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Sciences, Ornamental Horticulture, Tennessee University.
  2. Antidiabetic effects of Momordica charantia (bitter melon) and its…” Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Diseases, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
  3. Bitter gourd reduces elevated fasting plasma glucose levels in an intervention study among prediabetics in Tanzania.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Science Direct
  4. Momordica charantia (Bitter Melon) Reduces Obesity-Associated…” PLoS One, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
  5. Beneficial Role of Bitter Melon Supplementation in Obesity…” Review Article, Journal of Lipids, Hindawi Publishing Corporation.
  6. Bitter gourd inhibits the development of obesity-associated…” The Journal of Nutrition, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
  7. Wild bitter gourd protects against alcoholic fatty liver in mice…” Food & Function, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
  8. Momordica charantia (Bitter Melon)” Botanical Medicine, Integrative Medicine, Academia.
  9. Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia)” IC Heritage Garden, University of Illinois at Chicago.
  10. The beneficial effects of Momordica charantia (bitter gourd) on…” The Journal of Dermatological Treatment, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
  11. Bitter melon: a panacea for inflammation and cancer” Author manuscript, HHS Public Access, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
  12. An Update Review on the Anthelmintic Activity of…” Pharmacognosy Review, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
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Madhu Sharma

(RD)
Madhu Sharma is a member of the National Executive Committee of IDA. She has been associated for almost three decades... more

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