Bitter melon is high in vitamins A and C and other nutrients. It contains compounds that may have health benefits. But it may cause some side effects.
Bitter melon — also known as bitter gourd or Momordicacharantia — is a tropical vine that belongs to the gourd family and is closely related to zucchini, squash, pumpkin, and cucumber.
It’s cultivated around the world for its edible fruit, which is considered a staple in many types of Asian cuisine.
The Chinese variety is typically long, pale green, and covered with wart-like bumps.
On the other hand, the Indian variety is more narrow and has pointed ends with rough, jagged spikes on the rind.
In addition to its sharp flavor and distinct appearance, bitter melon has been associated with several impressive health benefits.
Here are 6 benefits of bitter melon and its extract.
- Packs several important nutrients
Bitter melon is a great source of several key nutrients.
Bitter melon is especially rich in vitamin C, an important micronutrient involved in disease prevention, bone formation, and wound healing.
It’s also high in vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin that promotes skin health and proper vision.
It provides folate, which is essential for growth and development, as well as smaller amounts of potassium, zinc, and iron.
Bitter melon is a good source of catechin, gallic acid, epicatechin, and chlorogenic acid, too — powerful antioxidant compounds that can help protect your cells against damage.
Plus, it’s low in calories yet high in fiber — fulfilling approximately 8% of your daily fiber needs in a single one-cup (94-gram) serving.
- Can help reduce blood sugar
Thanks to its potent medicinal properties, bitter melon has long been used by indigenous populations around the world to help treat diabetes-related conditions. In recent years, several studies confirmed the fruit’s role in blood sugar control.
A 3-month study in 24 adults with diabetes showed that taking 2,000 mg of bitter melon daily decreased blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c, a test used to measure blood sugar control over three months.
Another study in 40 people with diabetes found that taking 2,000 mg per day of bitter melon for 4 weeks led to a modest reduction in blood sugar levels.
What’s more, the supplement significantly decreased levels of fructosamine, a short term marker of long-term blood sugar control.
Bitter melon is thought to improve the way that sugar is used in your tissues and promote the secretion of insulin, the hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels.
However, research in humans is limited, and larger, more high-quality studies are needed to understand how bitter melon may impact blood sugar levels in the general population.
- May have cancer-fighting properties
Research suggests that bitter melon contains certain compounds with cancer-fighting properties.
For example, one older test-tube study showed that bitter melon extract was effective at killing cancer cells of the stomach, colon, lung, and nasopharynx — the area located behind the nose at the back of your throat.
Another combined test-tube and animal study had similar findings, reporting that bitter melon extract was able to block the growth and spread of breast cancer cells while also promoting cancer cell death.
Keep in mind that these studies were performed using concentrated amounts of bitter melon extract on individual cells in a laboratory.
Further research is needed to determine how bitter melon may affect cancer growth and development in humans when consumed in the normal amounts found in food.
- Could decrease cholesterol levels
High levels of cholesterol can cause fatty plaque to build up in your arteries, forcing your heart to work harder to pump blood and increasing your risk of heart disease.
Several animal studies found that bitter melon may decrease cholesterol levels to support overall heart health.
One human study found that administering water-soluble extract of bitter melon led to significant decreases in levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol, compared to a placebo.
However, one study in mice noted that bitter melon didn’t result in improvement of cholesterol levels or the development of atherosclerosis.
Additional studies are needed to determine whether these positive effects on humans eating the gourd as part of a balanced diet are consistent.
- Improves fiber intake
Bitter melon makes an excellent addition to a weight loss diet, as it’s low in calories yet high in fiber. It contains approximately 2 grams of fiber in each 100-gram serving.
Fiber passes through your digestive tract very slowly, helping keep you fuller for longer and reducing hunger and appetite.
Bitter melon also has laxative properties, which may help to support digestion if you are constipated.
Therefore, swapping higher-calorie ingredients with bitter melon could help increase your fiber intake and cut calories to promote weight loss.
Note that these studies were performed using high-dose bitter melon supplements. It remains unclear whether eating bitter melon as part of your regular diet would have the same beneficial effects on health.
- Versatile and delicious
Bitter melon has a sharp flavor that works well in many dishes.
To prepare it, start by washing the fruit and cutting it lengthwise. Then use a utensil to scoop out the seeds from the center, and cut the fruit into thin slices.
Bitter melon can be enjoyed raw or cooked in various recipes.
In fact, it can be pan-fried, steamed, baked, or even hollowed out and stuffed with your choice of fillings.
Here are a few interesting ways to add bitter melon to your diet:
Juice bitter melon along with a few other fruits and vegetables for a nutrient-packed beverage.
Mix bitter melon into your next stir-fry to bump up the health benefits.
Sauté bitter melon alongside tomatoes, garlic, and onions and add to scrambled eggs.
Combine seedless bitter melon with your choice of dressing and garnish for a savory salad.
Stuff with ground meat and vegetables and serve with a black bean sauce.