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Bitter Gourd – Nutrition, Benefits, & Recipes


Bitter melon, balsam pear, or most commonly known as bitter gourd, is a unique fruit-vegetable combination. People worldwide consume this edible pod that belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family.

The same family also includes cucumbers, cantaloupes, watermelon, squash, and more. It is considered the most bitter-tasting amongst all culinary vegetables and fruits.

While people condemn bitter gourd for its bitter taste, it truly can sweeten our well-being. It is due to the virtue of its health-promoting and disease-preventing phytochemical compounds. Bitter gourd is also beneficial for patients suffering from intestinal and stomach problems, diabetes, and more.

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Types of Bitter Gourd

People in tropical parts of the world like Asia, South America and Africa cultivate bitter gourd. However, it is highly treasured in India and China specifically. It is a staple in the majority of their cuisine.

The Indian variety has a narrower appearance with pointy ends and jagged, rough spikes on the rind. On the other hand, the Chinese type is typically long and covered with wart-like bumps. If you aren’t aware of the magical benefits bitter gourd offers, check out the helpful information about these pods in the following sections.

Nutritional Value of Bitter Gourd

100 grams of raw bitter gourd contains: 

  • Calories – 16
  • Dietary Fiber – 2.6 g  
  • Carbohydrates – 3.4 g
  • Fats – 158 mg  
  • Water – 87.4 g  
  • Protein – 930 mg

Proven Health Benefits of Bitter Gourd (Bitter Melon)

Several clinical studies evaluate the efficiency of bitter gourd for human health. The majority of these studies reveal that consuming bitter gourd is beneficial for human health.

Most of us aren’t very fond of bitter gourd due to its bitter taste. However, once aware of the plentiful health benefits, you will probably change your mind.

Bitter Gourd for Weight Loss

Since bitter gourd is bitter, it has components that prevent your body from absorbing extra sugar. Therefore, it helps lower and maintain blood sugar levels in your body.

Moreover, it increases the number of beta cells in your pancreas responsible for secreting insulin in your body. When the insulin levels in your body are regulated, the blood sugar levels ultimately decrease, resulting in weight loss.

Bitter gourd contains vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, iron, and reasonable amounts of protein and fibre. All these keep you feeling full throughout the day, preventing you from munching at odd hours.

In addition, fibre helps curb hunger. The low amounts of carbohydrates and fats help prevent excess fat build up in the body and ensure that your food digests properly.

Recent reports suggest that bitter melons enhance the conditions leading to obesity and hyperlipidemia or blood with too many fats.

Bitter Gourd Promotes Good Gut Health

Regular consumption of bitter gourd has a positive impact on gut health. It treats intestinal disorders like constipation and stomach ache. In addition, it is equally beneficial for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) as it helps kill parasites that enter the digestive system.

Moreover, it contains antioxidants that help stimulate digestive enzymes and support digestion. Due to its natural laxative property and high fibre count, doctors recommend bitter gourd for maintaining good digestive health.

According to a microbiological study, bitter gourd works on gut microbiota structure or the assemblage of microorganisms.

Bitter Gourd Helps Manage Diabetes

Doctors and nutritionists prescribe bitter gourd to diabetic patients. It is one of the most crucial health benefits of bitter gourd known to all. It contains three active substances with anti-diabetic properties. The active substances (polypeptide-p, vicine, and Charanti) have insulin-like properties and blood glucose-lowering effects.

These compounds work together or individually to help lower blood sugar levels. Moreover,  bitter gourd contains a lectin that helps reduce blood glucose concentrations by suppressing appetite and acting on the peripheral tissues.

According to experts, lectin is responsible for triggering the hypoglycemic effect. It means that the blood sugar levels are down. The flesh and seeds are both beneficial in this aspect. Consuming bitter gourd juice daily in the morning on an empty stomach can help you keep your diabetes under control.

Remember, it works wonders for people with type 2 diabetes. It occurs when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin for blood absorption. In the case of type 1 diabetes, you should consult your doctor before consuming it.

Bitter Gourd Boosts Immunity

Bitter gourd is a rich source of vitamin C that comes with plenty of antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are necessary for our body as it helps in the multiplication of the immune cells and white blood cells (WBCs).

It strengthens the immune system and helps in preventing allergies. The recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin C is 98.5 mg, which bitter gourd easily fulfils.

Research to check inflammation responses in mice with sepsis suggests that this plant food provides medical benefits for numerous conditions. 

Bitter Melon Purifies Blood and Cleanses Liver

The antimicrobial and antioxidant properties of bitter gourd help remove toxins. As per studies,  it can help wipe out all kinds of intoxication settled in your liver. Thus, bitter gourd heals many liver problems and cleanses your bowel. It also aids the proper functioning of the bladder.

According to experts, if you are hungover, consuming bitter gourd juice can help you reduce alcohol intoxication, thereby making you feel active.

Bitter Melon Protects against Cancer

Free radicals are the primary cause of cancer. In addition, they can affect the way our body functions. Thus, keeping your body free of free radicals is essential. Free radicals are a by-product of our metabolism. Their count increases with smoking, pollution, and stress.

Bitter gourd contains lycopene, lignans, carotenoids, and reasonable amounts of vitamin A, zeaxanthin, and lutein. In addition, it includes primary antioxidants and nutrients. All these help fight free radicals. As a result, it ultimately reduces the formation of tumours in your body.

According to a study, bitter melon has anti-carcinogen and anti-tumour properties, which prevent prostate, breast and cervical cancers. 

Bitter Melon Regulates Cholesterol

High cholesterol levels may result in fatty plaque buildup in the arteries. It makes your heart work harder to pump blood. As a result, the risk of cardiovascular diseases increases.

Several studies suggest that bitter gourd may reduce “bad” cholesterol levels and regulate “good” cholesterol to support overall health. In addition, bitter gourd is a good source of potassium, magnesium, and calcium, positively affecting the heart.

Bitter Gourd Helps Treat Obesity

Bitter gourd qualifies as a weight-loss food due to its basic yet remarkable nutrient profile. For example, 100 grams of raw bitter gourd contains only 16 calories, 0.15 grams of fat, 0.93 grams of protein and 2.6 grams of fibre. Thus, it ensures that you feel satiated without adding extra pounds to your weight.

The nutrients help boost the overall metabolism, and the fibre content keeps you full for hours.  Thus, it aids in healthy digestion and avoiding binging on junk and unhealthy snacks. The best way to consume bitter gourd for obesity is by drinking raw juice.

It also checks blood sugar levels which are necessary for managing weight. Finally, it activates insulin to prevent the storage of sugar as fat.

Bitter Melon Adds Lustre and Shine to Hair

Bitter gourd promotes hair growth and supports hair health. Components like protein, zinc, and vitamin C in the bitter gourd help keep hair healthy and strong. Applying bitter gourd juice to the hair can help you retain its sheen and lustre. In addition, it ensures that the hair roots strengthen and problems like split ends and hair fall are eliminated. It also treats hair greying, roughness, dandruff, and itchiness.

Bitter Melon Beautifies the Skin

Vitamin C plays a vital role in keeping the skin wrinkle-free and preventing premature ageing. As we know, bitter gourd is a rich source of vitamin C content. It also has other nutrients that aid collagen production, responsible for skin smoothness and elasticity. Furthermore, it reduces skin blemishes and acne, helps treat psoriasis and eczema. In addition, it protects the skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays.

Research proves that bitter melon is essential for treating photo-oxidative damage or skin wrinkling and melanogenesis (melanin production). And melanin determines your hair colour. 

Bitter Melon Keeps the Eyes Healthy

Doctors and health experts say that bitter gourd helps prevent vision-related problems such as poor eyesight and cataracts. Bitter gourd is rich in vitamin A and beta-carotene, healthy for the eyes. Moreover, it is a good remedy for treating dark circles as well. 

Bitter Melon Heals Wounds

One of the most commonly known properties of bitter melon is healing wounds. It accelerates the production of growth factors in the affected area. In addition, It induces proliferation, which plays a critical role in wound healing. 

Bitter melon also increases the oxygenation of the wound by accelerating capillary circulation. In addition, its antioxidant and antimicrobial effects enable the wounds to contract and close. It also speeds up the epithelialisation process, covering the denuded epithelial surface and the tension of the injury.

Bitter Melon Energises the Body

Regular consumption of bitter gourd in the diet boosts the body’s stamina and energy levels. In addition, it improves sleep quality and eliminates sleep-related disorders like insomnia. 

Bitter Melon Clears Kidney Stones Naturally

Kidney stones are excruciating to pass. They are hardened formations of calcium phosphate or calcium oxalate. Including bitter gourd in the diet helps them break down naturally. It also avoids the production of kidney stones by reducing the high acid content. It improves cardiac health too.

Best Ways to Consume Bitter Gourd (Bitter Melon)

There are plenty of ways using which you can consume bitter gourd. Incorporating bitter gourd into your daily diet is effortless. You can simply eat bitter gourd raw as a salad, blend it into a tasty beverage, or make bitter gourd tea.

Bitter Gourd Tea

You can make healthy tea out of bitter gourd at home. The recipe is relatively easy, and you can make it every day. 

Ingredients:

  • Dried or fresh slices of bitter gourd (no seeds): 3-4 slices (bitter gourd leaves can also work)
  • Water: 200ml
  • Honey or agave syrup/natural sweeteners (optional) 

Directions:

  • Take a tea pan, pour some water, and bring it to a boil. 
  • Boil the water on medium heat for about 10 minutes. 
  • Put bitter gourd slices into the boiling water and stir properly. It allows all the nutrients to immerse in the water.
  • Turn off the stove, add honey and let it sit aside for a couple of minutes.
  • Use a strainer and filter the content.
  • Serve hot 

Stir-Fried Bitter Gourd

Bitter gourd fries are the best and tastiest way to consume bitter gourd. 

Ingredients:

  • Olive oil or vegetable oil – 1 tablespoon 
  • Two sliced bitter gourds – seeds removed 
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • One finely chopped tomato
  • One small onion – finely chopped
  • Two eggs
  • Pepper powder: ½ tbsp
  • Salt to taste 

Directions:

  • Heat the stove, place a saucepan, and pour oil 
  • Add finely chopped onion and crushed garlic cloves to the pan
  • Stir the mixture until you achieve a medium-brown texture
  • Now, add chopped tomatoes into the pan and stir properly 
  • After 2-3 minutes of stirring, add sliced bitter gourd to the pan
  • Cook until the bitter gourd turns translucent 
  • Whisk two eggs and pour the mixture into the pan
  • Continue to stir until the eggs are cooked
  • Turn off the stove and season the content with salt and pepper 
  • Eat as it is or serve it with noodles or rice 

Bitter Gourd: Possible Side Effects and Precautions

When it comes to your health, excess of anything is hazardous. Thus, you should limit the use of bitter gourd to your dietary requirements. It can cause some side effects and even obstruct certain medications’ effectiveness.

Diarrhoea, vomiting, and other intestinal issues:

Bitter gourd can be toxic due to its high content of tetracyclic triterpenoid compounds known as cucurbitacins which can cause diarrhoea, vomiting and other intestinal issues in some people. 

Vaginal Bleeding, contractions, and miscarriage:

According to studies, women, during the early months of pregnancy should refrain from consuming bitter gourd. It may trigger contractions, leading to vaginal bleeding that may cause miscarriage. Bitter gourd may also induce preterm labour. The seeds of bitter gourd can even cause favism in pregnant women who are already susceptible to anaemia. 

Lowering of blood sugar if taken with insulin:

Bitter melon acts as natural insulin. This can lead to the blood sugar dropping to a dangerously low level if taken with glucose-lowering medication. Thus, diabetics should be careful while consuming bitter gourd. In worst cases, this can lead to hypoglycemic coma, a condition where a person goes into a coma due to an excessively high or excessive low insulin dosage. 

You would also want to avoid bitter gourd if you are planning to or have recently undergone surgery as it may destabilise the glucose level in the body. 

Liver damage:

Our liver is the main organ for regulating homeostasis or stability. Monorcharins, one of the bitter gourds’ components, cause liver toxicity if consumed in high quantities. Long-term consumption of bitter gourd may elevate liver enzymes which can cause atherosclerosis, a condition in which the wall of the arteries thickens or hardens. Atherosclerosis can further lead to kidney diseases and heart ailments. 

Favism:

Favism breaks red blood cells in the body. It may further lead to anaemia, fever, stomach pain, and coma. Someone with G6PD (a type of glucose) deficiency may develop favism after eating bitter gourd seeds.

Summary

Bitter gourd is an essential dietary element that can help you keep your health intact and free of diseases. Apart from its bitter taste, it is rich in nutrients and essential minerals necessary for your well-being.

The above two recipes are just a glimpse of how interestingly you can make bitter gourd a part of your healthy diet. You can add more to this list with your delightful ideas, as it will add more health and well-being to your life.

Q. What are the health benefits of the bitter gourd?

A. Bitter gourd helps with healthy weight management, promotes good gut health, boosts immunity and cleanses the liver and blood. It is effective in wound healing,  managing blood sugar levels and treating kidney stones. Regular consumption of bitter gourd keeps the eye healthy, beautifies skin and adds lustre to hair.  

Q. Who should not eat bitter gourd?

A. Diabetics or those on medicines that lower blood sugar should avoid bitter gourd. Pregnant women and those who are trying to conceive should also not have bitter gourd as it can cause vaginal bleeding and miscarriage. It’s advisable to not have bitter gourd if you have undergone or are going to undergo surgery of any kind as it may destabilise your blood sugar levels. 

Q. What are the side effects of the bitter gourd?

A. Excessive consumption of bitter gourd may cause diarrhoea, vomiting, and other intestinal issues. It may also lead to vaginal bleeding, contractions, and abortion in women. Bitter gourd affects blood glucose levels and can adversely affect liver health. 

Q. Can bitter gourd be eaten daily?

A. Yes, you can eat bitter gourd daily in small quantities. It detoxifies the body, boosts immunity and keeps the digestive system healthy. Bitter gourd is also a great remedy for cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and skin ailments. It keeps the eye healthy and makes the skin beautiful.  

Q. Which vitamin is found in bitter gourd?

A. Bitter gourd is full of vitamin C. 

Q. Is bitter gourd bad for kidneys?

A. No, bitter gourd is good for kidneys. It removes kidney stones by naturally breaking them down. It also avoids the accumulation of kidney stones by reducing the acid content in the body. However, over-consumption of bitter gourd for multiple days can cause complications in kidney tissue and its function.

Q. Is bitter gourd acidic or alkaline?

A. Bitter gourd is alkaline in nature.

Q. Can I drink bitter gourd juice daily?

A. Yes, you can drink bitter gourd juice daily in a limited quantity. It will help maintain blood sugar levels, lower harmful cholesterol levels, and promote glowing skin and lustrous hair.

Q. Why should bitter gourd not be eaten at night?

A. This is more of a myth, however, from a scientific perspective it might be because the blood sugar levels can drop too low which cannot be managed in the night.

Q. Does bitter gourd cause high blood pressure?

A. No, bitter gourd does not cause high blood pressure. Bitter gourd is rich in sodium and thus helps maintain the blood pressure level in the body. 

Q. Is bitter gourd good for acidity?

A. Yes, bitter gourd acts as a digestive stimulant and is helpful with indigestion. It increases saliva production and promotes both stomach acid and digestive enzyme production.

Q. Does bitter gourd reduce blood sugar level?

A. Bitter gourd juice immediately lowers the blood sugar level in around 30 minutes.

Q. Is bitter gourd harmful?

A. Bitter gourd juice may be harmful only if it is not processed carefully or if it’s consumed in excess quantities. It may cause diarrhoea, vomiting, and other intestinal issues. It might lead to vaginal bleeding, contractions, and abortion in women. Bitter gourd affects blood glucose levels and can adversely affect liver health. 

Q. Is bitter gourd juice harmful to the kidney?

A. Bitter gourd is not harmful to kidneys. It removes kidney stones by naturally breaking them down. It also avoids the production of kidney stones by reducing the acid content in the body. However, over-consumption of bitter gourd for multiple days can cause complications in kidney tissue and its function.

Q. Is bitter gourd good for the stomach?

A. Regular consumption of bitter gourd has a positive impact on gut health. It treats intestinal disorders like constipation and stomach aches.  Bitter gourd is effective in killing parasites that enter the digestive system and thus helps in the treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

The antioxidants present in bitter gourd help stimulate digestive enzymes and support digestion. Due to its natural laxative property and high fibre count, doctors recommend bitter gourd for maintaining good digestive health.

Q. What happens if you eat karela every day?

A. It detoxifies the body, boosts immunity and keeps the digestive system healthy. Bitter gourd is also a great remedy for cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and skin ailments. It keeps the eye healthy and makes the skin beautiful.  

Q. What should not be eaten with a bitter gourd?

A. You should never have milk with bitter gourd. It will mess up your digestive system and cause vomiting and other issues.

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