I love learning about exotic foods that have healing powers. The food I’m featuring is a tropical fruit called by several names including Bitter melon, Karela, Bitter gourd, Goya, African cucumber, Bitter apple and Balsam pear. It originated in India and was introduced into China in the 14th century. It is cultivated and eaten across Africa and Asia, and has been used for centuries in traditional medicine for its many health benefits (anti-viral, antioxidant, anti-diabetes). Bitter melon, known as gōyā in Okinawan, is a significant ingredient in Okinawan cuisine. It is popularly credited for the high Okinawan life expectancies. In places like China, Philippines, India, Indonesia, Japan, and Sri Lanka, bitter melon is eaten like a vegetable, tea or soft drink. Bitter melon is a plant and the fruit and seeds are used to make medicine. Cousins to watermelon and cantaloupes but differs in that it is bitter instead of sweet. It contains momordicines, some of the most bitter compounds in food. I love the fact that a lot of foods can be used for nourishment and healing at the same time.
There are many healing and beneficial properties to this fruit. Here are the top 8:
1) Type II diabetes- It helps lower blood sugar levels by increasing metabolism of glucose and also lowers HbA1c. Bitter melon has an ingredient called glycoprotein lectin, which provides the same effects as insulin as it reduces glucose concentration in the blood and acts as an immunomodulator. (Talk to your doctor before you take bitter melon if you are currently taking medicine for diabetes as it may lower blood sugars levels too much which will take careful monitoring on your part). Check out these articles:
2) Blood purifier- Bitter melon works as a natural blood purifier. It helps cleanse and detox impurities in the blood which in turn will help with problems like acne, psoriasis and eczema.
3) Liver health- Bitter melon has hepatic properties providing for liver health. It promotes the filtering functions of your liver which helps cleanse the blood of impurities and aids in removing harmful toxins from the liver. A proper functioning liver reduces the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, chronic fatigue, digestive issues and headaches.
4) Lower cholesterol- This healthy vegetable helps lower levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL or the “bad” cholesterol). Reduces the risk of heart attacks, heart disease, and stroke. Include bitter melon in your diet or take a supplement after consulting a doctor.
5) Boosts immunity- Regular intake of bitter melon can help reinforce your immune system and improve the body’s ability to fight disease and cancer. It protects the body from free radical damage that interferes with a healthy immune system.
6) Protects against cancer- Bitter melon is high in antioxidants that help fight free radical damage that cause numerous types of cancer. It is helpful in preventing and reducing the risk of cervical, prostate, and breast cancers. Read this 2010 American Association for Cancer Research article. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100223131956.htm
7) Weight loss- Bitter melon has a rich source of phytonutrients and antioxidants that help in weight loss. It helps promote a faster metabolism of carbohydrates, so less fat is stored in the body. It is also high in dietary fiber and low in calories. A supplement is best for weight loss.
8) Intestinal worms- Bitter melon contains anthelmintic compounds that help kill intestinal worms in the body and help rid the toxins that these parasites leave behind as they die.
Women should not take bitter melon when pregnant or breastfeeding. See tips and warning below.
Steps to make bitter melon juice (if you don’t want to make and rather purchase a powder, supplement or tea; see links above)
- Wash 1 or 2 medium-size bitter melons under cold running water.
- Slice them down the center with a sharp knife, then scoop out the seeds and white flesh with a spoon.
- Cut the green flesh of the melon into small pieces.
- Soak the pieces in a glass of water for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Blend the soaked bitter pieces along with the water.
- Strain the juice to remove any solid pieces.
- Add honey, black pepper powder, lemon juice or ginger juice for taste.
Tips and Warnings- see attachment below:
- When buying bitter melon, opt for fresh, young and tender bitter melons that are dark-green. Avoid those that have turned yellow or orange or have soft spots.
- Always rinse your bitter melon under cold running water before juicing or cooking.
- To reduce the bitterness, soak bitter melon pieces in salt water for 10 minutes and then use it for cooking.
- To improve the taste of bitter gourd juice, add honey, or carrot or apple juice.
- Do not consume more than 2 to 3 bitter gourds a day, as excessive intake can cause mild abdominal pain or diarrhea.
- Pregnant women should avoid taking too much bitter gourd, as it may lead to preterm labor.