Bitter melon doesn’t look like a melon at all. It actually looks more like a cucumber with a severe case of warts. However, health benefits of bitter melon make up for its unattractive appearance. The bitter melon or bitter gourd or ampalaya is native to warm tropical areas such as the Amazon, the Caribbean, Asia and South America. While many of the native cultures use it for medicinal purposes, it’s also widely used in their folk medical practices.
When the fruit of the bitter melon is young and unripe, the skin is thin and the flesh of the melon is bitter. As the fruit ripens, the exterior yellows, becomes hard, tough and even more bitter but the seeds develop a sweet taste and are a taste treat that doesn’t require cooking.
There are two different varieties of bitter melon. The Indian bitter melon is white and less bitter than the deep green variety. Many cultures use the bitter melon in stir-fry or even as a bitter coffee. When using the melon in dishes, cutting the melon into sections and blanching it helps to reduce the bitterness.
Nutritional Benefits of Bitter Melon
One cup of bitter melon only contains about 16 calories. It contains 130 percent of the daily value for vitamin C, 9 percent of vitamin A, 17 percent for folate and a minor amount of niacin and pantothenic acid. A one-cup serving also contains 8 percent of the daily value for potassium, 5 percent for zinc, 4 percent manganese and a minor amount of calcium, iron, copper and phosphorous.
Health Benefits of Bitter Melon
The true health benefits of bitter melon don’t come from the vitamins but from the phytochemicals ampalayas contain. The melon has at least 32 active ingredients such as lycopene, citrulline, GABA and zeaxanthin.
One of the biggest health benefits of bitter melon is its ability to aid in controlling diabetes and reducing the complications of the condition. One study showed that it even reversed some of the damage caused in the kidneys and liver. It also delayed the onset of other side effects of diabetes such as cataracts and secondary complications. That’s because it enhanced the ability of the cell to uptake glucose and the body’s ability to release and use insulin. A peptide in the bitter melon taken orally aided in the normalization of blood sugar levels in one study.
Bitter gourd also was effective in killing viruses. Some studies indicate it might be useful for those with AIDS or herpes. The leaves are antibacterial and can fight the eColi bacteria. There are also anti-parasite benefits as well. Many of the cultures use the bitter melon to treat skin diseases from leprosy to eczema. It’s also applied to open wounds to prevent infection.
The other health benefits of bitter melon such as treatment of constipation. It also aids in lowering blood pressure. Scientists now are looking at the extracts from bitter gourd as a potential preventative or inhibitor of mammary or prostate cancer.
Bitter Melon Side Effects and Dangers
If you’re hypoglycemic, do not use bitter melon. The melon’s ability to lower blood sugar can make your condition worse. If you’re diabetic taking medication, always notify your doctor before using bitter melon as it can lower the blood sugar too much.
People with a liver condition need to avoid using the food or the extracts. Those who are pregnant also should avoid the extracts and bitter melon in their food. It may cause premature contractions of the uterus. Too much bitter melon can cause diarrhea.