Packed with several essential vitamins, minerals, and powerful antioxidants, bitter gourd holds numerous health benefits. It is a tropical vegetable renowned for its distinct bitter taste. It might not be a popular vegetable on your plate, bitter gourd does pack a punch when it comes to promoting good health. One of the most utilized health benefits of bitter gourd is its potential to improve blood sugar control. Research studies have proven that bitter gourd may help regulate blood sugar levels and increase insulin sensitivity, making it a valuable asset in diabetes management. Furthermore, bitter gourd’s antioxidant potential can support immune function, reduce inflammation, and protect against chronic diseases.
Bitter gourd is a vegetable with many names. It is also known as Bitter melon, balsam pear and Bitter Cucumber. It is also called karela in India and ku-gua in China.
Types of Bitter Gourd
It likely originated in eastern India or southern China. People in tropical parts like Asia, South America and Africa now cultivate bitter gourd. However, it is still more common in India and China specifically.
There are several varieties of bitter gourd, but the most common ones are, Chinese bitter gourd and Indian bitter gourd. The Chinese variety resembles a pale green cucumber with crimped and bumpy skin. The Indian variety has narrow, tapering ends and sharp, angled ridges on its surface. The differences between the two forms are mostly visual only, and both offer similar taste and health benefits.
Bitter gourd Nutrition Facts
100 grams of raw bitter gourd contains:
- Calories – 16
- Fiber – 2.6 g
- Carbs – 3.4 g
- Fats – 158 mg
- Water – 87 g
- Protein – 930 mg
Bitter gourd is rich in a number of important antioxidants as well. In fact, half a cup of fresh bitter gourd provides 43% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C. The younger the fruit, the more is the vitamin C content.
Raw bitter gourd provides a variety of vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin B1(Thiamine)
- Vitamin B2(Riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3(Niacin)
- Folate (B9)
Proven Health Benefits of Bitter Gourd
While Bitter gourd is condemned for its strong bitter taste, it sure holds potential to make us ignore its bitterness, with its goodness for our health.
Bitter Gourd and Blood Sugar Management
Bitter Gourd juice works well for people with type 2 diabetes, where the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin for glucose utilization.
Out of all the natural alternatives to lower blood sugar, Bitter Gourd is considered the best option by Ayurveda. This hypo-glycemic property is one of the most crucial health benefits of bitter gourd known to all. It contains three active substances which hold anti-diabetic properties. The active substances are polypeptide-p, vicine, and Charantin. These substances possess insulin-like properties and blood glucose-lowering effects. Out of these three, Polypeptide-p is more studied. It is known to function in a manner similar to that of insulin, a hormone responsible for absorption of glucose from blood into tissues.
Charantin and vicine have also shown glucose lowering effect in research however, their mode of action is less clear and demands more research.
All these three compounds either work together or individually to lower blood sugar levels. Bitter gourd also contains a lectin which helps reduce blood glucose level by suppressing appetite and acting on the peripheral tissues.
Research says that the lectin is responsible for triggering hypoglycemic effect.
Several other compounds found in Bitter Gourd juice may help protect and even regenerate cells of pancreas, the organ responsible for releasing insulin. This special tendency of bitter Gourd was confirmed by a small study. Larger and more number of studies on this property are needed to understand and confirm it more.
One study involving 24 individuals tested the effects of bitter melon extract. The participants were given 2gm of bitter melon extract or a placebo every day for three months. The individuals who took the bitter melon extract showed reduced levels of Hemoglobin A1c(HbA1c), an indicator of long-term blood glucose levels.
How to consume Bitter Gourd juice For Diabetes?
Mix 30 ml Bitter gourd juice with 30 ml water. Consume it half an hour before meals. It can be consumed one to two times a day. Quite often, people prone to gastric irritation can tolerate Bitter Gourd juice once a day only.
Bitter gourd Health Benefits in Cancer
Research has proved that free radicals are the primary cause of cancer, aging and inflammation to name a few. Inflammation in itself is a host to range of health conditions. Thus, it becomes very important to keep yourself safeguarded from the attacks of free radicals. Free radicals are a natural by-product of our metabolic processes. However, their production number raises dramatically with our own lifestyle factors. Daily life chronic stress, smoking and pollution are some of those factors.
Bitter gourd contains the goodness of lycopene, lignans, carotenoids, and a reasonable amount of vitamin A, zeaxanthin, and lutein. All these help our body to fight and eliminate the free radicals. The removal of the potent free radicals helps our body to stay away from tumors.
A test-tube study showed that bitter melon extract could effectively kill cancer cells of the stomach, colon, lungs, and nasopharynx.
Similar results were noticed in a combined test-tube and animal study. These studies reported that bitter melon extract was quite well able to block the growth and spread of breast cancer cells. At the same time, it also promoted cancer cell death.
In these studies, concentrated amounts of bitter Melon extract were used.
Bitter Melon Regulates Cholesterol
Several lab studies have found bitter melon to have a potential to lower the raised cholesterol levels. In these studies, large amounts of bitter melon extract were used.
One human study also showed similar results. In this study too, Bitter melon extract was administered. It was found that a significant decrease in levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol took place in comparison to a placebo.
Several such studies have suggested that bitter gourd may reduce “bad cholesterol” levels and regulate “good cholesterol levels” to support overall health. In addition, bitter gourd is a also a good source of several important minerals like potassium, magnesium, and calcium, which altogether positively affect the heart function.
Bitter Gourd Promotes Weight Loss
Bitter Gourd’s role in managing blood sugar levels and weight, are two of the most widely used health benefits of Bitter Gourd. Being low in calories and high in fiber, it is an excellent addition to a weight loss diet. It contains 2.6 grams of fiber in each 100-gram serving. A 100 gram serving also contains merely 16 calories, 0.15 gm of fat, 0.93 gm of protein.
The nutrient rich bitter gourd helps boost the overall metabolism and the high fiber content keeps you feeling full for hours.
Fiber passes through the digestive tract very slowly, which makes you feel full for a longer duration of time. This helps to avoid binging on junk and unhealthy snacks. Swapping unhealthy and high calorie foods with bitter melon could help increase your fiber intake while cutting calories to promote weight loss.
The best way to consume bitter gourd to treat obesity is by drinking raw juice. Around 30 ml juice mixed with same volume of water should be taken before meals.
It also keeps the blood sugar levels in control which are necessary for managing weight. It also activates insulin to prevent the storage of glucose as fat.
Bitter Gourd Health Benefits for Digestive System
Regular consumption of bitter gourd puts a positive impact on gut health. It kills the parasites that enter the digestive system.
As it holds good laxative properties, it can effectively treat constipation. Moreover, it has antioxidants that help stimulate the digestive enzymes and support digestion. Due to its laxative property and good fiber content, doctors recommend bitter gourd for maintaining digestive health.
Bitter Gourd Boosts Immunity
Bitter gourd is a rich source of vitamin C which holds good antioxidant properties. Vitamin C gets used up rapidly in a state of infection and also in a state of stress.
It strengthens our immunity and also helps in preventing allergies.
Bitter Gourd is a powerhouse of several other antioxidants too. These antioxidants help to keep our body free from free radicals and thus keep it disease and infection free.
Research on inflammation responses in mice with sepsis showed that bitter melon holds a positive potential.
Bitter Melon Purifies Blood and Cleanses Liver
The antimicrobial and antioxidant properties of bitter gourd help in the removal of toxins. As shown by studies, it can help wipe out all forms of intoxication settled in your liver.
According to experts, it can be used to treat alcohol hangover. It can help to reduce alcohol intoxication, thereby making you feel active.
Bitter Melon Heals Wounds
It accelerates the production of growth factors in the wound affected area. It induces proliferation, which plays a major role in wound healing.
Bitter melon also increases the oxygenation of the wounded area by accelerating capillary circulation. The antioxidant and antimicrobial effects enable the wounds to contract and close.
Bitter Melon Clears Kidney Stones Naturally
Kidney stones are hardened forms of calcium phosphate or calcium oxalate. Including bitter gourd in your diet helps the kidney stones to break down naturally. It further avoids the production of kidney stones by reducing the high acid content.
Bitter gourd is packed with the healthy polyphenols. These compounds are known for their tendency to lower inflammation in the body.
Bitter Gourd Benefits for Skin
Vitamin C plays a pivotal role in keeping our skin wrinkle-free and preventing premature ageing. Vitamin C is essential for synthesis of Collagen. Bitter gourd is a rich source of vitamin C and also has other nutrients that aid collagen production, improve skin smoothness and elasticity. It also has a tendency to reduce skin blemishes and acne, treat psoriasis and eczema. It also helps to protect our skin from the harmful effects of sun’s UV rays.
Research has proved that bitter melon can treat photo-oxidative damage or skin wrinkling and melanogenesis ( excessive melanin production).
Bitter Gourd: Possible Side Effects and Precautions
Like the common saying, “Too much of a good thing is bad”, bitter gourd’s consumption should be limited to a certain amount to keep enjoying its health benefits. Overconsumption may induce the following conditions:
Diarrhoea, vomiting, and other intestinal issues:
High intake of Bitter gourd can be toxic due to its high content of tetracyclic triterpenoid compounds known as cucurbitacins which may cause conditions like diarrhea, vomiting and other intestinal issues in some people.
Vaginal Bleeding, contractions, and miscarriage:
Women should refrain from consuming bitter gourd during the early months of pregnancy. It may trigger uterine contractions, leading to vaginal bleeding which may cause miscarriage. Bitter gourd in high amount may also cause preterm labour.
Lowering of blood sugar if taken with insulin:
Consumption of Bitter melon in diabetes should be continuously monitored. Sometimes, when it is taken with glucose-lowering medication, the blood glucose levels may drop to a dangerously low state which may lead to coma. This condition more commonly occurs if you ae being careless in checking your blood sugar levels. Also, if the dietary pattern is more of an inconsistent type. e.g. Having a very low carb intake or engaging in excessive activity which further depletes the glucose levels. Thus, diabetics should be careful while consuming bitter gourd in conjunction with glucose lowering medicines.
Our liver is the major organ which ensures homeostasis or stability. Monocharins, found in bitter gourd, may cause liver toxicity if consumed in high quantities. Long-term high consumption of bitter gourd may elevate liver enzymes which can cause atherosclerosis which is a condition in which the wall of the arteries thickens or hardens. Atherosclerosis further leads to kidney diseases and heart ailments.
Favism is an acute hemolytic syndrome that occurs in people with glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency. It may further lead to anemia, fever, stomach pain, and coma. Someone with G6PD deficiency may develop favism after eating bitter gourd seeds.
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.
Unlock the remarkable potential of bitter gourd’s health benefits and make it a regular part of your diet to boost your nutrition and enhance your overall wellness. It is rich in several important nutrients and offers numerous health benefits, including improved blood sugar control, weight management and preventing inflammation & cancer. If used in moderation, it is a very healthy addition to your diet.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Bitter gourd is alkaline in nature
Yes, you can eat bitter gourd daily in small amounts.
Yes, you may drink a small amount of bitter gourd juice daily. For the continuous daily consumption, the ideal safe amount is 30 ml bitter gourd juice diluted with same amount of water, ideally once a day, but can be consumed twice too.
Yes, bitter gourd is good for kidneys. It has a natural tendency to break down the kidney stones. It also helps to avoid the accumulation of kidney stones by reducing the acidic content in the body. However, over-consumption in a long run can cause complications in kidney tissue.
Pregnant women and women trying to conceive should be careful in bitter gourd consumption and must limit it to small amounts. It may cause vaginal bleeding and miscarriage. It’s also not advised to have bitter gourd if you have undergone or are going to undergo surgery of any kind as it may destabilize your blood sugar levels.
The best way to consume bitter gourd for maximum utilization of its health improvement potential is to have bitter gourd juice. This is particularly true for using bitter gourd for diabetes, weight loss and cancer.
Yes, Bitter Gourd is one of the most healthy vegetables. It is packed with several key nutrients and holds potential to treat conditions like diabetes, weight loss and cancer.
It is advised to not have milk with bitter gourd as it may mess up your digestive system.
Yes, it has been seen in research that bitter gourd shows a very quick action on blood glucose levels. It may cause a fall in blood glucose in as short as 30 minutes to one hour time period.
Bitter gourd may prove harmful only if it is consumed in excessive amounts.
Yes, bitter gourd acts as a digestive stimulant. It increases saliva production and promotes release of stomach acid and digestive enzyme production.
Having karela everyday ensures detoxification, boosts immunity and keeps the digestive system healthy, while also being good for cholesterol control, diabetes management, weight loss and skin issues.