Is Bitter Melon Healthy?
Bitter melon is the edible fruit from the plant Momordica charantia, which is native to Africa, India, Asia, parts of the Caribbean, and other countries with warmer climates. The culinary and medicinal uses of bitter melon have a long history in Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine, and many of the reported bitter melon benefits are due to compounds called cucurbitacins.
Studies suggest that bitter melon lowers cholesterol, treats cancer, cleanses the blood and controls blood pressure, manages blood sugar levels, and contributes to weight loss.
In this article, we will further explain bitter melon benefits for your health. You will also learn about bitter melon nutrition facts, as well as how to eat bitter melon, how to make bitter melon tea, and some bitter melon recipes.
But first, you should know more about this exotic fruit’s characteristics. Bitter melon is also called Indian bitter melon, bitter gourd, balsam pear, bitter apple, carilla fruit, and ku gua in Mandarin. It belongs to the cucurbitaceae plant family—the same family as cucumber, squash, watermelon, and cantaloupe.
The fruit has rough and wrinkled skin, and it also resembles a cucumber. Yellow and orange bitter melons are considered ripe, and green fruits are less mature. Bitter melon can be eaten on its own, cooked in stir-fry, or juiced or blended, and the leaves can be used in soup and tea.
Nutrition Info of Bitter Melon (100 g)
What are the essential bitter melon nutrition facts? Bitter melon is absolutely loaded with vitamin C, as one cup of raw bitter melon contains 130% of the recommended daily value of the vitamin.
Bitter melon is also an excellent source of folate, vitamin A, and fiber. Furthermore, it contains some protein, iron, manganese, copper, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, selenium, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B5, and vitamin B6.
The following is a comprehensive bitter melon nutrition chart with information for one cup, or 93 grams (g), of diced bitter melon.
|Vitamin B1||0.01 mg||
|Vitamin B3||0.4 mg||
* N/A—Not Applicable
4 Amazing Health Benefits of Bitter Melon
Bitter melon contains many impressive health benefits. An alkaloid called momordicine is responsible for the sour flavor of bitter melon. There are also at least 32 active chemicals in bitter melon, including insulin-like peptides, cucurbitacins, and triterpenes.
The fruit’s anti-cancer and anti-diabetic effects include tannic acid, gallic acid, caffeic acid, catechin, gentisic acid, p-coumaric, epicatechin, and chlorogenic acid, among others.
Research shows that these compounds can help regulate appetite, balance hormones, reduce inflammation, prevent tumor growth, and prevent obesity. Below we will take a look at how bitter melon benefits weight loss, maintains blood sugar levels, controls hypertension, and manages high cholesterol.
1. Helps Diabetes by Maintaining Blood Sugar Levels
One of the top health benefits relates to how you can use bitter melon for diabetes. The bitter melon fruit contains at least three active compounds with anti-diabetic properties, including vicine, steroidal saponins called charantins, and insulin-like alkaloids and peptides like polypeptide-p.
Bitter melon also contains lectin, which has hypoglycemic effects that can reduce blood sugar.
Research has found that bitter melon can help manage high blood sugar levels and insulin resistance; diabetes complications such as eye disorders, kidney damage, and blood vessel damage; heart complications; and menstrual changes and hormonal irregularities in women.
A study published in the Journal of Agricultural Food Studies in 2013 found that bitter melon consumed in raw and juice form helped reduce blood sugar levels in healthy and diabetic animals. In the study, bitter melon targeted insulin receptor sites and stimulated downstream pathways, and this led researchers to conclude that bitter melon can regulate glucose metabolism.
Another study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2011 found that 2,000 mg of bitter melon daily reduced blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes; however, the hypoglycemic effect was less potent than a 1,000-mg daily dose of the diabetes drug called metformin.
2. Good for Managing High Cholesterol Levels
Bitter melon also helps manage high cholesterol levels, which are linked with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis, and liver disease.
Bitter melon is considered effective against liver disease since specific compounds found within help eliminate excess cholesterol in the liver. Reducing cholesterol also significantly lowers your risk of stroke and heart attacks.
In a study published in the Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences in 2016, researchers concluded that bitter melon extract can help manage high cholesterol—also called hypercholesterolemia.
For the study, four forms of bitter melon extract, including whole fruit, seedless fruit, seeds, and seed extracts, were explored for their cholesterol-lowering effects in rats with high cholesterol. When compared to the placebo, the bitter melon extract powder had been most effective in the reduction of cholesterol and triglycerides.
3. Effective for Controlling Hypertension
Bitter melon is also considered effective for regulating high blood pressure—also called hypertension. Common symptoms of high blood pressure include dizziness, nosebleeds, unexplained sweating, frequent headaches, flushed cheeks, shortness of breath, visual disturbances, and ringing in the ears.
One study published in the Cardiovascular Journal of South Africa in 2006 found that bitter melon extract normalized high blood pressure in hypertensive salt-sensitive rats, and therefore, researchers concluded that bitter melon can help control hypertension.
Another study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2011 found that bitter melon extracts given to rats for 52 days had reduced high blood pressure.
4. Potential for Lowering Weight in Studies
You can also use bitter melon for weight loss and the prevention of obesity. Experimental animal and clinical studies show that bitter melon prevents weight gain by mediating and inducing lipid and fat metabolism processes, and gene expressions that control body weight and appetite. It also reportedly reduces inflammation.
A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2005 found that bitter melon prevented body weight gain and visceral fat mass significantly in rats fed a high-fat diet.
Another study from 2008 found that bitter melon significantly reduced the weight of visceral fat and epididymal white adipose tissue, and lowered adipose leptin and resistin mRNA levels in mice fed a high-fat diet.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences also found that bitter melon significantly lowered body weight gain in rats.
How Is Bitter Melon Eaten? Sample Recipes
Let’s talk about how to eat bitter melon. Bitter melon fruit can be eaten raw, cooked, or consumed in tablet or extract form. It does not look like a typical melon, and the immature bitter melon fruit is a long, green, warty fruit.
You will find small, firm bitter melon at farmers markets in July and August. Harder bitter melons are light green, and aren’t as bitter as the greener ones. Yellow or orange bitter melons also tend to be milder in flavor.
Bitter melon can store in the refrigerator for one to two weeks, or until the green color begins to show spots.
Before you cut and cook your bitter melon, wash it first to remove any dirt and pesticides. Slice the melon in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds and white flesh. To make the bitter melon more palatable, lightly sprinkle salt over the bitter melon pieces and let the salt sit for about 10 minutes.
A traditional Asian stir-fry will include bitter melon, potatoes, garlic, onion, hot chili peppers, oil, and salt. The following are two bitter melon recipes, including a similar stir-fry and a bitter melon juice.
1. Bitter Melon Stir Fry
- 2 sliced bitter melons
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
- Tomatoes, chopped
- 2 organic eggs, whisked
- Coarse sea salt, to taste
- Serve with rice, potatoes, or gluten-free noodles
- Heat olive oil in a wok or large, deep saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and onion to the wok, and cook until they appear golden brown. Stir in tomatoes once the onion and garlic have browned.
- Add the sliced bitter melon, and stir-fry for two to three minutes.
- Beat and pour two eggs into the wok, and over the melon pieces. Continue to stir-fry until the eggs are cooked.
- Remove from the wok, season with sea salt, and serve on top of rice, potatoes, or gluten-free noodles.
2. Bitter Melon Juice
- 1 bitter melon
- 2 to 3 apples
- 1 cucumber
- 1 lemon
- 2 celery stalks
- Wash the produce well. Cut the bitter melon in half, scooping out the seeds and white flesh with a spoon. Place the outer green part of the bitter melon in the juicer.
- Chop the rest of the ingredients, and put them into the juicer. Pour into a glass, and enjoy.
How to Make Bitter Melon Tea
Bitter melon tea is made from the leaves and stems of the bitter melon plant. Bitter melon can also be purchased in powder or extract form. You will also often find bitter melon tea in tea bags at Asian markets or health food stores.
The following is an easy-to-make bitter melon tea recipe:
- 6 to 8 tbsp dried bitter melon or bitter melon leaves, or 2 cups chopped fresh bitter melon
- Filtered water, boiled
- Wash and chop dried bitter melon or bitter melon leaves to get about six to eight tablespoons.
- Boil about 16 oz. of filtered water in a stainless steel pot, and add the bitter melon leaves or dried bitter melon. If using fresh bitter melon, use about two cups of fresh bitter melon for the same amount of filtered water.
- Simmer on low to medium heat for around 10 minutes, and keep the lid on.
- Turn off the heat and remove the pot from the stove, and steep for about 10 minutes.
- Strain the leaves, dried melon, or fresh melon, and pour the tea in a cup. Drink about two cups of bitter melon tea daily.
Bitter Melon Side Effects Due to Excess Consumption
Although there are many benefits, there are also bitter melon side effects to consider.
Bitter melon is recommended for diabetes; however, eating bitter melon while taking diabetes medications may cause your blood sugar to drop too low and lead to hypoglycemia. As a result, bitter melon is not recommended to treat diabetes without careful monitoring and supervision.
Bitter melon consumption may also interfere with blood sugar regulation during surgery. It is best to avoid bitter melon consumption at least two weeks before surgery.
Also, if you have recently undergone surgery, lost a substantial amount of blood, or been fasting, avoid bitter melon since it can interfere with blood sugar control and cause side effects like fainting and dizziness.
Other populations that should avoid bitter melon consumption include breastfeeding or pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant. This is because some research shows that bitter melon has some abortifacient properties that can cause miscarriages. It also can cause menstrual bleeding and has potential anti-fertility capabilities.
People with glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency may develop a condition called favism following consumption of bitter melon seeds. Favism is a condition named after the fava bean, and a chemical found in fava beans is related to bitter melon seeds.
Favism is thought to lead to anemia, a fever, stomach pain, headaches, and a coma in some people. As such, you should avoid bitter melon if you have G6PD deficiency.
Final Thoughts on Bitter Melon
Bitter melon has long been used as food and medicine throughout India, Asia, Africa, parts of the Caribbean, and in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine. The bitter melon fruit is loaded with vitamin C and fiber and active compounds like cucurbitacins.
In this article, we reviewed some of the bitter melon benefits, including how it lowers cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure and contributes to weight loss. Bitter melon fruit can be eaten raw, juiced, or blended; cooked in stir-fry; and made into tea or soup using the leaves, stems, or fresh bitter melon.
Bitter melon can also be consumed in extract or tablet form, and absorption is improved when taken after a meal.
Remember, since bitter melon lowers blood sugar and can interact with diabetes drugs, careful supervision is recommended.
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Lo, H., et al., “Momordica charantia and its novel polypeptide regulate glucose homeostasis in mice via binding to insulin receptor,” Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, March 2013; 61(10): 2461-2468, doi: 10.10121/jf3042402.
Fuangchan, A., et al., “Hypoglycemic effect of bitter melon compared with metformin in newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes patients,” Journal of Ethnopharmacology, March 2011; 134(2): 422-428, doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2010.12.045.
Naz, R., et al., “Dietary supplementation of bitter gourd reduces the risk of hypercholesterolemia in cholesterol fed Sprague dawley rats,” Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Sept. 2016; 29(5): 1565-1570, PMID: 27731813.
Alam, M., et al., “Beneficial Role of Bitter Melon Supplementation in Obesity and Related Complications in Metabolic Syndrome,” Journal of Lipids, 2015; 2015: 496169, doi: 10.1155/2015/496169.
Ojewole, J., et al., “Hypoglycaemic and hypotensive effects of Momordica charantia Linn (Cucurbitaceae) whole-plant aqueous extract in rats,” Cardiovascular Journal of South Africa, Sept. to Oct. 2006; 17(5): 227-232, PMID: 17117226.
Clouatre, D., et al., “Bitter melon extracts in diabetic and normal rats favorably influence blood glucose and blood pressure regulation,” Journal of Medicinal Food, December 2011; 14(12): 1496-1504, doi: 10.1089/jmf.2010.0276.
Chen, Q., et al., “Reduced adiposity in bitter melon (Momordica charantia) fed rats is associated with lower tissue triglyceride and higher plasma catecholamines,” British Journal of Nutrition, May 2005; 93(5): 747-754, PMID: 15975176.
Shih, C., et al., “Effects of Momordica charantia on insulin resistance and visceral obesity in mice on high-fat diet,” Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, Aug. 2008; 81(2): 134-143, doi: 10.1016/j.diabres.2008.04.023.