Not a lot of people know the term “karela” or “Momordica charantia.” These are unfamiliar terms, but they mean the same thing. They are other names for bitter melon, otherwise known as bitter squash or bitter gourd in English. Anyone who has ever tasted bitter melon would understand why it’s named as such. This vegetable is light or dark green and has a rough exterior. The shade of green depends on the region where the bitter vegetable is grown.
Although it isn’t very popular because of its bitter taste, the bitter melon is healthy. It’s rich in essential vitamins as well as beneficial antioxidants. The bitter melon can be consumed in different ways. People pickle it, drink its juice, and even use it in different recipes. No matter how it’s consumed, the bitter melon would be very beneficial to the body.
Bitter melon goes by different names all over the world. Some common ones are a bitter gourd, karela, balsam, and bitter apple. This vegetable belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family of plants. Nowadays, this is grown in 2 different varieties, and it’s very popular because of its medicinal and health benefits.
All over the world, there are more than a dozen different species of the bitter melon plant. And they all differ from each other. They differ in texture, taste, size, appearance, and even in their beneficial properties. However, the most common type of bitter melon has a small, round appearance with a distinct and highly tart taste.
Even though the fruit is still immature, it can sometimes be eaten as a vegetable. It’s usually added to different recipes especially in Asia. People consume the bitter melon raw and cooked. It can also be used to make a potent extract which contains a lot of antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory compounds.
According to studies, there are at least 32 active chemicals found in the bitter melon plant. It has also been found out that the signature flavor comes from a type of alkaloid momordicine. This compound is produced by the plant’s leaves and fruit. While still in its immature form, the bitter melon contains a lot of essential nutrients such as phosphorus, iron, and vitamins A and C.
One of the major attributes of bitter melon is that it contains antioxidants and phytonutrients which are biologically active. It also contains chemical compounds such as saponins, phenolic acids, alkaloids, glycosides, triterpenes, fixed oils, and peptides which are insulin-like. Finally, it also contains certain types of steroids and anti-inflammatory proteins.
Research done on bitter melon have identified distinct flavonoid and phenolic compounds in bitter melon which are responsible for a lot of its anti-cancer and anti-diabetic benefits. These compounds include epicatechin, tannic acid, gentisic acid, gallic acid, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, p-coumaric, and catechin.
These compounds have a lot of benefits to the health. These include regulating appetite, balancing hormones, reducing inflammation, preventing the growth of tumors, preventing obesity, and so much more. Here are the other common health benefits of bitter melon.
Bitter melon contains a lot of fiber. Because of this, it helps ease the process of digestion. The properties in bitter melon help digest the food and throw out waste from the body. That’s why it’s considered as a great cure for constipation. When a person consumes bitter melon, it helps cure indigestion too, aside from constipation.
Another health benefit of bitter melon is it helps protect people from diabetes. In fact, drinking bitter melon juice may help people who suffer from type 2 diabetes. For years, this has been part of ancient Indian and Chinese medicine. But only recent studies have proven that it’s more than folklore. In part, type 2 diabetes is because of the cells’ inability to absorb sugar in the blood. And this is because the cells have developed a resistance to insulin.
In the body, the absorption of sugar occurs when the protein, kinase, is activated. Bitter melon helps actives the kinases in the cells. Because of this, the cells can absorb sugar better, therefore keeping diabetes under control.
Also, bitter melon contains special compounds like insulin which help lower the body’s blood sugar levels. Studies have shown that the vegetable reduces blood sugar levels by heightening the metabolism of glucose.
Here’s a surprising benefit of bitter melon – it’s also good for the hair! It’s a great remedy for the hair, and people use it to treat hair problems and enhance longevity. Here are some hair benefits of bitter melon:
- Some people use bitter melon juice to give their hair a natural shine.
- It can also be used to treat dandruff which is a common problem for a lot of people. Using this vegetable on the hair for at least a month will show significant improvements in the condition.
- Another condition it can help is split Use some raw juice from the vegetable on split ends and comb the hair gently.
- A person suffering from scalp dryness and itchiness can also benefit from bitter melon. But this time, it’s more effective to rub a piece of the vegetable on the scalp in a circular movement to ease the dryness and itchiness.
- Bitter melon can also be used to help reduce hair loss naturally.
- People with rough and tangled hair can also use bitter melon to their advantage. Simple soak the hair in the juice for about 15 minutes and rinse with water.
- The juice of the vegetable can also be used to treat the premature graying of a person’s hair.
- Finally, it can also be used to treat oily hair. Aside from reducing the amount of oily food in the diet, application of bitter melon juice can lessen excess oils in the scalp and hair.
Anyone who has ever suffered from kidney stones knows that it’s a very painful medical condition. Fortunately, bitter melon can help rid the body of kidney stones naturally. The vegetable has components which help break down kidney stones. It also helps lower the amount of acid in the body which contributes to the production of kidney stones.
Bitter melon is an excellent liver booster. It aids in digestive processes, enhances the function of the gallbladder, and even reduces the body’s fluid retention. People who drink bitter melon juice can avoid hepatitis, constipation, and even cirrhosis of the liver. It would be especially beneficial if a person drinks a glass of the vegetable juice at least once in a day.
Bitter melon juice can help detoxify the liver. It contains hepatic qualities which help the liver filter the impurities in the body. Because of this, the liver can effectively rid the body of toxins and impurities which may have negative effects on the health.
Lower Cholesterol Levels
The healthy vegetable can also help lower cholesterol levels in the body. When this happens, it may significantly reduce the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart diseases. The great thing about bitter melon is that it’s a completely natural remedy to help prevent dangerous health risks.
Aside from the hair, bitter melon is also extremely beneficial for the skin. It can be used to treat blood disorders, fungal diseases, and other conditions which may affect a person’s skin. Bitter melon also has anti-aging properties which appeal to a lot of people.
The appearance of a person’s skin is hugely dependent on what he eats. Because of this, people who want to have healthy skin must always eat healthy food. Bitter melon naturally purifies the blood, and so it manifests some of its good effects on the skin. Here are some benefits one can enjoy from consuming bitter melon:
- It can help prevent skin problems from occurring. This will help keep the skin glowing and blemish-free. Because of the blood-purifying properties, it can also help prevent acne.
- Bitter melon can also be used to treat skin infections and diseases. These include psoriasis, eczema, and other fungal infections.
- The vegetable also contains vitamin C, which is a potent antioxidant. It, therefore, helps fight and eliminate free-radicals which are harmful to the body. It also helps prevent wrinkles from appearing, hence, slowing the aging process down.
As we’ve discussed, bitter melon contains antioxidants, and these are very useful when it comes to flushing out toxins from the body. The antioxidant components also help improve metabolism and the digestive system. Therefore, it can also help promote weight loss.
Two important factors which help in weight loss are the filling components as well as calorie control. The filling component of bitter melon is water, which is a great hunger suppressant. While the calorie control component comes from the fact that it’s a low-calorie vegetable. So, anyone who’s looking for a filling type of food that promotes weight loss can start consuming bitter melon. And since there are many ways to eat this vegetable, there are a lot of options!
Boosts Immune System
Another helpful benefit of bitter melon is it helps boost the immune system. By far, this is one of the most important benefits of the vegetable. When the body’s immune system is strong, it will help protect the body from different illnesses. Even if the person catches a cold, if his immune system is strong, he’ll be able to overcome the illness a lot faster.
Research has shown that bitter melon contains antiviral and antibacterial agents. These agents can lower the risk of developing different kinds of infections and viruses, even HIV. In fact, in recent studies, the extract of bitter melon has been successfully utilized against ulcers.
Also, other studies have identified that bitter melon also has anthelmintic agents. This is a type of anti-parasitic compound which can help eliminate parasitic worms and other parasites found within the body. Such agents work by killing the parasites internally without damaging the host’s body. Therefore, a healthy immune system is crucial.
Since bitter melon aids in boosting the immune system, people who are susceptible to illnesses, diseases, and infections should consider consuming it. As a bonus, bitter melon is also an excellent remedy for indigestion and acid reflux.
Increase Protection Against Cancer
According to studies, bitter melon juice contains elements which can eliminate pancreatic cancer cells. And tumor growth was also significantly reduced. And the best part is, that drinking the juice would cause no harmful side effects. By contrast, traditional treatments like chemotherapy and radiation have detrimental effects on a person’s body. They leave the person feeling tired, nauseous, and weak. And they also cause hair loss in people who get the treatments.
Aside from pancreatic cancer, some research has also shown that bitter melon can help prevent other types of cancer. These include melanoma, skin tumors, lymphoid leukemia, breast cancer, lymphoma, and others. The research also established that the vegetable is very effective because of its anti-tumor, anti-mutagen, and anti-cancer characteristics. Right now, though, more research is needed as the results are inconsistent. However, whenever tests are done, the results are always promising.
The extract of bitter melon promotes detoxification, increases metal chelating, inhibits the production of free radicals, and prevents the peroxidation of lipids. It helps hinder the elements and processes which contribute to tumor growth and mutation of cells. That’s why a lot of people believe that bitter melon is extremely healthy and should be studied more to discover the clinical applications it can be used for in the future.
Enhances Eye Health
Finally, bitter melon can also enhance a person’s eye health. The vegetable contains a lot of vitamin A. It contains enough of the vitamin to give you about a third of your daily recommended intake of vitamin A. Several studies have shown that there is a positive correlation between eye health and vitamin A.
Specifically, if a person consumes the appropriate amount of vitamin A, it can help slow down macular degeneration. Thus, it will reduce the likelihood of developing vision problems as one age. Bitter melon can also help improve a person’s night vision. Vitamin A is also essential for the optimal function of the cornea as well as the conjunctival membranes. So, the more bitter melon a person eats, the healthier his eyes may become!
Selection, Storage, and Preparation of Bitter Melon
In different markets and grocery stores, fresh pods of bitter melon are readily available all year round. When a person buys bitter melon, he should look for ones which have a fresh, dark-green appearance. They shouldn’t have any blemishes or cuts on the surface either. It’s better to select the young and tender fruit-pods. The immature bitter melons have the least bitter taste. This is because the astringent level of the pods increases as they mature.
When it comes to storing bitter melon, the best way to do it is to place the vegetable in a zip pouch or an airtight container. Then place it in the refrigerator’s vegetable compartment. Doing this would keep the bitter melon fresh for up to 7 days.
When preparing bitter melon, wash it thoroughly first. One can use the fresh pods and the leaves of the vegetable for cooking. To lessen the bitter flavor, people usually marinate the vegetable in water with a bit of salt then drying it under the sunlight. Then one can start using the vegetable in different recipes. It’s versatile, healthy, and easy to prepare so why not start cooking?