If an Asian parent tells a child to eat his or her vegetables, expect them to get eaten, appreciated and grown accustomed to. Yes, even if it tastes as unappealing as the bitter melon.
A vegetable in its culinary classification, bitter melon is a common ingredient in many Asian cuisines. In China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines, among others, bitter melon is embraced not because of its unique taste but mostly due to its health benefits.
For those whose taste buds aren’t just wired to the complexity of the bitter melon’s flavor, you are missing out as the often underappreciated vegetable-fruit is packed with valuable properties that promote health and keep diseases at bay.
Here are just some of them:
Rich in Nutrients
Bitter melon is known to contain high amounts of vitamin A, C, E, and B, potassium, zinc, dietary fiber, iron and other micro-nutrients including triterpene, steroid, alkaloid, inorganic, lipid and phenolic compounds.
It also has a powerful anti-diabetic property, able to exert a hypoglycemic effect by controlling glucose metabolism. It is able to inhibit glucose uptake in the intestines and boosts its use in the muscles. Bitter gourd extracts also protect the pancreatic cells from pro-inflammatory cells and compounds.
Triterpenoid glycosides, alkaloids, flavonoids, polyphenols, carotenoids and fatty acids in bitter melon seed oil have also been found to effectively deplete a person’s fat reserves by selectively killing adipocytes.
Bitter melon has also been found to possess hepatoprotective (liver-friendly) properties. By blocking the fat accumulation and lipid peroxidation mechanism, it can control oxidative damage in the liver. By doing so, inflammation-induced cell death in the liver is slowed down. It enhances your body’s antioxidant system. Extracts from the fruit can also stop the liver damage induced by chronic alcohol intake.
Better Digestion and Bowel Movement
As a proven laxative and digestion stimulant, bitter melon helps hemorrhoid patients feel relief. Bitter melon also stimulates gut cells to secrete more digestive juices, aiding in more efficient food digestion.
Indigenous tribes in Africa and Asia have been using a paste made from the bitter gourd plant to apply on blisters and injuries topically long before it was known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Bitter melon can treat various skin conditions like eczema, rashes, leprosy, psoriasis, wounds and sores. Its peel reportedly has the maximum potential to prevent skin cancers.
Bitter melon is rich in anti-cancer properties. Extract from the plant has been found to inhibit cancer cell growth by triggering programmed cell death (apoptosis). Active fatty acids in the seed oils stop the spread of breast and liver cancer cell lines while the whole fruit and skin extract of bitter melon is effective in battling colon cancer.
Bitter gourd extract is also toxic to prostate cancer cells. It regulates the levels of pro- and anti-inflammatory proteins in the affected tissue and slows down the overall growth and migration of cervical, nose and pharynx, and blood cancers.
In recent studies, bitter melon extracts showed anthelmintic activity against adult earthworms. Phytochemicals such as saponins, alkaloids, oligoglycosides, flavonoids, and tannins in bitter melon are most effective in killing the nematodes (worms) by paralyzing them and disrupting their vascular and nervous system.
While it is true that the acerbic fruit is an acquired taste, the benefits that one can reap from bitter melon make it worth including in one’s diet. Thanks to Asian parents, consuming bitter melon is made much more tolerable by the mixing it up with tasty dishes.