When Bitter is Better (Health Benefits From Bitter Gourd)

bittergourdBitter is a very “bitter” word, right?  Lol!  And people hate anything associated with bitterness; a bitter person, a bitter relationship, a bitter experience.

Bitter gourd, a.k.a. bitter melon (melon that is bitter as its name implies) is the only bitter thing which seems to appeal to people; though not a great majority.  Kids, specifically, are not very amenable to having bitter gourd in their meals; whether it’s the veggie itself, the leaves or juice squeezed from it.  Very few teens and adults in my circle of acquaintances and friends have preference for it.  But my family enjoys bitter melon; both fruit and leaf (no to juice though).

So, how come some people have some kind of aversion to it?  And some people don’t?

Well, some people just have a strong taste for some food and while there is certainly some bitterness in bitter gourd, for most people it is not enough to make it so unpleasant. While it may taste stronger for some, to others it’s different. There are those who say they have acquired the taste for it through the years; depending on who’s cooking and how it is cooked.

Whatever it is, I found out that most people have learned to enjoy it more because of the benefits it could give to one’s health and the many great ways to make it less bitter, more savory and mouth-watering.

To the elders, it seems that the health benefits of the plant are well-known since time immemorial as passed on to them by their predecessors and which were backed up by recent studies.

Health benefits from bitter melon/gourd:

    • Bitter gourds are very low in calories, has high dietary fiber, and loaded with important nutrients which makes it an excellent source of iron,  magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, folic acid, and manganese, as well as vitamins B1, B2, B3, and C.
    • It contains beta-carotene, calcium and potassium; twice as much than broccoli, spinach and banana respectively.
    • Bitter gourd also has a unique phyto-constituent called charantin which was established to have a hypoglycemic effect on the body; pertaining to its ability to lower sugar levels in blood and urine of diabetics.
    • Another insulin-like compound known as polypeptide P have also been suggested as insulin replacement in some diabetic patients as per recent studies.
    • It is good for treating blood disorders such as blood boils and also for toxemia-induced itching.
    • The juice of bitter melon  significantly improves glucose tolerance without increasing blood insulin levels.
    • Regularly consuming its juice improves energy and stamina level.
    • Drinking fresh bitter melon juice mixed with honey helps to improve respiratory disorders such as asthma, bronchitis as well as pharyngitis.
    • Helps in alleviating eye problems, thereby improving eyesight, owing to its high beta-carotene contents.
    • Helps to cleanse, nourish and repair liver problems caused by alcohol consumption; thus,bitter melon juice is also good for treating a hangover.
    • Its beneficial properties helps to cleanse the blood from toxins and get rid of jaundice.
    • It also helps to boost the immune system, thereby increasing the body’s ability to resist infection.
  • Regular intake of bitter gourd juice as a supplement (but only for a period less than four weeks at a time is recommended) also helps to improve psoriasis condition and are beneficial in treating fungal infections such as athlete’s foot and ringworm.

At present, bitter gourd is  commercially available as tea from fruits or leaves,  as juice, extracts, and also in pill form. But of course, consumption of fresh bitter gourd in its natural form is still the best alternative.

Words of Caution

Do take note that too much of anything is NOT good.  Likewise, TOO MUCH of bitter gourd, whether fruit, juice or leaves have its health hazards; so moderate consumption is recommended.

    •  TOO much may lead to alarming hypoglycemia – when consumed by those with diabetes who are taking oral drugs in high dosages, by children, or  if taken on a hungry stomach whether as tea, juice, leaves or fruit.
  • It is contraindicated during pregnancy  and breastfeeding  periods, which means women should avoid  consumption of bitter gourd products because according to studies, it also contains active constituents – alpha and beta-monorcharins – which have been found to stimulate the uterus  and might result in premature births.
  • Make sure to keep all parts of the bitter gourd plant, especially the seeds, away from children because there is  a higher risk of a toxic reaction in children. The red arils which covers the seeds of bitter gourds contain vicine which are poisonous to humans.  Actually, all parts of the bitter gourd  are toxic when consumed in large amounts and several discomfort and pain may be felt such as abdominal pain, nausea, headaches, and then later vomiting and diarrhea.