Lower your blood sugar naturally, soothe digestive disorders and problems, prevent infections and even cancer – it’s no wonder that bitter melon has been deemed a super food. But chances are, you haven’t eaten it yet or even seen it in your local store. Bitter melon supplements are far more common than bitter melon recipes, mainly because the bitter flavor of the aptly named bitter melon deters some from trying it out. But we’re ready to change this and help you add this intriguing fruit to your diet.
5 Fantastic Bitter Melon Health Benefits
Bitter melon has been used for centuries in both traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines, and its benefits, long ascribed to by these populations, have even been backed up by modern medical science.
We have 5 good reasons to try it out in some delicious bitter melon recipes, but before adding bitter melon to your daily regimen, be sure to speak with a doctor about any unique health concerns.
1. Lower Blood Sugar
Bitter melon is used by many with blood sugar issues, including diabetes, to manage blood sugar by increasing the metabolism of glucose.
“Bitter melon contains a chemical that acts like insulin to help reduce blood sugar levels,” explains NY Health and Wellness Nutrition Director Jacqui Justice, M.S., C.N.S. She does, however, caution that when using bitter melon for this purpose, it’s important to monitor your blood sugar, because, like many foods that manage hyperglycemia, it can have a hypoglycemic effect, especially when taken too frequently or without food. Be sure to speak with your doctor before introducing bitter melon into your regimen.
2. Lose Weight
Bitter melon’s metabolism of sugars also makes it an effective weight loss tool, according to Justice.
A study published in March 2008 in Chemistry & Biology found that compounds in bitter melon activate an enzyme, AMPK, that transports glucose into the cells. This is the same enzyme activated by exercise, so supplementing your workout routine with bitter melon can give weight management issues a one-two punch.
3. Soothe Digestive Disorders
Justice explains that bitter melon can be used to soothe a variety of digestive disorders, including ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease. A 2009 study even showed that bitter melon can help increase the healing of gastric and duodenal ulcers, so consider bitter melon as a supplement if you are plagued with stomach or digestive issues.
4. Fight Cancer
The effects of bitter melon on fighting and preventing cancer have been widely studied. A 2016 study in Oncotarget found that bitter melon extract could inhibit tumor growth in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, and a 2015 study in Integrative Cancer Therapies showed that its natural activation of AMPK inhibited the growth of ovarian cancer cells.
However, naturopathic doctor Serena Goldstein notes that it can interact with chemo drugs for radiation and cancer, so be sure to check with your doctor if you are undergoing cancer treatment.
5. Nourish Your Liver
Bitter melon has been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for centuries to cleanse the liver. A 2015 study in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine verified these claims, showing that bitter melon's antioxidant properties allowed it to modulate inflammation and fibrosis in the liver.
Bitter melon's liver nourishing properties can even reduce the eventuality of certain skin conditions, including acne, psoriasis, and eczema, according to Goldstein. Dr. Judith Pentz, M.D., explains, “Bitter melons great for cleansing the liver, and when you cleanse the liver your skin will glow.”
7 Delicious Bitter Melon Recipes
When it comes to bitter melon, many opt for supplements as opposed to the fresh bitter melon, which is actually a gourd.
As Justice explains, supplementing ensures that you get benefits on a daily basis, thus increasing the therapeutic effect of bitter melon. However, by using bitter melon daily in recipes, you can still get these therapeutic effects without resorting to supplements.
Bitter melon’s flavor is often described as chalky and even unpleasant, which may be why it has taken so long to get a bitter melon recipe into your repertoire. But prepared correctly, bitter melon can be quite pleasant to eat.
First, be sure that you're choosing bitter melons that aren't quite so bitter. A yellow skin is a sign of a melon that has been picked too early and will likely be soft rather than crisp, while a melon with a deep, dark skin is going to be very bitter. Pick melons with light green skin and big warts, which are a sign that the flesh is quite thick.
Once you've selected your bitter melon, here are a few of our favorite ways to use it.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
1. Simple Stir-Fried Bitter Melon
When sugar is added to neutralize the bitterness of bitter melon, you'll find that it's quite tasty simply stir-fried. Be sure not to overcook the melon, which will only highlight its bitter flavor.
Stir fried bitter melon image via Shutterstock
2. Stir-Fried Bitter Melon with Ground Pork, Fermented Black Beans, and Fish Sauce
A combination of sweet, savory, and spicy flavors at once masks and complements the bitterness of bitter squash. This stir fry pairs the melon with a rich, unctuous sauce made from fermented black beans, fish sauce, and chiles.
Image care of The Woks of Life
3. Beef and Bitter Melon Stir Fry
This combination of beef and bitter melon is reminiscent of many Americanized Chinese food dishes, with a thick, sweet sauce that masks the bitterness and instead highlights its tender texture.
Image care of Tasty Appetite
4. Bitter Melon Chips
If you find the flavor of bitter melon is overwhelming even in stir fries, this Indian approach might be more your style. Thin slices of the bitter melon are coated in masala spices and gram flour before being deep-fried. Yes, deep-frying might not make for the healthiest of bitter melon recipes, but it's definitely a good way to get your palate used to this fruit.
Bitter melon with egg image via Shutterstock
5. Bitter Melon with Egg
This traditional Chinese recipe pairs bitter melon with fermented black bean sauce and egg. It's a simple, tasty way to prepare the bitter melon; while many bitter melon recipes hide its flavor, this recipe perfect for people who have gotten accustomed and even come to enjoy the bitter taste.
Bonus: Bitter Melon Juice and Bitter Melon Tea
While many people come to enjoy the bitterness of bitter melon recipes, some find that no matter how they try, they just can't get on board with its distinct flavor. But this doesn't mean you can't reap the benefits. Bitter melon juice and bitter melon tea are both great options for increasing your intake of bitter melon without all that bitter flavor.
Bitter melon tea is similar to green tea in flavor and can be found in most Asian markets. Drinking a cup in the morning and a cup in the evening is often enough to take advantage of its myriad health benefits.
You can also juice bitter melon for a quick shot of its health benefits. Drink it plain as a juice shot, or mix it into a juice or smoothie with mango, pomegranate, or another strongly-flavored fruit to help it go down a bit more easily.
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Bitter melon image via Shutterstock