Bitter melon: Nutrition facts and health benefits | Healthy Matters

Last updated on January 15, 2022.

What’s a Bitter melon? | Nutrition facts | Health benefits | Special precautions | Side effects | Allergies | How to eat it? | Nutritionist’s tips

What’s a Bitter melon?

Bitter melon is a tropical fruit from the Cucurbitaceae family. It is characterized by its distinctive bitter flavor and bumpy outlook and is found in many Asian cuisines. Bitter melon lowers the absorption of sugar and fat in the intestinal tract, thereby lowering the blood glucose and cholesterol level. From the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine, bitter melon is cold in nature, which has the effects of clearing heat and detoxification, and it is effective in eliminating irritation and toxins from the body.

Varieties
Pearl Bitter Melon
Appearance: in the shape of a long strip, with small and round bumps on the peel, like pearls
Taste: sweet and fragrant, with light bitterness and fresh taste
Texture: slightly soggy

Oil / Thai Bitter Melon
Appearance: in the shape of a long strip, with long pits on the surface
Taste: relatively bitter
Texture: crunchy and hard

Diced / Chisel Bitter Melon
Appearance: conical-shaped with a fat and round body, with bumps on the peel
Taste: intense bitterness with fragrance
Taste: quite soggy

Origin
Mainly Asian countries.

Season
April to November.

Nutrition facts

According to Centre for Food Safety and Food and Health Bureau, the nutrition facts per 100 g of edible portion of bitter melon, which is equivalent to one piece of standard size bitter melon are:

Calories
7.4 kcal

Macronutrients

Carbohydrates

Proteins

Lipids

Dietary Fibre

Carbohydrates: 1.0 g

Sugars: 0.26 g

0.7 g

Total fat: ND

Saturated fat: 0.019 g

Trans fat: NA

Cholesterol: NA

2.2 g (8.8% of DV)


Micronutrients

Vitamins

Minerals

Vitamin C: 120 mg (120% of DV)

Calcium: 14 mg (1.75% of DV)

Copper: 0 mg

Iron: 0 mg

Magnesium: 12 mg (4% of DV)

Manganese: 0 mg

Phosphorus: 24 mg (3.43% of DV)

Potassium: 190 mg (9.5% of DV)

Sodium: 0 mg

Zinc: 0 mg


Recommended intake
Around half a rice-bowl of cooked bitter melon each time.

Health benefits of bitter melon

Lowering blood sugar level
A meta-analysis with over 1000 participants proved that bitter melon extracts exhibit blood glucose-lowering effect. It is because charantia, polypeptide-p, and glycosides in bitter melon produce insulin-like effects collectively, which promotes insulin secretion and uptake of glucose by the liver. Also, bitter melon has a low GI (glycemic index) value of 24, which is suitable for people with diabetes to be consumed in moderation.

Lowering cholesterol level
Liver is the major organ responsible for monitoring the cholesterol concentration in the blood. Once the cholesterol concentration drops, the liver will activate a protein (SREBP) in the cytoplasm to make cholesterol. Charantia in bitter melon helps reduce the production of SREBP, so cholesterol level will be lowered. In addition, charantia also lowers the level of a protein called PPAR Gamma, which is responsible for reducing fat in the body.

Fighting cancer
Numerous animal and in vitro experiments showed that bitter melon juice may help prevent numerous types of cancer, including pancreatic cancer and breast cancer. Bitter melon has a growth inhibitory effect on cancer cells by interfering its metabolism of glucose to obtain energy. Without sufficient energy source, cancer cells will be driven into apoptosis – cell death.

Weight Loss
As mentioned in the previous sessions, bitter melon possesses “plant-based insulin” functions, which activates β cells in the pancreas to secrete insulin, leading to a lower blood sugar level. It also prevents the conversion of excess glucose into fat, which is favorable to weight loss.

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Special precautions

Pregnant or menstruating women
Bitter melon contains quinine, which will stimulate the contraction of the uterus, which may cause miscarriage. Thus, women in gestation or menstruation should be cautious with the consumption of bitter melon.

People with low blood sugar level or who are taking blood sugar-lowering medications
Because bitter melon exhibits blood sugar lowering properties, and may interfere with blood sugar-lowering medications. People taking these medications should consult the doctor or dietitian before eating bitter melon.

Side effects

Some people may experience gastrointestinal symptoms upon eating bitter melon, such as vomiting, stomachache, diarrhea, etc.

Furthermore, bitter melon contains oxalic acid, which may interfere with the absorption of calcium and zinc.

Allergies

There are no known allergies for the intake of bitter melon.

How to eat it?

Pearl Bitter Melon
Cooking method: with light seasoning, it is suitable for stir-frying or blending into juice
Dishes: bitter melon scrambled eggs, five green juice

Oil / Thai Bitter Melon
Cooking method: To keep the mouthfeel, it is suitable for making salad and quick stir-frying
Dishes: bitter melon salad, fried bitter melon with salted eggs

Diced / Chisel Bitter Melon
Cooking method: with strong seasoning, it is suitable for simmering and stir-frying
Dishes: braised pork ribs with bitter melon, fried beef and bitter melon with black bean sauce

Nutritionist’s tips

How to lessen the bitterness of bitter melon?

Method 1: Scrape away the inner sac
The inner sac is the major source of bitterness and astringency of bitter melon. Scrape away the inner sac of the bitter melon to lower its bitterness.

Method 2: Stir-fry with salt
Stir-fry bitter melon with half a teaspoon of salt. The salt can drain the excess water from the flesh, and bitter taste will be drained alongside the water. Mind not to add too much salt because it will make the dish too salty.

(Use either method 2 or 3)

Method 3: blanch in sugary water
Another way to remove the bitterness and astringency is to blanch the bitter melon in sugar water for 1 to 2 minutes to neutralize the bitterness while accentuating its sweetness. The ratio of water to sugar is about 1 liter of water: 2 teaspoons of sugar. But do not boil the bitter melon for too long to prevent it from being too soggy.

(Use either method 2 or 3)

This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.