Bitter melon — also known as bitter gourd or Momordica charantia — is a tropical vine that belongs to the gourd family and is closely related to zucchini, squash, pumpkin, and cucumber.
It’s cultivated around the world for its edible fruit, which is considered a staple in many types of Asian cuisine.
The Chinese variety is typically long, pale green, and covered with wart-like bumps.
On the other hand, the Indian variety is more narrow and has pointed ends with rough, jagged spikes on the rind.
In addition to its sharp flavor and distinct appearance, bitter melon has been associated with several impressive health benefits.
Here are 6 benefits of bitter melon and its extract.
1. Bitter melon packs several important nutrients
Bitter melon is a great source of several key nutrients.
One cup (94 grams) of raw bitter melon provides:
- Calories: 20
- Carbs: 4 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Vitamin C: 93% of the daily value
- Vitamin A: 44% of the daily value
- Folate: 17% of the daily value
- Potassium: 8% of the daily value
- Zinc: 5% of the daily value
- Iron: 4% of the daily value
Bitter melon is especially rich in vitamin C, an important micronutrient involved in disease prevention, bone formation, and wound healing.
It’s also high in vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin that promotes skin health and proper vision.
It provides folate, which is essential for growth and development, as well as smaller amounts of potassium, zinc, and iron.
Bitter melon is a good source of catechin, gallic acid, epicatechin, and chlorogenic acid, too — powerful antioxidant compounds that can help protect your cells against damage.
Plus, it’s low in calories yet high in fiber — fulfilling approximately 8% of your daily fiber needs in a single one-cup (94-gram) serving.
Summary: Bitter melon is a good source of nutrients like fiber, vitamin C, folate, and vitamin A.
2. Bitter melon may reduce blood sugar
Thanks to its potent medicinal properties, bitter melon has long been used by indigenous populations around the world to help treat diabetes-related conditions.
In recent years, several studies confirmed the fruit’s role in blood sugar control.
A 3-month study in 24 adults with diabetes showed that taking 2,000 mg of bitter melon daily decreased blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c, a test used to measure blood sugar control over three months.
Another study in 40 people with diabetes found that taking 2,000 mg per day of bitter melon for 4 weeks led to a modest reduction in blood sugar levels.
What’s more, the supplement significantly decreased levels of fructosamine, another marker of long-term blood sugar control.
Bitter melon is thought to improve the way that sugar is used in your tissues and promote the secretion of insulin, the hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels.
However, research in humans is limited, and larger, more high-quality studies are needed to understand how bitter melon may impact blood sugar levels in the general population.
Summary: Bitter melon has been shown to improve several markers of long-term blood sugar control, including levels of fructosamine and hemoglobin A1c. Still, more high-quality research is needed.
3. Bitter melon may have cancer-fighting properties
Research suggests that bitter melon contains certain compounds with cancer-fighting properties.
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For example, one test-tube study showed that bitter melon extract was effective at killing cancer cells of the stomach, colon, lung, and nasopharynx — the area located behind the nose at the back of your throat.
Another test-tube study had similar findings, reporting that bitter melon extract was able to block the growth and spread of breast cancer cells while also promoting cancer cell death.
Keep in mind that these studies were performed using concentrated amounts of the bitter melon extract on individual cells in a laboratory.
Further research is needed to determine how bitter melon may affect cancer growth and development in humans when consumed in the normal amounts found in food.
Summary: Test-tube studies show that bitter melon may have cancer-fighting properties and could be effective against stomach, colon, lung, nasopharynx, and breast cancer cells.
4. Bitter melon could decrease cholesterol levels
High levels of cholesterol can cause fatty plaque to build up in your arteries, forcing your heart to work harder to pump blood and increasing your risk of heart disease.
Several animal studies found that bitter melon may decrease cholesterol levels to support overall heart health.
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One study in rats on a high-cholesterol diet observed that administering bitter melon extract led to significant decreases in levels of total cholesterol, “bad” LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.
Another study noted that giving rats a bitter melon extract significantly reduced cholesterol levels compared to a placebo. Higher doses of bitter melon showed the greatest decrease.
Still, current research on the potential cholesterol-lowering properties of bitter melon is mostly limited to animal studies using large doses of the bitter melon extract.
Additional studies are needed to determine whether these same effects apply to humans eating the gourd as part of a balanced diet.
Summary: Animal studies show that bitter melon extract may decrease cholesterol levels, which could help support heart health. Nonetheless, human research to confirm these effects is lacking.
5. Bitter melon may aid in weight loss
Bitter melon makes an excellent addition to a weight loss diet, as it’s low in calories yet high in fiber. It contains approximately 2 grams of fiber in each one-cup (94-gram) serving.
Fiber passes through your digestive tract very slowly, helping keep you fuller for longer and reducing hunger and appetite.
Therefore, swapping higher-calorie ingredients with bitter melon could help increase your fiber intake and cut calories to promote weight loss.
Some research also shows that bitter melon can have beneficial effects on fat burning and weight loss.
One study found that consuming a capsule containing 4.8 grams of bitter melon extract each day led to significant decreases in belly fat.
Participants lost an average of 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) from their waist circumference after seven weeks.
Similarly, a study in rats on a high-fat diet observed that bitter melon extract helped decrease body weight compared to a placebo.
Note that these studies were performed using high-dose bitter melon supplements. It remains unclear whether eating bitter melon as part of your regular diet would have the same beneficial effects on health.
Summary: Bitter melon is low in calories but high in fiber. Human and animal studies have found that bitter melon extract may also help decrease belly fat and body weight.
6. Bitter melon is versatile and delicious
Bitter melon has a sharp flavor that works well in many dishes.
To prepare it, start by washing the fruit and cutting it lengthwise. Then use a utensil to scoop out the seeds from the center, and cut the fruit into thin slices.
Bitter melon can be enjoyed raw or cooked in various recipes.
It can be pan-fried, steamed, baked, or even hollowed out and stuffed with your choice of fillings.
Here are a few interesting ways to add bitter melon to your diet:
- Juice bitter melon along with a few other fruits and vegetables for a nutrient-packed beverage.
- Mix bitter melon into your next stir-fry to bump up the health benefits.
- Sauté bitter melon alongside tomatoes, garlic, and onions and add to scrambled eggs.
- Combine seedless bitter melon with your choice of dressing and garnish for a savory salad.
- Stuff with ground meat and vegetables and serve with a black bean sauce.
Summary: Bitter melon is easy to prepare and can be used in many different dishes and recipes.
Potential side effects of bitter melon
When enjoyed in moderation, bitter melon can be a healthy and nutritious addition to your diet.
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However, consuming high amounts of bitter melon or taking bitter melon supplements may be associated with several adverse effects.
In particular, bitter melon has been linked to diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain.
It’s also not recommended for women who are pregnant, as its long-term effects on health have not been extensively studied.
Due to its impact on blood sugar, you should consult with your healthcare provider before eating it if you’re taking any blood-sugar-lowering medications.
Also, talk with a healthcare professional before supplementing with bitter melon if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking any medications, and be sure to use them as directed.
Summary: Bitter melon may be associated with adverse side effects. Pregnant women, people with underlying health problems, and those taking blood sugar-lowering medications should consult their doctor before use.
Bitter melon is a fruit in the gourd family with a unique appearance and flavor.
It’s not only rich in several important nutrients but also linked to numerous health benefits, including improved blood sugar control and cholesterol levels.
Note that people who are pregnant or on certain medications — particularly blood-sugar-lowering medications — should speak to their healthcare provider before consuming high amounts or taking supplements.
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Still, in moderation, bitter melon makes for a flavorful, nutritious, and easy addition to a healthy, well-rounded diet.