The vegetable goes by many names. The bitter gourd, the African cucumber, the ever-exotic sounding balsam pear. Yet no matter the title, this small, green culinary pod is making some serious health waves when it comes to fighting two of the most common (and growing) diseases in today’s world: type 2 diabetes and cancer.
It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Think again, friends!
You don’t need a scientist to relay that veggies are good for you. And while most dietitians recommend a minimum serving of two and a half to three cups a day, the truth is not all veggies are made equal. Very few come close to topping the health benefits of bitter melons, and virtually none have been shown to carry the unique and powerful combo of cell revitalizers and metabolic boots. Together, these properties offer an exciting breakthrough in the quest for natural, alternative cancer and diabetic remedies.
But first, let’s break down the bitter melon.
So what exactly is this thing?
Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve never even heard of bitter melons before. Native to southern China, they’re now grown primarily in neighboring Asian countries with a moderate seasonal export. Not exactly the easiest grab at your corner convenience store.
The oblong veggie belongs in the squash family of food. Grown on a vine, it’s characterized by a yellow-green skin that turns orange when ripening, along with a distinct, rather lumpy outer texture that’ll soften slightly when it’s ready to be picked.
Such a distinct look makes the bitter melon a great addition to any backyard garden. They’re easy to grow in warm climates and even can thrive in dryer heats challenging for other seeds.
Once planted, you can expect vines to begin sprouting within one week of sowing, with fresh produce following a couple weeks after.
The exciting evidence
Cancer cells can multiply quick and thrive when devoid of oxygen. As such, their treatments aim to break down the quick metabolism of cancer cells with minimal damage to surrounding healthy tissue, which, as it turns out, can be a tricky thing.
It was a breakthrough study conducted at Colorado University that first tipped experts onto the cancer-blasting possibilities of bitter melons. After injecting two groups of mice with pancreatic tumor cells, the control group was given water as their primary drinking liquid over a six-week period. The other group of mice drank bitter melon juice.
You can probably guess which critters saw better results.
The mice who had consumed bitter melon juice on average inhibited the growth rate of their tumors by over 60 percent. Not only that, but there were no traces of damaging toxicity in the mice’s bloodstream or negative reactions in their bodies whatsoever. Given the nature of today’s chemotherapy and radiation-heavy cancer treatments, this was an extraordinary effect for researchers to find.
Type 2 Diabetes
An even further amount of clinical research has focused on the insulin-regulating capabilities of the bitter melons.
And given diabetes often increases a patient’s chance of pancreatic cancer (the part of the body which produces and controls insulin levels in the first place), positive results in one case often lends itself to ideas and success in the other.
One such diabetes-focused study found mice who consumed bitter melon juice exhibited improved glycemic control (the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels) and helped cells better process and tolerate that glucose.
Another clinical trial – this time with humans – gleaned similarly good results. Participants consumed 2,000 mg of bitter melon a day, yielding modest hypoglycemic effects and improved fructosamine management. In layman’s terms, these individuals saw healthier levels of glucose in their bloodstream for their bodies to smoothly manage.
Though more targeted research is still underway in a number of universities worldwide, it’s looking like a great day to go out and eat bitter melon.
But wait, there’s more
The health benefits of bitter melons sure don’t stop there.
Like most pod plants, bitter melons are low in calories (17 cal/100 grams) but high in fiber and antioxidants. It is one of the top sources of vitamin-C in the squash family, with one raw pod carrying 140 percent of the vitamin’s daily recommended dose. And as an antioxidant that expels free radicals from the body, bitter melons can keep you looking and feeling younger with through all the pros outlined above.
Bitter melons additionally aid in digestion, keeping bowel movements regular while enhancing nutrient absorption. This means indigestion and constipation can soon be problems of the past.
Bitter is better
There are a number of ways you can easily incorporate bitter melons into your diet. From juicing to salad garnish and stir-fry, bitter melons have a range of cooking options – some tasty enough to even sneak onto your kid’s plate.
Because of its pucker-inducing raw bitter flavor (think very, very, very dark chocolate), the veggie is aptly named and deceivingly difficult to the palate at first bite. Don’t let that stop you, though, as the vegetable can be carved, roasted, steamed, and stuffed to craft some tasty main courses.
Bitter melons are usually cut laterally with their seeds carved out, similar to the popular and more common summer squash. Once this is done, the softer insides can be cubed or sliced to use as easy additives to recipes you already know how to cook.
Some favorites include:
- Stir-fried pork, black bean, and bitter melon
- Stuffed bitter melon
- Bitter melon scrambled eggs
- Bitter melon curry
Other popular selections range from bitter melon teas (mixed with green tea and honey creates a delicious, earthy blend) and bitter melon powder, which can be sprinkled on nearly anything to add a dash of health.
Wrapping it up
If a remedy existed only a melon away, who wouldn’t want to give the veggie a go?
With research to back it up, bitter melons can go a long way in protecting against certain types of cancer and regulating the glucose problems that lead to diabetes. As two pressing concerns in the health industry today, bitter melons sure lend food for thought.
It’s not only about eating right, but it’s also about eating smart. And chowing on a bitter melon every now and then can check both these criteria off the list.