Ages ago before my venture into the field of nutrition, I attended a Qigong conference/workshop. During this workshop the facilitator spoke about nutrition and the importance of removing processed foods from our daily diets while adding in nutritious whole foods. He also spoke about using foods as medicine and gave examples of different foods and the dis-eases these foods could help. Most of the information he gave regarding food and nutrition I was familiar with, however he mentioned one food in particular that I had seen before but at the time had no experience cooking or eating; the food item was Bitter Melon.
Bitter Melon is most popular in Asian and Indian cuisine. The name says it all – BITTER. I happen to like the bitter flavor somewhat. The bitterness can be toned down a bit by salting it, as one would eggplant before cooking. Bitter Melon traditionally grows in tropical areas, including parts of the Amazon, east Africa, and the Caribbean but it can also grow in other areas as well; in fact I happen to buy it from a farmer who grows it in Central Virginia. It is cultivated throughout South America and Asia as a food and medicine. It’s applications in traditional medicine span a long list of conditions including killing bacteria, viruses, and some cancer cells, reducing inflammation, and cleansing the blood.
The healing properties of Bitter Melon are more widely accepted in the US among natural health practitioners and is becoming more accepted among some allopathic physicians. Like most bitter-tasting foods, bitter melon stimulates digestion. This can be helpful in people with sluggish digestion, and constipation, but as with any medication it must be taken with care as it can sometimes make heartburn and ulcers worse. However, bitter melon is only a mild inflammation modulator, so it rarely has these negative effects, based on clinical experience and traditional reports.
Bitter Melons are rich in iron. They have twice the beta carotene of broccoli, twice the calcium of spinach, twice the potassium of bananas, and contain Vitamins A, C, B1 to B3, Phosphorus and good dietary fiber. Some particularly exciting research shows the powerful insulin-lowering effects of Bitter Melon can be a very powerful anti-diabetic! It has been proven to increase the number of beta cells (those which produce insulin) in the pancreas.
Bitter Melon’s powerful insulin lowering properties are currently being looked at as an effective treatment for diabetes. Studies suggest that Bitter Melon plays a role in controlling the production of insulin therefore promoting blood sugar control. Some documented studies show this bitter gourd to enhance cells’ uptake of glucose, to promote insulin release, and to make the effect of insulin more powerful. Some studies even document Bitter Melon’s effect on total cholesterol reduction.
In Ayurvedic medicine, Bitter Melon is seen as a “plant-insulin”. In India, some doctors are so confident about its anti-diabetic power that it is dispensed in hospitals to people suffering from diabetes. In the Philippines, the Department of Health recommends Bitter Melon as one of the best herbal medicines for treating diabetes.
Other reported healing affects of Bitter Melon are that it kills bacteria, viruses, cancer cells, prevents tumors, treats diabetes, reduces blood sugar, reduces blood pressure, lowers body temperature, reduces inflammation, fights free radicals, enhances libido, cleanses blood, detoxifies, balances hormones, enhances immunity, and is a mild laxative.
Bitter Melon is commonly found in many Asian grocery stores; here in the DC area it can sometimes be found at the common chain grocers as well. In addition it is available in liquid extract and capsule forms. My personal preference is of course the whole food option.
Below is a great recipe for your first taste of Bitter Melon. It is one of my favorites. I do not know of any raw food recipes for bitter melon, frankly I can’t imagine one due to its bitter taste. However it is often juiced as a green drink for diabetes. I am on the lookout for a palatable raw food recipe using Bitter Melon, and if I find one I will be sure to share.
Bitter Melon Stir Fry
1-2 lbs. Bitter melon 4-6 garlic cloves ( I LOVE garlic) 1 large onion 1-2 teaspoon chili pepper flakes ( I like it hot) 1-2 cups grape tomatoes 1 lb. shrimp or pork belly 1 pkg. soft organic tofu 2 tablespoons coconut oil for stir-frying 2 tablespoons coconut aminos (or soy sauce) 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar 1 tablespoon yacon syrup 2 teaspoons sesame oil
Cut in half lengthwise, remove the seeds and cut into thin slices on the diagonal. Sprinkle salt over the slices and place them in a colander to drain for 15 minutes. Using a mortar and pestle, mash the chili pepper flakes with the garlic cloves (a food processor or bowl and fork works too). While bitter melon is soaking, slice tomatoes in half and slice onion.
Heat wok over medium high heat and add 2 tablespoons coconut oil. When the oil is hot, add the minced garlic and chili mixture and onions. Stir-fry briefly until aromatic (about 30 seconds) just make sure the garlic doesn't burn.
Add the bitter melon. Stir-fry for about 2 minutes, then splash with the rice wine vinegar and soy sauce. Stir in the sweetener. Cook for another 1 to 2 minutes, add tofu and tomatoes and continue cooking until the bitter melon begins to soften. Stir in sesame oil. Serve hot.
If using shrimp, add at the end to give shrimp a few minutes to cook. If you use pork belly, cook it first then ingredients as listed above. The shrimp and meat can also be replaced by beaten eggs or all animal protein can be completely left out.