Written By: Sejal Dave, RD
Last Updated on:
You’ve probably heard all kinds of stories about foods that can help you manage your diabetes better. From supplements, to spices, to energy drinks, the tales are tall. There has even been some buzz about a fruit called bitter melon. It’s been claimed that bitter melon can lower blood sugar levels. So can simply eating this fruit help people with diabetes improve their blood sugar?
What is bitter melon?
Bitter melon, or bitter gourd, is a deep green fruit that grows on vines. It’s also known as bitter cucumber or karella. It is typically found in subtropical and tropical climates. It’s used for cooking as well as for medicinal purposes all around the world. It’s most commonly used as a side dish or part of a main course in Chinese and Indian cuisine. It does have a “bitter” taste, but rest assured it is completely edible! Bitter melon can be bought fresh, canned, as a tea, or as a supplement.
Bitten melon for diabetes
The evidence about bitter melon’s ability to lower blood sugar seems to be positive. A study published in March 2008 in the Chemistry and Biology journal showed that ingredients found in bitter melon can activate an enzyme that helps move blood sugar into the body’s cells. These compounds could possibly be extracted to be a new diabetes medication!
At this time there isn’t enough information to know how much bitter melon to eat to lower blood sugar effectively. Supplements that contain bitter melon may cause adverse effects if taken in large amounts, so check with your health care provider before adding them to your health plan.
How to make bitter melon less bitter
Bitter melon, as its name implies, has a distinctive taste. It can be eaten raw in salads or as a side dish, but it tends to taste better when cooked and seasoned. To soften the bitter taste, prepare it with other vegetables or wash the cut melon before cooking it. Bitter melon is cooked with spices and served with a side of slightly sweetened yogurt in Indian cooking. In other Asian dishes it’s steamed, or used in soups or stir fries.
The Bottom Line
The hype surrounding many diabetes “cures” is just that – hype. However, bitter melon appears to be different, as it looks like it could have some benefits to people with diabetes. If you are creative with your meal plan and like to try different foods, add bitter melon to your grocery list. You can find it in most Asian markets and stores as well as some farmer’s markets.
The reported side effects of bitter melon are abdominal discomfort and, in some people, a syndrome known as favism, which leads to hemolytic anemia – an irregular breakdown of red blood cells. Like other vegetables, if used in moderation, bitter melon can be included in a healthy, balanced meal plan.
Sejal is a registered dietitian, a certified diabetes educator and she holds a masters degree in nutrition and health. Sejal was the project coordinator for the Veteran’s Administrations (VA) national weight loss program and previously worked for the VA hospital in Tampa, FL as a Spinal Cord Injury dietitian.
Sejal has had numerous clinical and community education experiences, including pediatric and intensive care nutrition support. She has also had the opportunity to teach nutrition courses at the community college level to students interested in pursuing health professions. One of her favorite areas of education is diabetes management.