Bitter melon is also referred to as bitter gourd; the melon has an extremely bitter taste, but it is a helpful food, nutrition-wise.
It is a fruit-like herb that not only pickles meals but serves as medicine. The medicinal extract comes from not only the stem but the flowers and the roots.
In Rwanda, apart from some family growers, bitter gourd is also grown in the Northern and Eastern parts of the country.
According to Selina Wamucii, a platform that helps businesses from anywhere in the world to source, buy or import food and agricultural produce from any African country, two parts are edible; the leaves act as vegetables during infancy while the melon itself appears in meals in chopped pieces. Indeed, the fruits may serve as whole food on their own rather than side dishes.
Erick Musengimana, a nutritionist at Rwanda diabetes Association-Kigali, says bitter melon is rich in vitamin C, which is 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.
He says that the vitamin K found in this fruit-like herb contributes to bone health, blood-clotting, and is an anti-inflammatory agent.
“Studies have showed that people suffering from arthritis can experience lower pain and inflammation in the joints through increasing vitamin K intake,” he says.
Additionally, Musengimana says, bitter melon is also a great source for dietary fibre.
He goes on to add that it has been established that bitter melon can help boost one’s immune system.
“In general, a healthy immune system is vital for fending off potential infections and diseases, and adding it to your diet can have an added advantage to your health,” he notes.
Nutritionists say that bitter melon helps in stopping or preventing a cold instantly, while benefiting the digestive system at the same time.
Joseph Uwiragiye, the head of the nutrition department at University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK), says this herb also helps to prevent or curb food allergies, and gets rid of yeast infections, naturally.
“As is common with most plants, bitter melon is extremely low in calories and very filling. For this reason, it’s helpful when it comes to weight management,” he says.
Uwiragiye explains that losing or maintaining a healthy weight can be achieved by consuming bitter melon because it is rich in nutrients.
Still, on weight management, he says it helps in carbohydrate management where carbohydrates turn to sugar, and bitter melon metabolises the sugars.
“Faster metabolism of carbohydrates means that less fat is stored in the body which leads to weight loss, and healthy weight maintenance. Besides, proper carbohydrate digestion also aids in muscle growth and development,” he says.
Studies have also shown that bitter melon helps lower dangerous cholesterol levels in the body. Reducing cholesterol significantly reduces heart attack, heart disease, and stroke.
The added benefit is that bitter melon is completely natural in working with the body to prevent these health risks. High cholesterol can only be diagnosed with a blood test.
Some studies have shown that bitter melon lowers blood sugar through increased metabolism of glucose, and drinking one cup daily can help receive the full benefit of the fruit.
Also, one of the most surprising health benefits of bitter melon is its anti-cancer properties.
Bitter melon has been shown to disrupt the production of glucose, potentially inhibiting the growth of pancreatic cancer cells. Bitter melon may also starve other cancerous cells in the liver, colon, breast, or prostate.