Bitter Melon Nutrition Facts

Calories, Carbs, and Health Benefits of Bitter Melon

Bitter melon annotated

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Bitter melon (Momordica charantia), is a plant commonly referred to as bitter gourd, karela, or balsam pear. This fruit is low in calories and carbs, high in fiber, and has many potential health benefits. In fact, it has a strong history of use in folk medicine.

The bitter melon fruit has the appearance of a bumpy cucumber and has a pungent flavor. It can be eaten fresh or cooked and is used as a vegetable in many cultures around the world.

Nutrition Facts

Bitter melon nutrition facts vary slightly based on the part of the plant that you use. For example, 1 ounce (28 grams) of the raw leafy tips provides about 8 calories whereas 1 ounce of the pods provides just under 5 calories.

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 1 cup (1/2-inch pieces) (93g) of raw bitter melon pods.

  • Calories: 16
  • Fat: 0.2g
  • Sodium: 4.7mg
  • Carbohydrates: 3.4g
  • Fiber: 2.6g
  • Protein: 1g

Carbs in Bitter Melon

Most of the calories in bitter melon come from carbohydrates. Since the total calorie content is so low, bitter melon carbs are also low. One entire bitter melon (about 124 grams) is likely to provide about 4.6 grams of carbohydrate, over half of which is fiber (3.5 grams). Bitter melon does contain some sugar, but this is naturally occurring.

Fats in Bitter Melon

There is very little fat in bitter melon. One entire bitter melon contains less than a single gram of fat.

Protein in Bitter Melon

Bitter melon is not a good source of protein. There is just over 1 gram of protein in a whole bitter melon.

Micronutrients in Bitter Melon

Micronutrients in this plant may vary based on the part of the plant that you eat. Consumption of the bitter melon pod provides the benefit of both vitamins and minerals. These include vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium.

If you consume the leafy tips of the plant, you'll consume the same micronutrients in slightly higher amounts.

Health Benefits

Bitter melon can be consumed in more concentrated forms, such as pills, powders, juices, and extracts. These concentrated forms have been reported to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, anti-bacterial, and anti-obesity properties.

Despite the ongoing research, strong clinical evidence does not exist to support the medicinal uses of bitter melon.

Although bitter melon has been used to treat diabetes in Asia, South America, India, and East Africa, study results are conflicting and inconclusive. A review concluded that high-quality studies with human subjects are limited and are often too flawed to provide strong enough evidence. Nutrition and Diabetes published a study that showed that bitter melon does not provide any significant benefit to people with diabetes.

Another review evaluated evidence regarding the use of bitter melon to treat high cholesterol, obesity, cardiac function, hypertension, and certain cancers. Again, authors note that most bitter melon studies suffer from poor design and conclude that more high-quality research is needed to understand bitter melon benefits.

Common Questions

Is bitter melon really a melon?

Bitter melon doesn't look like a melon so people may question if the name is inaccurate. In fact, it looks more like a cucumber. The fruit comes from the same family (Cucurbitaceae) as watermelon and cantaloupe, so the name is accurate.

Where and when can I buy bitter melon?

You're not likely to find bitter melon in most chain grocery stores. However, many Asian markets carry it all year long. You might also see it at the end of summer or the beginning of fall at your local farmers market.

How do I choose the best bitter melon?

Different types of bitter melon have different color variations. In general, if you buy a green bitter melon, it is probably not ripe yet. However, many cooks utilize bitter melon that is not fully ripe in recipes.

Recipes and Preparation Tips

Store bitter melon in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.

To cook bitter melon, first remove the waxy skin with a peeler or a paring knife. Many cooks boil bitter melon, steam it, or use it in a stir-fry. Others hollow out the melon and stuff with ingredients such as pork sausage or chilies.

The bitter flavor of this fruit is an acquired taste. If you don't enjoy the bitterness, culinary experts recommend soaking the fruit in salt water for 30–45 minutes before cooking with it.

Allergies and Interactions

Bitter melon can increase the effectiveness of diabetes medications. Therefore, it may not be safe to use when taken with other glucose-lowering agents or insulin.

Researchers have observed effects such as diarrhea, vomiting, and headaches with bitter melon use. Additionally, the safety of consuming bitter melon for long periods of time has not been confirmed.

Health experts advise that pregnant women avoid bitter melon as it can cause vaginal bleeding, premature contractions, and abortion.

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