Bitter melon is a fruit that you may never stumble across unless you find yourself in tropical areas or go out of your way to look for it in specialty markets, but it's certainly a good one to have on your radar right now, in light of the Delta variant cases rising across the country.

Bitter melon is a plant native to Southeast Asia, as well as the Amazon, East Africa, and the Caribbean, and has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for its medicinal properties including treating symptoms of what we now know as modern-day diabetes. It's also known to help lower cholesterol and inflammation and may reduce your risk of certain cancers, but researchers point out that more studies are needed to determine the mechanism for this to be proven.

Aside from its health benefits, the plant and fruit both taste delicious in a smoothie, soup, stir fry, and sliced thin in a salad–it tastes exactly how it sounds, bitter. So if you love bitter tastes, you can also make it into a tea. Here's everything you need to know about the unique fruit.

5 Health Benefits of Bitter Melon

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1. Bitter melon has been used for a natural remedy for diabetes

Bitter melon has been commonly used in Asian cultures as a natural remedy for diabetes, according to a review study that outlines its health benefits. "The medicinal value of bitter melon has been attributed to its high antioxidant properties due in part to phenols, flavonoids, isoflavones, terpenes, anthraquinones, and glucosinolates, all of which confer a bitter taste," the study states. In a different study, bitter melon was evaluated for its preventative effects against insulin resistance and diabetes in obese and diabetic rats. "Bitter melon treatment significantly improved glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity," the researchers concluded at the sixth-week mark.

2. Bitter melon may help lower cholesterol

Bitter melon, also called Bitter gourd, may be helpful for the management of high cholesterol, according to a study that fed the different parts of the fruit to rats to see which was best for lowering cholesterol. The three types of bitter melon measured were the whole fruit, seedless fruit, and seed extracts. The animals fed the flesh of the fruit and the seed extract in powdered form had the most dramatic results, with both their LDL and their blood lipids going down over the course of the study. So if you're concerned with high cholesterol add the extract powder to your smoothie (but talk to your health care provider first.)

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3. Bitter melon may aid in natural weight loss

A high-fiber diet is linked to weight loss and bitter melon contains 2 grams of fiber per 100 grams of fruit, which makes it a fiber powerhouse considering it only has 34 calories. Add the bitter melon to your salads for a nutritiously dense, fiber-filled meal.

4. Bitter melon may lower your risk of inflammation and chronic disease

Chronic inflammation has been linked to a host of lifestyle diseases, according to research, and bitter melon has been shown to help lower inflammation in the body. The plant is reported to have anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and anti-bacterial properties, according to a study

5. Bitter Melon appears to support anti-cancer activity in the body

In addition to having anti-inflammation properties which can help protect against chronic diseases, the fruit has shown that it helps protect against certain cancers, a study explains. The "plant's extract inhibits cancer cell growth by inducing apoptosis, cell cycle arrest, autophagy and inhibiting cancer stem cells," the researchers wrote.

Where can you buy bitter melon?

Bitter melon is sold at Asian food markets and grocery stores and sometimes found at Whole Foods, depending on the location. If you find yourself in the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, or Africa, you're likely to find the fruit at local markets. However, Amazon sells bitter melon supplements, dried fruit, and tea but does not carry the whole fruit.

Bottom Line: There are no downsides to eating bitter melon and studies have shown that it may help lower your risk of the following: type 2 diabetes, cholesterol, inflammation, and possibly certain cancers (more research is still needed). Add it to your salads, soups, dressings, smoothies, and try drinking bitter melon tea for its scientifically proven health benefits.

For more great stories on how to eat more plant-based and get healthier, check out The Beet's Health & Nutrition articles.

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