Bitter gourd and diabetes

Bitter gourd and diabetes

Bitter gourd is a vegetable that is tender green and long with seeds in the middle and is very juicy with a bitter taste. Hence its name bitter gourd. If it is over-mature it will become a yellow/red colour and less bitter. Bitter gourd is very popular in many dishes in Southern China and South East Asia, It is a very popular dish in restaurants not only in family cooking. Families treat bitter gourd as a cooling food for health.

In the last 30 years, it has become more and more popular in the markets in Asia, especially in China. It can be bought anywhere in the world in Asian markets. So there are many different varieties of bitter gourd dishes such as bitter gourd tea and juice which is very convenient in the summer. In many restaurants they make bitter gourd soup, salad or stir fried with egg or meat and are extremely popular not only for food but also for diet therapy especially in hot seasons.

1. Why is bitter gourd popular even though it has a bitter taste?

Now I would like the share the knowledge about the health benefits of bitter gourd so you too may be interested to eat it. One ancient texts called Zhen Nan Ben Cao, mentions that “bitter gourd is bitter in taste, cold in flavor and has the ability to clear body and summer heat”. That is why in hot climates people like to eat or drink this food.

1) Bitter gourd clears liver and body heat

When the body is over-heated from external factors or internal organ disorders, it will have the following symptoms: red face, red eyes, constipation with dark, black or smelly stool or sluggish bowel movement, yellow urination, stomach bloating, smelly flatulence, ulcer in mouth, bad breathe, insomnia, vivid dreams, bad temper, very emotional, easy to perspire, for women: can experience hot flushes and for children: perspiration on forehead while sleeping and are not settled. Some may suffer from hyperthyroidism (over-reactive thyroid), high blood pressure or stress.

You may want to know why the body is overheated, Chinese medicine considers body heat is predominately due to over eating spicy foods, indigestion, attacked by summer heat (eg sun stroke) or external pathogenic heat, long term stress or infection in the internal organs. Bitter gourd is one type of food being able to clear these heat symptoms whilst you are undergoing treatment.

This function is recorded in an ancient Chinese books Zheng Nan Ben Cao mentioning that it has a bitter taste with cooling characteristics and has the ability to clear the heat from liver and body. I suggest that those undergoing treatment for the symptoms above, should eat some bitter gourd to help you. I suggest that you try stir-fry bitter gourd and egg or bitter gourd juice. Please check the recipe below.

2) To prevent being attacked from summer heat

Chinese medicine considers that the environmental conditions act upon the body. In the summer, the body will naturally absorb more heat from the external environment and cause heat in the body. This is why in hot climates people like to eat bitter gourd. When you eat it, your body is able to become balanced from the heat. Because the bitter gourd not only clears this heat it also removes the general toxins in the body as well. More and more people are beginning to use bitter gourd in places throughout the world to reap its benefits. Traveling through the hot parts of the day, a bottle of bitter gourd juice is greatly helpful in preventing and protecting against the attack of summer heat and help to cool the body. This is why, it is sometimes called ‘cooling-cumber’. I suggest you drink bitter gourd tea.

3) Reducing symptoms of diabetes (especially type 2) during treatment

Bitter gourd works to prevention diabetes, also helping to reduce the symptoms. These effects are recorded in one of the ancient books called Quan Zhou Ben Cao and also mentioned in many diet therapy text books which records bitter gourd to treat ‘’xiao ke’’ meaning diabetes. Bitter gourd works mostly on the spleen, stomach, heat toxins and stagnation of food in the digestive system. Chinese medicine considers that some causes of diabetes is due to indigestion, known as “Zhong xiao”. As bitter gourd can clear the heat toxins and stagnation from the digestive system, so it can help reduce the symptoms of diabetes.

Chinese medicine considers food or digestive disorders to be one of the major cause of diabetes. Because the disorder results in the buildup of heat and toxins in the digestive system it therefore leads to the sugar imbalance in the body. More and more people in modern society suffer from diabetes or are on the border, so it is important for us to be more aware of how to prevent diabetes as it affects heart, liver, kidneys and even eye function and circulation. Along with exercise, we should pay attention to eating healthier and choose food which can help reduce or prevent the symptoms of diabetes. Bitter gourd is one of these foods.

2. Who is suitable to eat bitter gourd?

Bitter gourd is suitable for those who have heat in their body or during hot seasons. If you have diabetes type 2 and with the symptoms above, bitter gourd is suitable for you to eat.

3. Recipe

Due to bitter gourds bitter taste it is best to remove the seeds and chop it into small pieces. Then placing the diced pieces into a bowl of salt water (2tsp of salt), soak for 30 minutes. This will cause the bitterness to leave the vegetable. After this time, you can cook the bitter gourd as a stir-fry, steamed or as a soup.

I recommend one of the very popular Chinese dish, stir-fried bitter gourd and egg.

1) How to cook stir-fried bitter gourd and egg

1 bitter gourd diced (10 cm long preparing like above)
1 or 2 eggs

Heat a wok, and place the mixed eggs into the pan to make an omelette. Once the egg has cooked, add the diced pieces of bitter gourd and stir-fry for 5 minutes. Adding salt to taste. 

(If you like other vegetables, you can add others such as snow peas or cucumber).

I suggest that you eat a hand full of bitter gourd at once, 2 or 3 times a week if you have the symptoms mentioned above.

2) How to cook bitter gourd juice (tea)

A hand full of fresh bitter gourd without seeds, placing in fresh water (3 cups) and bring to the boil and simmer for 3 minutes. Allow to cool and remove the pieces of bitter gourd and place in a bottle for you to drink anywhere. This is suitable for you during the summer heat or if you suffer from heat symptoms above. You can add 2 or 3 rock sugar into the tea to make the tea more sweet (If you suffer from diabetes, you do not need to add sugar).

Bitter gourd can be eaten two or three times a week whilst undergoing other treatment or to help prevent the symptoms above.

4. Precautions

1) If you have a cold body constitution, weak body or diarrhea it is not suitable for you to eat or drink bitter gourd.

2) Secondly, if you are unsure whether you should eat or drink bitter gourd, please visit your experienced TCM practitioner.


Dr Ping Wang is the clinic founder and senior practitioner of Ping Ming Health. She has over 30 years of experience in traditional Chinese medicine teaching and practice. Dr Ping especially enjoys sharing her knowledge of Chinese medicine through our popular clinic articles, seminars and clinical training of students and practitioners.