Ampalaya, also called balsam pear or bitter melon, grows in tropical areas, where people use this plant in traditional and folk medicine. They also prepare and eat the unripe bumpy green fruit as a vegetable. If you want to add a bit of variety to your diet, ampalaya is a nutritious option.
Foods low in energy density, like ampalaya, allow you to eat quite a bit without worrying too much about calories. Each 1-cup serving of cooked chopped ampalaya contains only 24 calories, and provides 1 gram of protein, 0.2 gram of fat and 5.4 grams of carbs, including 2.5 grams of fiber, or 10 percent of the daily value for this nutrient. Fiber helps keep you feeling full for longer, decreases your cholesterol and blood glucose levels and lowers your risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and constipation.
Eating plenty of ampalaya will help you meet your micronutrient needs. Each serving provides 11 percent of the DV for potassium, 68 percent of the DV for vitamin C and 16 percent of the DV for folate. Potassium helps counteract the blood-pressure raising effect of sodium, you need vitamin C for forming collagen and healing wounds and folate is essential for creating DNA.
Potential Health Benefits
Ampalaya may help you lower your blood sugar levels, although not by as much as taking the diabetes medication metformin, according to a study published in "The Journal of Ethnopharmacology" in March 2011. It also appears to have an anti-cancer effect, causing cancer cells to die without killing off normal cells, according to an article published in "Pharmaceutical Research" in June 2010.
Although ampalaya isn't always available in regular supermarkets, you can usually find it in Asian markets. Whiter or more yellow melons will be less bitter than green melons. Remove the seeds and pith before you use or it may have a chalky taste. You can slice and stir-fry ampalaya along with Chinese fermented black bean paste and sliced pork, stuff them with a mix of Indian-spiced tomatoes and onions or make a wrap with boiled ampalaya, cranberries, walnuts, Gorgonzola, kiwi, mixed greens and vinaigrette.
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Balsam-pear (Bitter Gourd), Pods, Cooked, Boiled, Drained, Without Salt
- Drugs.com: Bitter Melon
- Journal of Ethnopharmacology: Hypoglycemic Effect of Bitter Melon Compared With Metformin in Newly Diagnosed Type 2 Diabetes Patients
- Pharmaceutical Research: Bitter Melon: Antagonist to Cancer
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.