The bitter melon may be just what you're looking for...
The people of Okinawa, Japan, have one of the highest life expectancies in the world, counting a remarkable 35 centenarians for every 100,000 inhabitants. That’s five times more than the rest of Japan and a great deal more than anywhere else in the world. So, what's the trick?
Their extended lifespans can be explained by many influences, but one of the strongest influences is in their diet, which emphasizes vegetables and soy products. So, it's not possible to pinpoint one thing in particular that gives the Okinawans the longevity edge. However, the top single contender is one particular fruit that is rife in their villages: the bitter melon.
Also known as the Goya, the bitter melon is actually part of the gourd family and isn’t really a melon at all and it looks a bit like a warty cucumber. While it’s aesthetically unappetizing, the bitter melon has much going for it as it's packed with phytonutrients and a blast of vitamins C, A, and E. It's also rich in B vitamins, including folate and B2. On top of that, Goya has potassium, iron, magnesium, and zinc, as well as high levels of antioxidants.
As explained by Dan Buettner of Blue Zones, bitter melon can be beneficial for diabetes and prediabetes: “There are three compounds in it that help lower blood sugar,” he explains. These compounds (called chantarin, polypeptide-p, and vicine) have been shown to act similarly to insulin when they’re ingested in the body. Of course, much more research is necessary before we can consider bitter melon a helpful treatment for a chronic condition, but the blood sugar benefits are hard to ignore.
So, what’s the best way to add bitter melon to your diet? While you can simply eat it, most people don't really like its bitter taste. So, perhaps add it to curries and soups along with other healthy vegetables. Or, you could take it as a supplement or concentrated juice - and can usually find it in most Asian or Indian markets, or sometimes at health food stores.