In line with the World Diabetes Day theme of “Act on Diabetes. Now.” AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center will distribute recipe brochures starting Monday, November 14, 2011 to promote the consumption of bitter gourd (Momordica charantia) in communities in India, Tanzania, Thailand, and Taiwan.
AVRDC Director General Dyno Keatinge will join AVRDC South Asia staff and colleagues from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) for a Global Diabetes Walk to further raise awareness of the disease. The walk will be held November 14 on the ICRISAT campus in Hyderabad, India.
The colorful recipe brochures with preparation instructions in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kiswahili, Thai, and English feature tasty dishes tailored to local tastes. Bitter gourd can be eaten raw in salads or as juice, or cooked in stews, soups, or stir-fried dishes. The vegetable is already popular in India, so the brochures provide different versions of bitter gourd curry to suit regional tastes. In East Africa, bitter gourd is a relatively unknown vegetable; a stew recipe combines it with local favorite okra to please palates.
Bitter gourd is in the same family (Cucurbitaceae) as cucumbers, pumpkins and watermelons. The vine grows in the tropics or subtropics and the edible fruit it produces is among the most bitter of all fruits. There are many varieties that differ in shape, color and bitterness. The fruit has a distinctive warty exterior and an oblong shape.
Previous studies with animals and humans suggest bitter gourd may have a role in diets to help diabetics control blood sugar. Chinese, Ayurvedic, and other traditional folk medicine practices have long used bitter gourd to treat type 2 diabetes and other ailments.
“The antidiabetic effect of bitter gourd results from the complex action of multiple compounds in the fruit,” said Dr. Ray-yu Yang, AVRDC Nutritionist. For instance, bitter gourd is well known for its insulin-like protein, called p-insulin, v-insulin, or polypeptide-p, that decreases fasting blood sugar levels in type 1 and type 2 diabetic patients. Cucurbitan-type triterpenoids in fruits, including momordicine and momordicosides, and conjugated linolenic acid, a fatty acid found in high concentrations in the seeds, help reverse insulin resistance. Fiber and saponins in bitter gourd slow down carbohydrate digestion and prevent high post-prandial blood sugar levels. Isolated compounds, bitter gourd extract, juices and powders have demonstrated potential in lowering blood sugar.
Yang noted that although further study will be required to provide sufficient evidence and develop dietary strategies to confidently recommend bitter gourd for managing type 2 diabetes, the health benefits of consuming more vegetables in the diet cannot be overestimated. Vegetables provide essential micronutrients the human body needs for good health.
Plant breeders working on the Bitter Gourd Project, launched by AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center and partners in March 2011, seek to optimize the level of antidiabetic compounds in the vegetable. The first step is to select promising bitter gourd lines and varieties for further development. In Thailand, India, and Tanzania, project breeders are now conducting field trials to review the effect of growing conditions and postharvest practices on retention of the active compounds. Nutrition teams in Germany and at AVRDC headquarters in Taiwan are testing bitter gourd samples for phytonutrient content and antidiabetic efficacy. Medical doctors and social scientists in Tanzania, India, and Taiwan are surveying diabetics and health-care workers to determine levels of knowledge regarding the disease.
As research data is gathered and analyzed, the project partners hope to develop sound, evidence-based dietary strategies to assist diabetics in Asia and Africa. The three-year project is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Germany. Partners with AVRDC in the project include Avinashilingam Deemed University for Women, Comibatore, India; Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana India; Justus-Liebig University, Giessen, Germany; Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre, Moshi, Tanzania; and National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan.
World Diabetes Day, observed every November 14 since 1991, is a global event designed to increase awareness of a chronic, debilitating and costly disease that poses severe risks for families, countries and the entire world. The date marks the birthday of Frederick Banting, who, along with Charles Best, is credited with the discovery of insulin.
Today, 285 million people in the world live with diabetes, and 80% of those are in low- and middle-income countries. By 2030, about 4.5% (more than 370 million) of the world’s population will suffer from Type 2 diabetes. India has the highest number of diabetics, with 31.7 million in 2000 and a projected 79.4 million by 2030. The diabetes epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa is one of the fastest growing in the world, increasing 2.6 fold in 30 years.
There is no cure for diabetes, but the quality of life of people with diabetes depends on effective blood glucose control. Effective treatment includes proper diet, weight control, exercise, and medicine.