Gourds are available throughout the world and have been used in ayurveda and unani medicines to cure ailments. Being rich in nutrients, low in calories and high in water content, they are a favourite choice for those trying to lose weight and maintain good health. Most members of the gourd family have nutrients beneficial for good vision. On the whole, gourds are great coolants, ideal to be eaten in summer.
The gourd family [also known as Cucurbita] is diverse—from pumpkins, gourds and cucumbers, to squashes and melons, all are part of this group. However, when it comes to nutritious vegetables, bottle gourds, ridge gourds, snake gourds and bitter gourds remain the most popular members.
The gourd gets its name because of its extremely bitter taste. However, it offers unparalleled health benefits. Bitter gourd [karela in Hindi] has a special status in folk medicine due and is used to treat malaria, fevers, wounds, diabetes, vaginal discharge, worm infection and menstrual disorders. The vegetable is a nutritional storehouse.
- Controls diabetes: Studies suggest that regular use of bitter gourd helps those suffering from diabetes as it has the ability to lower blood sugar levels. The credit for this goes to three insulin-like active components present in bitter gourd. The gourd not only enhances the cells uptake of glucose and promotes the release of insulin; but also enhances the effect of insulin.
- Detoxifies the blood: The juice of a bitter gourd is routinely prescribed in ayurveda to cleanse the system and cure disorders of the blood. It also helps in rejuvenating the liver.
- Helps clear the skin: The blood purifying properties of the vegetable also helps keep the skin free of blemishes like acne and pimples. In ayurveda, bitter gourd is also used for treating eczema, skin infections and psoriasis.
- Improves digestion: Bitter gourd stimulates digestion; the high fibre content prevents constipation, thus keeping the system functioning at optimum.
- Eases piles: Drinking bitter gourd juice with butter milk every morning helps those suffering from piles.
- Enables good vision: Being rich in beta-carotene, it ensures a sharp and clear vision.
In addition, bitter gourd helps strengthen the immune system. The juice is excellent for getting rid of hangovers.
In your diet
- Bitter gourd can be used as an accompaniment [subzi] to rotis/breads.
- It can be stuffed with masala comprising onions, ginger, garlic, tamarind paste, coriander powder, chillies, salt and turmeric and cooked on slow fire.
- It can be juiced and consumed on an empty stomach to keep sugar levels under control and to detoxify the body.
- Pieces of bitter gourd can be boiled in water to make a decoction.
How to select and store
- Select pods that are dark green in colour and avoid buying those with cuts or blemishes.
- Choose young, immature pods as they are less bitter.
- Store fresh pods in an airtight bag in the refrigerator.
- You can even cut bitter gourd in pieces, marinate with salt and dry in the sun. Store the sun-dried pieces in airtight bags in the freezer.
Who shouldn’t eat?
- Those with hypoglycaemia should avoid eating or drinking bitter melon.
- Women who are pregnant should avoid eating bitter gourd as it is a uterine stimulant.
- Those taking medicines for controlling diabetes should not eat bitter gourd without consulting a doctor as it may cause blood sugar to fall below healthy levels.
- Excessive intake of the bitter melon juice can cause abdominal distress and diarrhoea.
- If you are opting for pills or capsules made from bitter gourd, consult your doctor before starting the course.
The green coloured gourd has a ridged exterior while the inner soft spongy pulp has small seeds embedded in it. The nutritional profile comprises carbohydrates; fibre; peptides and essential amino acids; minerals such as zinc, iron and magnesium; and vitamins C, thiamin and riboflavin. The ridged gourd [turai in Hindi] too is touted for its high water content.
- It is an ideal food for those trying to lose weight.
- It helps in regulating blood sugar levels.
- It aids digestion and treats constipation.
- It is an immune system booster.
- It detoxifies and purifies blood.
- It has a cooling effect.
How to select and store
- Select those with taut skin, dark green colour and free from blemishes or dark areas. Do not buy those that appear wilted.
- Choose ridge gourds that appear heavy for their size.
- Store the gourd in airtight zip lock bags in the refrigerator.
In your diet…
- Make bhajias by frying round slices, dipped in a batter of your choice.
- Cook it with onions and tomatoes with or without gravy.
- Add pieces to pulses and sambhar.
- Stuff it with masala of your choice and cook.
The snake gourd [chichinda in Hindi] is low in calories and high in water and fibre content. Its nutritional profile also includes proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamin B complex and minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and beta-carotene. 100g of snake gourd has only 18 calories.
- It has anti-inflammatory properties.
- Individuals suffering from palpitation can benefit from drinking fresh juice extracted from the leaves. A tablespoon of juice twice a day is good for the heart.
- The gourd helps keep diabetes under control owing to its high water and fibre content and low calorie count.
- It is good for the digestive system as it aids digestion and wards off constipation. The juice is a strong purgative.
- Snake gourd is an effective expectorant and helps remove phlegm and mucus from the system.
- The juice of the leaves helps treat alopecia [a disease of the scalp that causes partial or complete baldness]. The juice, when massaged into the scalp, cures dandruff.
- In folk medicine, the decoction made of snake gourd leaves and coriander leaves is used to cure fevers.
How to select and store
- Select bright medium to green coloured vegetable with firm and smooth exterior. Do not buy with wrinkled skin.
- Store in air tight container in refrigerator.
In your diet…
- Snake gourd can be cooked as a gravy vegetable or stuffed with spices, onions and tomatoes and cooked.
- It can be chopped into pieces and cooked.
- It tastes great with cooked pulses and sambhar.
- Pregnant women should avoid eating snake gourd in excess.
- Avoid consuming too many snake gourd seeds as it may cause nausea, diarrhoea, gastric discomfort or indigestion.
Called doodhi or lauki in India, bottle gourd comes in varied shapes and sizes, round and bottle shape being the common ones available. The rounded ones are known as calabash. Unlike its cousin, the bitter gourd, this gourd is light green in colour and has a smooth exterior.
The nutritional highpoints of bottle gourd are low calorie content, high fibre content; vitamin C and B-complex;
minerals such as calcium, iron, sodium and potassium and bioflavonoids. 100g of the vegetable contains only 12 calories.
- Regular intake of bottle gourd juice aids weight loss.
- Bottle gourd is a tonic for nerves and is known for its soothing effect on the nervous system.
- The high fibre content and low fat reduces cholesterol.
- The vegetable is excellent for the digestive system and helps in treating acidity, flatulence and indigestion. The high fibre content eases constipation.
- Due to its high water content, eating bottle gourd keeps you feeling full and reduces hunger pangs.
- The vegetable is good for urinary disorders. Fresh juice of the vegetable mixed with a teaspoon of lime juice relieves burning sensation in the urine due to high acid levels.
- Bottle gourd oil is a good remedy for insomnia.
- Regular intake of the juice ensures smooth, healthy, glowing and blemish-free skin.
In your diet
- You can eat it cooked or even raw [juice].
- Grated bottle gourd mixed with yoghurt makes for a delicious raita.
- Cut pieces can be added to cooked pulses.
How to select and store
- Buy fresh, tender and firm bottle gourds. Prefer buying small ones with smooth and tender skin.
- Wrap them in zip lock bags and store in the refrigerator.
- Before extracting the juice taste a piece of the vegetable. If it tastes bitter, discard it and do not consume at all. It can lead to bottle gourd poisoning.
- Avoid mixing the juice with any other juice.
If you experience nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain or an upset stomach after consuming the juice, consult a doctor immediately.
Meet some other members of the gourd family
Melons, squashes and cucumbers are also important members of the gourd family.
A perfect combination of high water content and electrolytes, melons keep you well-hydrated in summers. They are packed with health-promoting nutrients and antioxidants. They supply dietary fibre, vitamins A, B1, B6, B7 [biotin] and C and minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium and small traces of copper, iron and zinc. They are an excellent source of beta-carotene. Watermelon [tarbooz in Hindi], cantaloupe [kharbooza in Hindi] and honeydew melon are common varieties.
- The rich antioxidant arsenal helps combat free radicals that cause diseases like asthma, arthritis and coronary heart disease. Melons are rich in lycopene—a carotenoid that reduces the risk of prostate cancer.
The high potassium content helps keep a check on blood pressure and offers protection against coronary heart disease and stroke. Other nutrients too reduce cholesterol, thus keeping your heart healthy.
- They help in keeping a check on blood sugar levels.
- Melons are low in fat and sodium and high in fibre and water content, which helps lose weight.
- Melons are good for those suffering from constipation due to the high fibre content.
- They offer a cooling effect and prevent dehydration.
- The presence of beta-carotene makes melons beneficial for eyes. Beta-carotene is known for ensuring sharp vision and protection against age-related macular degeneration.
- Melons are a good source of folic acid and thus good for pregnant women.
- Besides keeping the skin cool and refreshed, melons improve the skin’s elasticity and tone. For a radiant complexion, pamper your skin with watermelon juice and honey [6:1] and wash off after 15 minutes.
Squashes are classified as summer squashes and winter squashes. Those harvested as immature fruit are summer squashes while those harvested as mature fruit are winter squashes. Buttercup squash, pumpkins, zucchini and butternut squash are important varieties of squashes.
- The antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids in squashes offer protection against free radical damage thereby protecting against cancer, cardiovascular disease and inflammation.
- The lutein and zeaxanthin ensure sharp and clear vision and offer protection against age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. To get maximum benefits, eat not only the flesh but also the skin and the seeds of summer squashes.
- Seeds and oil of summer squashes are used to treat non-cancerous prostate problems in ayurveda.
Did you know?
- Large gourds are dried and used in making shakers, drums and many other musical instruments. Gourds are often used to make resonators, xylophones, string instruments and thumb piano.
- Dried gourds have also been used for making household products such as baskets, jugs, pots and utensils.
- The loofah sponge used in skin care is made by drying ridge gourd on the vine. Used as an exfoliating agent, it leaves the skin clear and smooth keeping acne and pimples at bay.
- You can reduce bitterness of the bitter gourd by applying salt to cut pieces. Remember to wash off the salt before cooking.
- Massaging the juice of bottle gourd and sesame oil on the scalp facilitates deep sleep.
This was first published in the April 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.