Winter melon is one of the most highly prized vegetables in certain parts of the world due to its nutritional value and impressive health benefits, which include its ability to reduce chronic disease, improve digestion, strengthen the immune system, protect the heart, boost vision, and increase energy levels, among others.
While the name “melon” might make people believe that this is a fruit, winter melon is actually a large vine vegetable, with pale white flesh and a fuzzy interior. The sole member of the Benincasa genus, winter melon goes by many different names, including ash gourd, fuzzy gourd and tallow gourd.
As an immature vegetable, there is a slight sweetness to the melon, but upon maturation, that sweetness dissipates into a more bland flavor, similar to a cucumber. Every part of the winter melon plant can be used for culinary or medicinal purposes, and it is used widely in Asia, particularly in China. These melons can grow up to 80 cm in length and can be stored for many months without going bad, similar to many other gourds. It is commonly used in soups and stews, but can also be candied or included in curries. The juice of the vegetable can also be used in a variety of healthy beverages, while the sprouts and tendrils of the vine can be eaten as greens.
The nutritional value of winter melon is what makes it so important for human health, as the high concentration of vitamin C and vitamin B2 can have a wide variety of effects on the body. This is in addition to high levels of dietary fiber, zinc, iron, phosphorous, potassium and assorted other vitamins and minerals in smaller amounts. Together, these nutrients make for a very powerful dietary supplement, which is why winter melon is so widely cultivated and respected throughout the world. Now, let’s take a closer look at some of the health benefits that winter melon can provide.
Health Benefits of Winter Melon
Boost Vision: A significant amount of research has linked vision problems to a deficiency in riboflavin, more commonly known as vitamin B2. Winter melon also has very high levels of vitamin B2, more than 11% of your daily requirement in a single serving. By increasing the amount of vitamin B2 in your system, you can reduce your chances of eye disorders, while the antioxidants found in winter melon help to reduce oxidative stress in the retina and macular degeneration.
Protect the Heart: With high levels of potassium and vitamin C, winter melon is a tried and true protector of cardiovascular health. Potassium functions as a vasodilator, meaning that it can help to lower blood pressure by releasing tension in the blood vessels and arteries, letting blood flow more freely. This makes it more difficult to develop atherosclerosis, which can compound heart issues and increase your risk of coronary heart disease. Furthermore, vitamin C has been directly linked to reduced chances of a stroke.
Improve Immunity: With more than 19% of your daily vitamin C requirements in a single serving, winter melon is a powerful immune system booster. Vitamin C can stimulate the production of white blood cells, and also acts as an antioxidant to neutralize free radicals and prevent the mutation of healthy cells. Winter melon also boasts a decent amount of zinc, which is another critical component to immune system health.
Stimulate Growth and Development: Most people only think of vitamin C as an immune system booster, but in fact, vitamin C performs a number of key functions in the body. Perhaps most importantly, it is a component in the production of collagen, which is one of the basic building blocks of cells, tissues, muscles, bones and blood vessels. If you are still in developmental stages of your life or recovering from an injury/illness, you want high levels of vitamin C to provide raw materials for growth and repair. Winter melon delivers that vitamin C in a major way!
Digestive Health: Dietary fiber is an important part of any healthy diet, as it can optimize digestion and prevent many unfortunate gastrointestinal issues, including constipation, bloating, cramping, hemorrhoids, and general stomach upset. Dietary fiber can also improve the nutrient uptake efficiency of the gut, along with reducing cholesterol levels in the cardiovascular system!
Increase Energy Levels: Taking in the right nutrients is one thing, but being able to properly use them is another. Vitamin B2 plays an important part in human metabolism, ensuring that the nutrients are converted into usable energy. Along with its many other impacts on hormonal balance and health, the high level of vitamin B2 found in winter melon keeps us functioning and using nutrients efficiently!
Cognitive Function: The significant level of iron found in winter melon makes it an ideal solution for increasing circulation to extremities of the body. Iron is a key component in the production of red blood cells, so when you have more iron, you have a better circulation of fresh, healthy and oxygenated blood. This means that winter melon can not only protect against the symptoms of anemia but also ensure proper blood flow to the brain, which can increase concentration, focus, and memory.
Detoxify the Body: In traditional medicine, winter melon is often used as a diuretic, which can help to detoxify the body. Urination eliminates excess toxins, fats, salts and water from the body, so any vegetable that can induce that detoxification will help your liver and kidney perform at optimal levels.
Weight Loss: Winter melon is often praised as a weight loss tool because it is high in fiber and relatively low in calories. This popular vegetable will make you feel full, thus reducing between-meal snacking and overeating, without pushing your calorie intake for the day over certain limits. The rich blend of minerals and nutrients also promotes muscle growth and a stronger metabolism, thereby compounding the weight loss effects.