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Subheshaja: Bitter but Better: Fenugreek

“Hello, Radha Aunty, what’s that in your bag?”
“I bought a bunch of Methi greens from the vegetable vendor, Preethi.” replied Dr. Radha.
“Yuck! How do you manage to eat that, Aunty? It’s so bitter!”
“Come on, Preethi, surely you have studied that green leafy vegetables are a rich source of so many vitamins and fibre too? They are very good for health. Methi or fenugreek as it’s called in English, is one of the healthiest foods you can eat! Do you know that it even has a proven anti- diabetic action?”
“Really, Aunty?”
“Yes! Research on fenugreek shows that the seeds contain fatty acids, carbohydrates and amino acids. One amino acid in particular called 4-hydroxy isoleucine has been found to increase the release of insulin from the pancreas. So, persons who have type 2 diabetes will benefit from consuming fenugreek.” (1)

“Oh! I’ve seen my grandfather soaking methi seeds in water overnight and drinking the water the next morning.”
“Your grandfather is relying on this very property that I’m talking about, Preethi. Several clinical trials support this concept that fenugreek seeds help diabetics to control their blood sugar.”
“But when I had mild diarrhea the other day, my mother made me gulp down these fenugreek seeds with some curd! What is that for, Aunty?”

“Fenugreek has traditionally been used in Ayurveda to treat an upset stomach, excess gas, indigestion and diarrhea. The seeds contain mucilage – which is a gum-like substance – that swells up after absorbing water; this swollen mass has an anti-diarrheal effect. You can take the seeds with plain water but that’s not very palatable; so mixing it with curd makes it easier to gulp down. The curd has another benefit too, I think. Have you heard the word ‘probiotic’ Preethi?

“Hmmn…it sounds familiar. I’ve seen some ad on TV that promotes some such product calling it good for digestion.”

“You’re right! A probiotic is a substance that promotes the growth of ‘good’ microorganisms in our intestine that can help in the digestive process. Curd is a great source of lactic acid bacteria and so, it can act as a probiotic, to improve digestion.”

“Wow! What other benefits does methi have, Aunty?”

“Some studies have shown that methi seeds can help to reduce cholesterol in our body, Preethi.”

“Really? Aunty, I remember reading something about ‘good’ cholesterol somewhere. I always thought cholesterol was bad for the body?”

“Good question, Preethi! Based on the type of fatty material it contains, you can have 3 main types of cholesterol – very low density lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Out of these 3 types, VLDL and LDL forms are called ‘bad’ cholesterol and HDL form is ‘good’ cholesterol. The words
‘bad’ and ‘good’ refer to the effects on human health.
Now, research shows that the fibre and mucilage in fenugreek seeds help to bring down the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol, even as they improve the concentration of ‘good’ cholesterol in our body.” (3), (4)

“Ok, that’s really cool! The other day, I heard my mother advising our maid Manjamma to give her daughter lots of fenugreek and I wondered why.”
“That’s yet another benefit of fenugreek. Manjamma’s daughter has recently delivered a baby; that’s why your mother has told her that remedy.”

“How does my mother know all this, Aunty?”

“See, Preethi, some customs and practices have come down from generations together. Your mother may not know what it is, but there is a definite scientific reason behind the practice. Studies on breastfeeding women who consumed fenugreek showed that they produced significantly more breast milk!” (5)

“Now that makes methi sound like such a useful herb, Aunty! But please don’t tell my mother all this, or she’ll start adding it into all our food!”

“Hahaha…she’s already adding it into your rasam and sambar and curry powder, Preethi! In those quantities, it is quite adequate for good health. Remember, taking too much fenugreek is not advisable. In some people, it’s been known to cause stomach upset and bloating; some persons are hypersensitive to it, and may show allergy symptoms such as nasal congestion and cough. Pregnant women must not take fenugreek at all because it causes contractions of the uterus and that’s dangerous in a pregnancy.”

“That gives me an idea, Aunty! The next time she makes a methi dish, I’ll tell my mother what you said.”

“Come on, Preethi, then, you’ll miss out on the good qualities of methi! Instead, tell your mother to mix the methi leaves with little salt and keep aside for 15 minutes. Then, let her squeeze the leaves and use them – it will reduce their bitterness. You’ll get the health benefits, and not have
to crib about the taste, too!”

“Now that’s what I call a win-win situation, Aunty! Thanks for the tip.”


  1. Sauvaire Y, Petit P, Broca C, et al. 4-Hydroxyisoleucine: a novel amino acid potentiator of
    insulin secretion. Diabetes. 1998;47(2):206-210. Available online at
  2. Neelakantan, N., Narayanan, M., de Souza, R.J. et al. Effect of fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-
    graecumL.) intake on glycemia: a meta-analysis of clinical trials. Nutr J 13, 7 (2014). Available
    online at https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-13-7
  3. Keisha T. Roberts.Journal of Medicinal Food.Dec 2011.1485-1489. Available online at:
  4. Wan-Li X, Xuan-She L et al. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2007;16 (Suppl 1):422-426. Available
    online at: http://apjcn.nhri.org.tw/SERVER/APJCN/16%20Suppl%201/422.pdf
  5. Khan TM, Wu DB, Dolzhenko AV. Effectiveness of fenugreek as a galactagogue: A network
    meta-analysis. Phytother Res. 2018;32(3):402-412. Available online at

Disclaimer: The article is not a medical prescription. It is only for information. The opinion expressed are of the author.

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