Okra, also known as “lady’s fingers,” is a green flowering plant. It’s cultivated in warm and tropical climates, such as those in Africa and South Asia.
Sometimes referred to as “lady’s finger,” okra comes in two colors — red and green. Both varieties taste the same, and the red one turns green when cooked. Biologically classified as a fruit, okra is generally utilized like a vegetable in cooking.
It’s frequently used in Southern American cuisine and a popular addition to gumbo. Yet, it can have a slimy texture, which some people find unappealing. Though it’s not one of the most common foods, okra is packed with nutrition.
Here are 7 nutrition and health benefits of okra.
Rich in nutrients
Okra boasts an impressive nutrient profile.
Okra is an excellent source of vitamins C and K1. Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient that contributes to your overall immune function, while vitamin K1 is a fat-soluble vitamin that’s known for its role in blood clotting.
Additionally, okra is low in calories and carbs and contains some protein and fiber. Many fruits and vegetables lack protein, which makes okra somewhat unique.
Eating enough protein is associated with benefits for weight management, blood sugar control, bone structure, and muscle mass.
Contains beneficial antioxidants
Okra packs many antioxidants that benefit your health. Antioxidants are compounds in food that fend off damage from harmful molecules called free radicals. The main antioxidants in okra are polyphenols, including flavonoids and isoquercetin, as well as vitamins A and C.
Research shows that eating a diet high in polyphenols may improve heart health by lowering your risk of blood clots and oxidative damage.
Polyphenols may also benefit brain health due to their unique ability to enter your brain and protect against inflammation. These defense mechanisms may help protect your brain from symptoms of aging and improve cognition, learning, and memory.
May lower heart disease risk
High cholesterol levels are associated with a greater risk of heart disease. Okra contains a thick gel-like substance called mucilage, which can bind to cholesterol during digestion, causing it to be excreted with stools rather than absorbed into your body.
One 8-week study randomly divided mice into 3 groups and fed them a high-fat diet containing 1% or 2% okra powder or a high-fat diet without okra powder.
The mice on the okra diet eliminated more cholesterol in their stools and had lower total blood cholesterol levels than the control group.
Another possible heart benefit of okra is its polyphenol content. One 4-year study in 1,100 people showed that those who ate a diet rich in polyphenols had lower inflammatory markers associated with heart disease.
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May have anticancer properties
Okra contains a type of protein called lectin, which may inhibit the growth of human cancer cells.
One test-tube study in breast cancer cells found that the lectin in okra may prevent cancer cell growth by up to 63%. Another test-tube study in metastatic mouse melanoma cells discovered that okra extract caused cancer cell death.
Keep in mind that these studies were performed in test tubes with concentrated and extracted components of okra. More human research is needed before any conclusions can be drawn.
May lower blood sugar
Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is very important for your overall health. Consistently high blood sugar can lead to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Research in mice indicates that eating okra or okra extract may help decrease blood sugar levels.
In one study, rats given liquid sugar and purified okra experienced fewer blood sugar spikes than animals in the control group. Researchers suggested that the okra decreased sugar absorption in the digestive tract, leading to a more stable blood sugar response.
That said, okra may interfere with metformin, a common diabetes medication. Therefore, eating okra is not recommended for those taking this drug.
Remedies with okra
- Okra water
Drinking “okra water” is a popular new method of using okra. Some have even suggested that drinking it helps lessen diabetes symptoms. The drink is made by putting okra pods in water and soaking them overnight. Some of the valuable nutrients in the skin and seed pods will be absorbed into the water.
If you’re not crazy about the taste of okra, drinking this okra water solution is a quick and simple way to derive the benefits of okra without eating it. Some people prefer to cut the okra into thin slices instead of soaking the pods whole. If you’re going to prepare okra water this way, be prepared for a drink that is slightly bitter.
- Okra peel and powdered seeds
Okra peel is the most traditional way to use okra medicinally. In the preliminary studies done to investigate the benefits of using okra, using shredded okra peel was seen to be the most favorable way to ingest it.
You can prepare okra peel yourself by using a handheld kitchen grater or a lemon zester. Though there’s no known limit for how much okra peel someone should eat at one time, half of a teaspoon of okra peel should be more than enough for your body to benefit.
Powdered okra seeds are dried out before being ground down. Ingesting the powder from the seeds as a supplement has also been researched and seen to be beneficial.
Beneficial for pregnant women
Folate (vitamin B9) is an important nutrient for pregnant women. It helps lower the risk of a neural tube defect, which affects the brain and spine of a developing fetus.
It’s recommended that all women of childbearing age consume 400 mcg of folate every day. A review that included 12,000 healthy adult women found that most consumed just 245 mcg of folate per day, on average.
Another study that followed 6,000 non-pregnant women over 5 years discovered that 23% of participants had inadequate folate concentrations in their blood. Okra is a good source of folate, with 1 cup (100 grams) providing 15% of a woman’s daily needs for this nutrient.
Easy to add to your diet
Though okra may not be a staple in your kitchen, it’s quite easy to cook. When purchasing okra, look for smooth and tender green pods without brown spots or dried ends. Store them in the fridge for up to four days before cooking.
Usually, okra is used in soups and stews like gumbo. It contains mucilage, a thick substance that becomes gummy when heated. To avoid slimy okra, follow these simple cooking techniques:
- Cook okra at high heat.
- Avoid crowding your pan or skillet, as this will reduce the heat and cause sliminess.
- Pickling okra may reduce the slime factor.
- Cooking it in an acid-like tomato sauce reduces the gumminess.
- Simply slice and roast okra in your oven.
- Grill it until it’s slightly charred.