What Is Okra Good For?
Many people fail to appreciate okra because of its slimy texture. However, okras are popular for their nutritionally dense structure, particularly for their soluble and insoluble fiber content. This vegetable comes from the Malvaceae or mallows family and is related to cotton, hibiscus, and hollyhock.
This pod vegetable is available all year round, especially during summer, and thrives well in warm climates. It is naturally green but some varieties show a red color. Some types have a smooth surface, while others have a rough texture. Because okra is tough to chew, it is usually steamed or boiled before eating.
Okra is widely used all over the world and is known by several names. In some parts of the world, it is called “lady’s fingers” because of its long shape. In other areas, it is known as “gumbo,” which is believed to have come from “quingombo,” a Portuguese corruption of the word “quillobo.” The latter is the native name of okra in African countries, such as Congo and Angola. In France, it is known as “gombo,” while in Spain, it is named “quibombo.” It is called “Bhindi” in India and “bamies” in eastern Mediterranean and Arab countries.
Health Benefits of Okra
Okra is low-calorie. A 100-gram serving of okra contains only 30 calories and zero saturated fats and cholesterol. It is, however, high in soluble and insoluble fiber. The fiber in okra has been linked to several benefits, such as optimal digestive function, low cholesterol levels, reduced heart disease risk, and weight management. Because fibrous foods are more challenging to digest, you’ll feel more satiated when you eat them.
At the same time, okra is actually packed with nutrients. One of the key nutrients of this green crop is vitamin C – about 36 percent of the daily recommended amount. Increasing your intake of vitamin C-rich foods can help support your immune function, prevent free radical damage, and may help regulate blood pressure.
Okras are also a good source of B vitamins, such as vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). This nutrient aids in the metabolism of fat, carbohydrates, and amino acids, promotes the health of your lymph nodes, and can contribute to the regulation of blood sugar levels. Okras are also a good source of other B vitamins, such as niacin, thiamine, and pantothenic acid.
High levels of vitamin A and flavonoids such as beta-carotene, xanthin, and lutein can also be found in okras. These nutrients are associated with good vision, healthy skin and mucous membranes, and even increased protection from cancer.
Okras also provide vitamin K and folate. Vitamin K assists in your body’s blood clotting function and, together with vitamin D and calcium, supports your bone health. Folate is beneficial for pregnant women as it assists in child development.
Minerals that can also be found in this vegetable include iron, calcium, manganese, and magnesium.
|Calories from Fat||1|
|Total Fat||0 g||1%|
|Saturated Fat||0 g||0%|
|Total Carbohydrates||7 g||2%|
|Dietary Fiber||3 g||13%|
|Vitamin A 7%||Vitamin C||35%|
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Studies on Okra
According to a study published in 2005 in the Jilin Medical Journal,1 okra showed positive effects on nephropathy or kidney disease. Participants were split into two groups – one was treated with traditional therapy, while the other group was given traditional therapy with okra. The study, which lasted six months, saw a reduction in urine protein and uric acid in participants who took their treatment with the okra, while there were no changes in the other group.
Another study, published in the Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal,2 highlighted okra’s ability protective function against liver diseases. It was found that okra extract helped protect chemically induced liver damage because of its strong antioxidant activities. At the same time, its beneficial hepaprotective and antioxidant properties were comparable to that of silymarin or milk thistle.
Okra extracts may also provide phytonutrients and protective activity against diabetes, as suggested by a study in the Journal of Pharmacy & Bioallied Sciences.3This was determined through the use of okra extracts in rats with diabetes, who had a decrease in their blood sugar and normalization of their lipid profile levels.
Okra Healthy Recipes:
Okra, Avocado, and Tomato Salad with Chili and Lime Juice
✓ 1 pound of okra
✓ 1 jalapeno pepper (minced; optional: seeded)
✓ 1 Hass avocado, cut in small dices
✓ 1 pound of tomatoes, cut in small dices
✓ ½ cup of chopped cilantro
✓ 5-6 Tbsp. of fresh lime juice
✓ Optional: 1 small red or white onion, chopped and soaked for 5 minutes in cold water, then drained and rinsed
✓ Optional: 1-2 ounces of crumbled queso fresco or feta
- Trim the okra’s stems and tips. Place the okra in a steamer with about 1 inch of boiling water. Cover and steam for about four minutes or until it’s crisp-tender. Drain and rinse with cold water, then slice about ¼-inch thick and transfer to a large bowl.
- Mix in the jalapeno peppers, avocados, tomatoes, and onions (optional). Season with salt and toss. Add the lime juice and cilantro and mix well. If desired, serve garnished with the crumbled queso fresco or feta cheese.
- Makes four to six servings
- It is best to serve this dish immediately after assembling and tossing because the colors may fade and the okra can become viscous.
(Taken from the New York Times)
Okra Fun Facts
Okra originated in Egypt and has been grown there since the 12th century. Its use spread throughout the North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Later on, it was cultivated in North America and today is frequently added to southern cooking. When cut, okras produce a liquid that is used to thicken stews or “gumbos.”
Okra can be enjoyed in a number of ways. In tropical countries, the okra pods are chopped or sliced, then used in stews or fried under low heat to soften their mucilaginous liquid. They are often served with other vegetables, rice, or meat. In the Caribbean, okra is added in soups and served with fish. It can also be fermented like other vegetables, and its leaves can be used in salads.
Did you know that okra can be used on your hair? Boil okra and apply the transparent mucilage – the slimy juice derived from the vegetable – on your hair as a hair conditioner. Doing so can help moisturize your hair, fight dandruff, and even give added shine.
It’s no wonder why, despite its mucilaginous juice, okra has gained popularity all over the world. It’s available all-year round and is a nutritional powerhouse, containing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
This vegetable is low in calories and fat, and is a known source of vitamins A, C, and K, B vitamins, folate, as well as flavonoid antioxidants for eye health such as beta-carotene, lutein, and xanthin. It also provides minerals such as iron, calcium, manganese, and magnesium. It is a great source of fiber, which contributes to your digestive health. According to studies, okra exhibits protective properties for your kidneys and liver, and can be used to prevent the onset of diabetes.
Okras can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, but not everyone appreciates their slimy texture and flavor. If you are one of these individuals, just add okras to salads, stews and of course gumbo.
- Self Nutrition Data, Okra, raw
- New York Times Fitness and Nutrition, September 13, 2011
- FoodReference.com, Okra
- SFGate Healthy Eating, How Much Fiber Is in Okra?
- BC Good Food, Okra
- Aggie Horticulture, Okra, or “Gumbo,” from Africa
- Nutrition-and-You.com, Okra nutrition facts
- Healthiest Foods, Okra
- Natural Society, February 11, 2013
- Stylecraze.com, May 23, 2013
- 1 Jilin Medical Journal The clinical research of Okra in treatment of diabetic nephropathy, 2005
- 2 Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal ‘Okra’ Hibiscus esculentus L.: A study of its hepatoprotective activity April 2012;20(2):135-141
- 3 Journal of Pharmacy & Bioallied Sciences Antidiabetic and antihyperlipidemic potential of Abelmoschus esculentus (L.) Moench. in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats, 2011;3(3):397-402