What is okra good for?

Outstanding Okra
Botanical name: Abelmoschus esculentus or Hibiscus esculentus

Okra Nutrition Facts

Many people fail to appreciate okra because of its slimy texture.1 However, this vegetable is nutritionally dense, and happens to be loaded with both soluble and insoluble fiber.2

Okra comes from the Malvaceae, or mallow, family3 and is related to cotton,4 hibiscus and hollyhock.5 This pod vegetable is available all-year round,6 usually from July to September, and thrives well in warm climates.7 It is usually green8 with a prickly skin surface9 (although there are types that are smooth10), but you can buy varieties that are purple or red.11

There are many ways to cook okra, including steaming it, stewing it, or baking it. If you’re looking for something simple, you can just boil it in a pot of water. You can also preserve okra by pickling.12

Okra is also called “lady’s fingers” because of its long shape.13 In other areas, it is known as “gumbo,” which is believed to be derived from the Portuguese word “quingombo,” essentially a corruption of the word “quillobo.”14

A 2017 article published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research also highlighted that okra is called “gombo” in France, “quibombo” in Spain, “bamies” in eastern Mediterranean and Arab countries, and “bhindi” in India.15

Health benefits of okra

Okra is high in nutrients but low in calories. A 100-gram serving contains only 33 calories and zero cholesterol.16 It is high in soluble and insoluble fiber as well,17  which may be linked to several benefits, such as optimal digestive function,18 decreased cholesterol levels,19 reduced cardiovascular disease risk20 and ideal weight management.21,22

One key nutrient in this green crop is vitamin C.23 Increasing your intake of vitamin C-rich foods may help support your immune function,24 prevent cell damage triggered by oxidative stress25 and regulate blood pressure levels.26,27

Okra is also good source of B vitamins, such as vitamin B6 (pyridoxine).28 This B vitamin may help metabolize carbohydrates,29 aid in the synthesis of fatty and amino acids,30 promote optimal health of your lymph nodes31 and reduce your risk for insulin resistance.32 But B6 isn’t the only B vitamin in this vegetable, as okra also contains thiamin (vitamin B1), niacin (vitamin B3) and pantothenic acid (vitamin B5).33

Vitamin A can be found in okra,34 which may provide benefits such as improved vision,35 healthy skin and mucous membranes,36 and reduced risk for some types of cancer.37,38,39,40 Okra is also home to flavonoid antioxidants such as beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin41 that may assist in reducing your risk for eye disease42 and enhancing your skin health.43,44

Other vitamins that okra provides include vitamin K and folate.45 Vitamin K assists in your body’s blood clotting function46 and, together with vitamin D and calcium, support your bone health.47 Folate is beneficial for pregnant women as it assists in child development.48 Iron, calcium,49 manganese and magnesium50 are other valuable minerals found in this vegetable.

Okra nutrition facts

Serving Size: 1 cup (100 grams), raw
  Amt. Per
Serving
% Daily
Value*
Calories 33  
Calories from Fat    
Total Fat 0.19 g  
Saturated Fat 0.026 g 0%
Trans Fat    
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Sodium 7 mg  
Total Carbohydrates 7.45 g  
Dietary Fiber 3.2 g  
Sugar 1.48 g  
Protein 1.93 g  
Vitamin A 0.036 mg Vitamin C 23 mg
Calcium 82 mg Iron 0.62 mg

Studies on okra

According to a 2005 study in the Jilin Medical Journal, okra showed positive effects in people with nephropathy or kidney disease. Participants were split into two groups and were given either traditional therapy or traditional therapy with okra for six months. Subjects who belonged to the traditional therapy group with okra had lower levels of urine protein and uric acid, while there were no reported changes in the other group.51 

Authors of a 2012 article in the Saudi PharmaceuticalJournal highlighted okra’s potential in protecting your body against liver diseases. The extract derived from this vegetable has strong antioxidant capabilities that may help protect against chemically induced liver damage. Okra extract was also discovered to promote hepaprotective and antioxidant abilities similar to that of silymarin.52

Okra peel and seed powder were discovered to provide a protective activity against diabetes, as suggested by a 2011 Journal of Pharmacy & Bioallied Sciences animal study. Results highlighted that diabetic rats given either okra peel or seed powder exhibited reduced blood glucose levels and nearly normalized lipid profile levels.53

Okra healthy recipes:
Garlic sautéed okra recipe

Okra Healthy Recipes

Ingredients:

1 pound of okra

1 clove garlic

2 teaspoons coconut oil

Grape tomatoes (optional)

Procedure:

  1. Gather the ingredients.
  2. Trim off and discard the stem ends of the okra, if you like. Rinse the trimmed pods, pat them dry and set them aside. Make sure the ends are dried, since extra water in the cooking process can lead to the slick factor this okra recipe is designed to avoid.
  3. Peel the garlic clove, cut it in half lengthwise and slice it crosswise as thinly as possible.
  4. Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, add the oil, swirl the pan to coat the bottom with the oil and heat until the oil shimmers, about 30 seconds.
  5. Add the garlic and let it sizzle for about a minute until it just starts to turn golden.
  6. Add the okra, stir to coat it with oil and combine it with the garlic. Cover and cook for about eight minutes, shaking the pan frequently to move the okra pods around inside, until the okra is starting to brown on the edges and is tender to the bite.
  7. Transfer the okra to a serving platter or individual plates. Sprinkle with salt to taste and serve.

This recipe makes 1 pound of okra or 4 servings
Total time: 20 minutes
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes

(Recipe adapted from The Spruce Eats54)

Okra fun facts

Okra’s roots can be traced back to Ethiopia, although it was said to have grown in Egypt during the 12th century. Eventually, okra spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East,55 and cultivation in North America started the 18th century.56 Today, okra is frequently used in Southern cooking.57 When it’s sliced, a liquid oozes from it,58 which may be used to thicken sauces.59

Okra can be enjoyed in a number of ways. This vegetable may be chopped, then used in stews,60 sautéed, or fried.61 They may be served with other vegetables62 or meat (like in this Bamia stew recipe63), added to soups (just like in the Caribbean64) or fermented.65 Okra leaves can be used in salads too.66

Summary

Despite its viscous juice, okra has gained popularity all over the world. Okra is available all-year round67 and is a nutritional powerhouse, containing numerous vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

This vegetable is low in calories and fat, and is a known source of B vitamins, vitamins A, C68 and K, folate,69 as well as antioxidants for optimal eye health70 such as beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin.71
Okra also provides minerals such as iron, calcium,72 manganese and magnesium.73 It’s a great source of fiber,74 which contributes to improved digestive health.75 According to studies, okra may deliver protective properties for your kidneys76 and liver77 and help reduce levels of markers linked to diabetes.78

Okra can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, but not everyone appreciates its slimy texture and flavor.79 However, if you love this vegetable and want to incorporate more of it into your dishes, just add it to salads, stews,80 and of course, gumbo.81



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