Okra is a flowering vegetable plant known for its edible seeds. It is grown and consumed in almost every part of the world. Sometimes referred to as the “Lady Finger”, although okra is not one of the most common foods, it is packed with nutrients. The taste of okra depends upon its preparation method. It is often used in South American cuisine and is a popular addition to okra. However, it can have a sticky texture, which some people find unpleasant.
In this article, we have discussed the health benefits of okra, nutritional profile, and side effects of okra. Scroll down to get started.
What Is Okra?
Okra is a fruit, though it is eaten as a vegetable. The light green seed pods are cooked whole or sliced, so preparation is extremely easy. Okra is organically classified as a fruit and is generally used as a vegetable in cooking. Okra is a drought-resistant annual that thrives in warm, humid weather.
- Botanical Name: Abelmoschus esculentus
- Family: Malvaceae
- Species: A. esculentus
- Genus: Abelmoschus
- Kingdom: Plantae
- English Name: Lady’s Fingers or Gumbo
In the following section, we will look at the health benefits of okra.
Okra Health Benefits
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is widely used in Africa, the Middle East, Greece, Turkey, India, the Caribbean, South America and the Southern U.S. Okra is a nutritious food with many health benefits. Here are 7 amazing benefits of okra:
1. Rich In Nutrients
Okra has an impressive nutritional profile. Okra is a good source of vitamins C and K1. Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient that contributes to the general immune function, while vitamin K1 is A.
A fat-soluble vitamin that is known to play a role in blood clotting (2, 3).
Okra is also low in calories and carbohydrates and contains some protein and fiber. Many fruits and vegetables are not available
The protein that makes okra unique.
Adequate protein intake is associated with benefits from weight management, blood sugar control, bone structure and muscle mass (4, 5).
2. Contains Beneficial Antioxidants
Okra contains many antioxidants that are beneficial to your health.
Antioxidants are compounds found in foods that protect against damage from harmful molecules called free radicals.
The main antioxidant in okra
Polyphenols, including flavonoids and isoxycetin, as well as vitamins A and C.
Research shows that eating a diet rich in polyphenols can improve heart health by reducing the risk of blood clots and oxidative damage.
Polyphenols can also benefit brain health due to their unique ability to enter the brain and protect against inflammation.
These defense mechanisms can help protect your brain from the symptoms of aging and improve cognition, learning and memory.
3. May Reduce The Risk Of Heart Disease
Levels of High cholesterol are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
Okra contains a thick, jelly-like substance called mucus, which can attach to cholesterol during digestion, causing it to be excreted in the feces instead of being absorbed by the body.
An 8-week study randomly divided mice into 3 groups and fed them either on a high-fat diet containing 1% or 2% ground okra or on a high-fat diet without okra powder.
Mice that follow the okra diet secrete more cholesterol in the stool and have lower levels of total blood cholesterol than the control group.
Another potential heart health benefit of okra is its polyphenol content. A four-year study of 1,100 people found that those on a polyphenol-rich diet had fewer inflammatory markers associated with heart disease.
4. May Have Anti-cancer Properties
Okra contains a type of protein called lectin, which can inhibit the growth of human cancer cells.
A study of test tubes in breast cancer cells found that lectin in okra can prevent the growth of cancer cells by up to 63%.
Another study of test tubes in metastatic mouse melanoma cells found that okra extract caused cancer cell death.
Note that these studies were performed in test tubes with concentrated and extracted okra ingredients.
More human research is needed before conclusions can be drawn.
5. It Can Lower Blood Sugar
Maintaining a normal blood sugar levels is very necessary to your overall health. Consistently high blood sugar can lead to type 2 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Research in mice shows that consuming okra or okra extract can help lower blood sugar levels.
In one study, rats fed liquid sugar and peeled okra had lower blood sugar levels than animals in the control group.
The researchers suggested that okra reduced the absorption of sugar in the digestive system, leading to a more stable response to blood sugar.
That said, okra can affect metformin, a common diabetes drug.
Therefore, the consumption of okra is not recommended for those taking this medicine.
6. Beneficial For Pregnant Women
Folic acid (vitamin B9) is an important nutrient for pregnant women. Helps reduce the risk of neural tube damage, which affects the brain and spine of a developing fetus.
It is recommended for all women of childbearing potential to consume 400 mcg of folic acid daily.
A review of 12,000 healthy adult women found that most consumed just 245 mcg of folic acid a day, on average.
Another study of 6,000 non-pregnant women over the age of 5 found that 23% of participants had low levels of folic acid in their blood.
Okra is a good source of folic acid, with 1 cup (100 grams) providing 15% of a woman’s daily needs for this nutrient.
7. Easy Addition To Your Diet
Although okra may not be a staple in your kitchen, it is very easy to cook. When buying okra, look for smooth and tender green pods without brown spots or dry edges.
Store them in the refrigerator for up to four days before cooking. Okra is commonly used in soups and stews such as gumbo. It contains mucus, a thick substance that becomes sticky when heated.
We have seen the many benefits of okra. What about taking a peek into its history?
History Of Okra
Okra apparently originated from present-day Ethiopia, the mountainous or plateau portion of Eritrea, and the eastern, higher part of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, in what the geobotanists call the Abyssinian center of origin of cultivated plants.
Okra is grown in warm tropical climates, such as those found in Africa and South Asia. The vegetable plant was introduced to the Americans by ships plying the Atlantic slave trade by 1658, when its presence was recorded in Brazil. Okra was further documented in Suriname in 1686. It may have been introduced to southeastern North America from Africa in the early 18th century.
In the following section, we will look at the rich and varied nutritional profile of okra
What Is the Nutritional Profile of Okra
- Okra contains potassium, vitamin A, vitamin B6 (23.00%), Magnesium, Vit. K (53.33%), and Vit. C (29.00%), folic acid, and calcium. It’s low in calories and has a high dietary fiber content.
- A one-cup serving of boiled okra slices contains: Calories: 35 Kcal./cup, Protein: 3 grams, Fat: 0 grams, Carbohydrates: 7 grams, Fiber: 4 grams, Sugar: 4 grams
- Antioxidants in okra help reduce the risk of serious health conditions like cancer, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
Before you start cooking with okra, you may want to pick the right okra and store it properly.
How To Select, Use And Store Okra
Fresh okra should feel firm but not hard. Look for bright green pods with unblemished skin. A little browning on the stem shouldn’t be a concern, though the greener it is, the fresher the okra. It’s not a highly popular fruit, and not all grocers stock it fresh.
The best chances of finding it would be May through September when it’s in season. A lot of grocery stores sell it precut and frozen in 12- to 16-ounce bags. Grocery stores in the U.S. typically sell fresh okra by the pound during the summer months when it’s in season.
It’s pricier in the winter months when it’s imported. Okra produce edible seed pods after a pretty white, yellow, pink, or red hibiscus-like flower emerges.
It can be stored in your refrigerator’s vegetable compartment in paper bags for up to four days. You can also wrap it loosely in plastic. When you’re ready to prepare it for cooking, remove it from the fridge and bring it up to room temperature first.
This will reduce the amount of moisture released from cooking. Gardeners who have an over-abundance of okra (which is often the case as pods tend to mature all at once) can freeze them for up to a year. To freeze okra , wash and stem the pods, blanch in boiling water for a few minutes, dunk them in an ice water bath, chop, and flash freeze before packing in freezer bags. Or follow the method of Southern cooks, who fry or bake battered pods before freezing.
In the following section, we will explore how to use okra for cooking.
How To Use Okra For Cooking
Okra is most commonly used in soups and stews. It can be cooked in so many ways. However, choosing the right cooking method, such as frying, grilling, sautéeing, and pan-roasting, can reduce or prevent it from becoming slimy. Okra contains mucilage, a substance that acts as a natural thickener when heated. While this is beneficial to dishes like gumbo, it also produces the sliminess so often associated with okra.
In some Caribbean regions, okra is breaded and deep-fried while in other cuisines it is pickled, which is one way to cut down on its slimy consistency. You will need to rinse and pat okra dry before cutting or slicing it.
The way you slice it can vary from one household to the next, not to mention from one part of the world to another. Okra can be cut into rounds, sliced lengthwise, or cut diagonally.
Of course, you can always opt to leave it whole. A few methods have proven successful in reducing the slime quotient of cooked okra.
Some cooks suggest soaking it in vinegar before cooking but just make sure to thoroughly pat it dry afterward. Cooking it at very high heat, such as by grilling or sautéing, also works. You can precook okra this way before adding it to other recipes.
Follow these simple cooking techniques, to avoid slimy okra:
- Cook okra over high heat.
- Avoid filling your pan or skillet, as this will reduce the heat and cause weakness.
- Okra pickling can reduce the mud factor.
- Cooking in a tomato sauce that looks like acid reduces the gum.
- Just cut and bake okra in your oven.
- Bake until lightly browned..
Before you start to include okra in your diet, it is important to be aware of its side effects as well.
What Are The Side Effects Of Okra?
Okra is possibly safe when consumed in recommended amounts in the short term. But eating too much okra may cause some adverse effects in some people. These may include:
Gastrointestinal Problems: Okra contains fructans, which is a type of carbohydrate. Fructans can cause diarrhea, gas, cramping, and bloating in people with existing bowel problems. Kidney stones: Okra is high in oxalates.
Side Effect Of Okra To Man
Apart from its nutritional and medicinal values, okra is associated with sterility in humans especially men due to the presence of gossypol in the seed. Recently, some studies claimed that excess consumption of okra may have injurious effects on sperm parameters, testes weight, and testicular tissues.
Okra is a nutritional food with so many health benefits. It is rich in magnesium, folic acid, fiber, antioxidants and vitamins C, K1 and A. Benefits of okra are so many including: pregnant women’s, heart health and blood sugar control. It may even have anti-cancer properties. Cooking okra can be simple. Add it to the grocery list to try a new ingredient with strong health effects.