Have you heard of okra? Perhaps you know it better as lady’s fingers, bamia, bhindi or gumbo? Whatever the name, this green veggie is something everyone should be talking about because of its powerful health benefits.
From weight loss to cancer prevention, okra covers a wide spectrum. But what everyone wants to know, does it taste good? Well, the flavour is pretty mild but it depends on how you cook it. Why not try it yourself and see what you think?
What is Okra?
Okra is a vegetable from a tall plant that grows in warm and tropical climates. Although it’s become an “in” superfood lately, its history traces back to ancient Ethiopia, travelling on to the Eastern Mediterranean, India, the Americas and the Caribbean. The part of the plant traditionally eaten are the pods. (source)
The Health Benefits of Okra
1. Weight Loss
Okra is a great vegetable to add to your regular diet if you’re trying to drop a few pounds. The pods are very low in calories (just 30 kcal in 100g) so you can eat as much as you want. Their high fibre content, which I’ll elaborate on later, also helps fill your stomach, meaning you won’t be as hungry and will get by on smaller portions. (source)
2. Improving Blood Glucose Levels in Diabetes
Most of the recent hype around okra is related to its effect in diabetics. Type II Diabetes is on the increase in developed countries so this is a very valuable finding. In Turkey, roasted okra seeds have been used as a traditional remedy for diabetes for decades. Recent research supports this too.
A study in The Journal of Pharmacy & BioAllied Sciences found that feeding dried, ground okra peels and seeds lowered blood glucose levels in diabetic lab mice. It’s theorised that the insoluble fibre content of okra slows absorption of sugar from your digestive system. (source)
3. Lowers Cholesterol
Not only does okra contain no cholesterol or saturated fats itself, making it a super heart-healthy food – it can also help lower your cholesterol levels. (source) Again, this benefit can most likely be attributed to its fiber content as fiber binds to cholesterol and removes it from the body. (source)
4. Aids Digestion
As you’ve probably picked up from the mention of fiber above, okra is great at preventing constipation. The high levels of dietary fiber act as a natural laxative, creating a thick mucilage substance in the gut that lubricates the intestine and pushes food through your digestive system. (source)
Conversely, it also prevents diarrhea by adding bulk to watery stools. (source) A smoother digestive process leads to a reduction in bloating, cramps and gas, making it a good choice for IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) sufferers.
5. Reduces the Risk of Cancer, Especially Colorectal Cancer
Increased intake of fibre clears “toxins” from your colon, leading to lower risk of colorectal cancer. There’s also evidence emerging that okra may help fight breast cancer by inhibiting growth. (source)
6. Contains High Levels of Vitamin A
7. Contains Folates
100 grams of okra will give you 22% of your recommended daily amount of folates. Folates are particularly important before and during pregnancy to help prevent birth defects such as spina bifida. (source)
8. Contains High Levels of Vitamin C
Okra pods have provide around 36% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C. Vitamin C helps boost your immune system leaving you less susceptible to coughs, colds and other minor infections. (source)
9. Contains High Levels of Vitamin B
I feel like I’m listing off the alphabet of vitamins here but okra is really packed with nutrients – vitamins included. B vitamins such as niacin, B6, thiamin and pantothenic acid are important for energy.
10. Vitamin K
Vitamin K is involved in clotting, this means people who take blood thinning medicines must avoid okra due to interactions. For most others, however, okra is a great source for your daily intake of vitamin K and also contributes to bone strength. (source)
11. May Ease Asthma Symptoms
As I mentioned above, okra contains high levels of vitamin C. A study in Thorax found that intake of vitamin C protected against wheezing symptoms in childhood. Eating food high in vitamin C once or twice a week is enough to benefit in this way. (source)
12. Prevents Kidney Disease
A study in The Jilin Medical Journal found that patients who ate okra daily had lower signs of kidney damage. (source)
How to Use Okra
The best time to eat okra pods is when they are fresh and slightly immature. If they are too old they become woody and have a bad taste. When buying okra pods, avoid those that look sunken or dry and have discolored spots or cuts. If possible, eat them on the same day you buy them or store in the refrigerator for no more than two days. (source)
Cooking with Okra
Okra is a really versatile vegetable – it can be incorporated into your cooking in lots of ways. Here are some ideas:
- Stew okra under low heat with other vegetables
- Deep or shallow fry in oil
- Pickle okra to preserve
- Eat raw in salads
- Steam the pods and eat as a side dish
- Roast and grind, mix with coffee beans to make flavourful coffee
It might be hard to find okra at your local grocery store, depending on where you live, so if you’ve got the right climate and a garden, why not try to grow it yourself? Even if you don’t live in the tropics, you can grow it during summer if it gets hot enough.
Here are the basics for growing okra:
- Plant okra seeds 3-4 weeks after the last frost of the season
- Plant 3-4 seeds together under ½-1 inch of soil
- Leave 6 inches between each group
- After planting, water gently
- When the seed pods grow to 3-4 inches, they are ready to be harvested
- It takes about 45-60 days to be ready for harvesting
Eating lots of okra is definitely a good idea, as you can see from the list of benefits above. However there are one or two things to be careful of. For example, if you take antidiabetic medicine metformin, okra can lower absorption so it’s not advised.If you take blood thinners, the vitamin K in okra creates a major interaction so you should avoid it completely. Another point is the level oxalates in okra. If you are prone to kidney or gallstones, don’t eat too much okra as it can cause them to worsen. (source)
I hope this article has encouraged you to give cooking with okra a try. The health benefits of okra are so great that even if it tasted bad I’d probably still eat it! Luckily, that’s not the case, it tastes pretty good, especially when fried. Frying isn’t the healthiest way to cook it but every now and then it’s a delicious treat.