Okra has been an underground favorite of health-conscious eaters for some time now since it’s both low in calories and high in nutrients. Affectionately know as lady’s fingers, okra (scientific name: Abelmoschus esculentus) contains tons of fiber, as well as potassium, vitamin B, vitamin C, calcium, and folic acid. One of the hottest research areas for okra health benefits is diabetes management, but that’s far from the only way eating okra can enhance your health and well-being. It’s also been shown to lower physical manifestations of stress, boost your energy levels, and more. Read on to learn about okra nutrition facts and proven ways this vegetable can benefit your health.
What Is Okra?
Okra is a green, flowering plant that belongs to the same plant family as hibiscus and cotton. When we talk about okra, also known as bhindi and gumbo, we’re typically referring to the plant’s edible seed pods.
Okra is particularly popular in the southern United States as well as parts of Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and South America. It’s a staple crop in these regions thanks to its impressive nutritional value and the fact that practically every part of the plant can be used: leaves, buds, flowers, pods, stems, and seeds.
Though okra pods have a mild, entirely unobjectionable flavor, they have quite a distinct texture that some find off-putting. The outside has a peach-like fuzz while the inside contains small, edible seeds and a viscous juice.
If you’re curious about this Southern staple, here are some tips for buying okra, as well as storing it and cooking with it. You want to look for smooth, tender, bright green pods that are free of brown spots and other blemishes. Avoid any okra pods with dry ends. Okra comes into season in early summer in the United States. It’s best when fresh, since storing can increase its natural sliminess. And don’t let the goo turn you off—it’s actually a wonderful way to add a satisfyingly rich texture to stews and sautés.
Exciting Okra Nutrition Facts You Should Know
Okra is a great source of a diverse variety of nutrients. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database, a cup of raw okra (approximately 100 grams) provides:
- Calories: 33
- Protein: 1.93 grams
- Fat: 0.19 grams
- Carbohydrates: 7.45 grams
- Fiber: 3.2 grams
- Sugar: 1.48 grams
- Vitamin K: 31.3 milligrams
- Potassium: 299 milligrams
- Sodium: 7 milligrams
- Vitamin C: 23 milligrams
- Thiamin: 0.2 milligrams
- Magnesium: 57 milligrams
- Calcium: 82 milligrams
- Vitamin B6: 0.215 milligrams
- Folate: 60 micrograms
- Vitamin A: 36 micrograms
Okra also offers trace amounts of iron, niacin, phosphorous, and copper.
Plus, it’s loaded with potent free-radical-fighting antioxidants such as oligomeric catechins, flavonoid derivatives, phenolic compounds, and quercetin derivatives. Research has shown that these compounds have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Not only that, but oligomeric catechins and flavonoid derivatives may be able to lower your risk of cancer.
5 Okra Health Benefits for Your Physical and Mental Well-Being
Thanks to the wealth of nutrients it contains, okra can upgrade your health on multiple levels. Scientists have found compelling evidence to support a number of health benefits of okra. It seems the more we study okra, the more reasons we learn why we should all be eating more of this powerhouse veggie.
1. Balance Blood Sugar
Since reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that rates of diabetes are rising, finding new and effective treatments for diabetes is a public health priority.
Roasted okra seeds have a long history of use in Turkey as a diabetes treatment. When researchers set out to understand the biological mechanisms behind okra’s benefits for diabetes, they found that okra had a hypoglycemic effect, meaning it can bring high blood sugar levels back into balance.
It appears that the antioxidant compounds in okra may be responsible for its ability to balance blood sugar levels, according to one study that focused on its potential use as a treatment for gestational diabetes.
2. Lower Stress Levels
Research indicates that, thanks to the high concentrations of antioxidants it contains, okra can decrease your stress levels.
For one study, scientists used stressful stimuli known to induce behaviors and physiological responses in rats that mimic those of humans with anxiety and depression to evaluate the benefits of okra for mental health. They found that giving the rats okra extract significantly reduced physical markers of stress such as blood glucose, corticosterone, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.
3. Improve Digestion
Okra contains high concentrations of fiber that not only improve your digestion, but also help you stay full for longer and avoid hunger meltdowns.
Findings published in Nutrients, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, state that dietary fiber like the kind found in okra can significantly improve your digestion and overall metabolic health. This, in turn, can reduce your likelihood of developing conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
4. Reduce Cholesterol Levels and Improve Heart Health
Okra, like other foods with high fiber contents and antioxidant qualities, can reduce your cholesterol levels to a healthy range. A 2017 study found that okra seeds have particularly impressive abilities.
A team of researchers looked at how okra impacts your serum lipid profile, which measures your total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and triglycerides. Remember, HDL is the “good” kind of cholesterol and LDL is the “bad” kind. The researchers found that okra significantly reduced bad cholesterol levels as well as body weight, two of the primary risk factors for heart disease. And the polyphenols in okra have been shown to lower the risk of blood clotting.
5. Decrease Fatigue
In addition to its heart-healthy weight-loss benefits, studies have shown that okra can substantially decrease fatigue. Fatigue, a complex physiological phenomenon, can be challenging to treat.
Researchers have found compelling evidence to show that okra seeds contain the compounds that give it such powerful anti-fatigue effects. They believe, based on their strong antioxidant activity, that the polyphenols and flavonoids found in the seeds are the active constituents.
6. Protect Against Cancer
Lectin is a special type of protein in okra that may help suppress cancer cell growth. A test tube study showed that the lectin in okra extract prevented cancer cell growth in human breast cancer cells by up to 63%. More studies need to be conducted before determining the anti-cancer properties of okra and its effects on cancer cells in humans.
7. Increase Folate
If you are pregnant or looking to conceive, then you'll be wanting to increase your intake of folate (vitamin B9), which is a crucial nutrient that decreases the risk of a neural tube defect that affects the development of the brain and spine.
Unfortunately, women fall far short of the recommended 400 mcg of folate each day. According to a review in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, most of the 12,000 female participants only consumed 245 mcg a day. Follow that up with a 2016 study that showed 23% of 6,000 non-pregnant women were insufficient in folate.
Fortunately, okra has 15% of a woman's daily folate needs in just 1 cup!
Cooking with Okra Sans Slime
Ready to add okra to your diet?
Here are some tricks for reducing the slime factor:
- Wash the okra before you cook it and not a moment before! After it sits for a few minutes it should be ready to go.
- Keep the okra whole, or cut it minimally, otherwise, the slime juice will escape. If you need to cut the okra, then do so in big chunks versus thin slices.
- You can also release some of the mucilage from the pods by poking holes in the okra tops.
- Otherwise, freeze the okra and then cut it while it's icy.
- Alternately, soak okra in vinegar for 30 minutes prior to cooking.
- Sauté, blanch, roast, or grill okra at high heat before adding to your recipe of choice.
Try okra out with tomatoes, in a curry, fried, or pickled, and see what your taste buds think!