Outside of the South, okra is not particularly well-known in the United States. However, despite its slimy texture, it is not only good for the heart but also provides a lot of health benefits to pregnant women and helps people to obtain a uniform blood sugar level.
The okra is a flowering plant with edible fruits. It is grown in warm and tropical regions, such as Africa and South Asia. There are slightly reddish and green okra pods. Biologically, Okra are fruits, but are mostly used as vegetables. In the American South, they are a common ingredient in gumbo, a popular stew dish.
However, okra have a slimy texture that some people don’t find delicious. Although okra is not one of the most common foods, it contains a lot of nutrients.
1. Rich in nutrients
The Okra has an impressive nutritional profile. 100 grams of raw okra contain:
- Calories: 33
- Carbohydrates: 7 grams
- Protein: 2 grams
- Fat: 0 grams
- Dietary fiber: 3 grams
- Magnesium: 14% of the recommended daily requirement
- Folic acid: 15% of the recommended daily requirement
- Vitamin A: 14% of the recommended daily requirement
- Vitamin C: 26% of the recommended daily requirement
- Vitamin K: 26% of the recommended daily requirement
- Vitamin B6: 14% of the recommended daily requirement
Okras are an excellent source of vitamin C and K1. Vitamin C is water-soluble and supports the immune system, while vitamin K1 is fat-soluble and important for blood clotting. In addition, Okra is low in calories and carbohydrates, but contains protein and fiber. Many fruits and vegetables do not provide protein, which makes Okra unique. Protein ensures better weight control, better blood sugar levels, stronger bones, and more muscle mass.
2. Rich in antioxidants
Okra is packed with antioxidants that are good for health. Antioxidants are compounds in foods that counteract harmful molecules called free radicals. Okra pods have an antioxidant effect mainly through polyphenols, including flavonoids and isoquercetin, as well as vitamins A and C. Studies show that a diet with many polyphenols protects against heart attacks and strokes because the risk of blood clots and oxidative damage decreases. Polyphenols also protect the brain from inflammation and thus from age-related damage and improve thinking, learning ability and memory.
3. Lowers the risk of heart disease
High cholesterol is associated with an increased risk of heart disease. In Okra there is a thick jelly-like substance, a mucus that can bind to the cholesterol during digestion, so that it is excreted with the stool instead of being absorbed by the body. This ensures a reduction in cholesterol levels, as studies have shown. The polyphenols in okra pods also promote heart health. A four-year study showed that those who consumed many polyphenols had fewer inflammatory markers in their blood associated with heart disease.
4. Possesses anti-cancer properties
Okra contains lectin, a protein that slows down the growth of cancer cells in humans. A laboratory study with breast cancer cells showed that lectins in okra pods slow down the growth of cancer cells by up to 63 percent. Another laboratory study with metastatic melanoma cells showed that okra extract brought about cell death. However, it must be borne in mind that these are laboratory studies with extracts and concentrated okra substances. Clinical studies with humans have yet to confirm these results.
5. Lowers blood sugar levels
A normal blood sugar level is very important for overall health. A permanently too high blood sugar leads to prediabetes, a preliminary stage of diabetes mellitus, and finally to type 2 diabetes. Studies with mice showed that eating Okra or taking Okra extract lowered blood sugar levels. In rats receiving liquid sugar and purified okra, there were fewer blood sugar spikes. The researchers assume that okra caused less sugar to be absorbed in the digestive tract, resulting in a more stable blood sugar response.
6. Good for pregnant women
Folic acid is an important nutrient for pregnant women. Folic acid lowers the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida (open back), which can affect the brain and spine of the developing fetus. Women who want to become pregnant are recommended to take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. A review study with 12,000 healthy women showed that most took an average of 245 micrograms of folic acid daily. Another study, in which 6,000 non-pregnant women were observed for five years, showed that 23 percent of the participants did not have enough folic acid in their blood. Okra is a good source of folic acid; 100 grams of okra provide 15 percent of the recommended daily requirement for women.
7. It reduces the symptoms of asthma
Asthma is a condition associated with increased oxidative stress in the airways. This oxidative stress results from an excess of free radicals in the body, which only antioxidants can neutralize. Like many fruits and vegetables, okra is an important source of antioxidant vitamin C, which is why it is very effective in relieving asthma symptoms.
It is also scientifically proven that regular consumption of fruits rich in vitamin C (twice a week) significantly reduces wheezing in children.
8. It improves digestion and prevents constipation
Okra is a fruit very rich in dietary fibers which act in 2 ways on intestinal transit:
- insoluble fiber binds water and swells, thus making stools bulkier.
- soluble fibers facilitate their journey through the colon by softening them.
Okra is therefore a natural laxative and thus help improve intestinal well-being.
9. It preserves the health of the eyes
Okra contains vitamins C and E as well as lutein and zeaxanthin, which have a protective action on vision. Indeed, they help delay vision loss and reduce the risk of ocular pathologies such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
10. It improves the quality of hair and skin
Once again, the main culprits for the deleterious effects on hair and skin are free radicals and the oxidative stress they cause. This is why okra, rich in antioxidants thanks in particular to vitamin C, is an excellent ally for revitalizing the hair and preventing discomfort on the skin, such as pigment spots or sagging skin.
11. Strengthens the immune system
As mentioned above, okra is packed with antioxidants which helps limit the action of free radicals. In addition, it contains many nutrients that participate in the proper functioning of the immune system:
- Manganese, which helps prevent damage caused by free radicals.
- Magnesium, which reduces fatigue and whose action is enhanced by vitamin B6
- Iron, which helps transport oxygen to cells through hemoglobin.
- copper, which protects cells against oxidative stress
- Vitamin C, which stimulates the creation of white blood cells, essential for fighting infections
- Vitamin B9 (folate), essential for cell renewal.
12. Easy to incorporate into the diet
Although okra may not be directly a staple in the kitchen, it is easy to prepare. When buying okras, make sure that they are smooth and delicate green, without brown spots or dry ends. Okras can be stored in the refrigerator for up to four days. Okras are usually used in soups or stews such as gumbo.
You should definitely give okra a try because its many nutrients, as well as magnesium, folic acid, fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins C, K1, and A are good for pregnant women, for heart health and a uniform blood sugar level. In addition, Okra prevents has some anti-cancer properties and is easy to prepare.
A journalism student at the University of Florida, Serena writes mostly about health and health-related subjects. On her time off, she enjoys binge-watching her favorite shows on Netflix or going on a weekend get-away.