All You Need To Know About Okra Health Benefits

Written by Varsha Patnaik , MSc (Biotechnology), Certified Diet & Nutrition Coach

The humble okra needs no introduction of any sort. This popular vegetable is found in all parts of the world and is cooked in many different ways. It is popularly known as or lady’s finger. Apparently, when you slice it vertically it looks like the slender fingers of a lady. Across the world, people use okra in different ways. From making pickles to soups, the uses of okra are endless. People have also claimed it to be beneficial to their health. In this article, we will discuss the okra health benefits possible side effects, and ways to incorporate it into your diet.

Nutrition Profile Of Okra

Okra is considered to be one of the best vegetables that you can eat due to its robust and rich nutrition profile. It is packed with vitamins such as vitamin c and B6, minerals, proteins, and is rich in antioxidants. It is also known to be a rich source of fiber that is essential for digestion and maintaining your digestive system (1).

Nutritional Values Of Okra Per 100g (2)

Name

Value

Units

Energy

33

kcal

Protein

1.93

g

Total Fat

0.19

g

Carbohydrates

7.45

g

Dietary Fiber

3.2

g

Total Sugar

1.48

g

Sucrose

0.6

g

Glucose

0.32

g

Calcium

82

mg

Iron

0.62

mg

Magnesium

57

mg

Phosphorus

61

mg

Potassium

299

mg

Sodium

7

mg

Zinc

0.58

mg

Copper

0.109

mg

Manganese

0.788

mg

It’s incredible that this simple vegetable is packed with so many nutrients! In the next section, let us explore the different forms of okra.

What Are The Different Types Of Okra?

Did you know that there are different varieties of okra? Some of these varieties can grow up to 14 inches long. For instance, the cow horn variant of okra has a pod that is 14 inches long. Another variety of okra called the emerald was developed by the famous Campbell’s Soup Company as they tasted brilliant when added to soups.

Some okra varieties produce red and burgundy color pods that are great for making pickles. The burgundy okra adds a nice touch of color to your dishes and is excellent for use in soups and making gumbo. Similarly, the hill country red okra is ideal for making pickles.

There are so many varieties of okra that come in different colors, and sizes, each one more amazing than the other. Now let us look at some of the health benefits of okra.

Top 5 Potential Health Benefits Of Okra

Okra is an extremely healthy vegetable that can be eaten raw, fried, baked, or dried. The okra seeds are a rich source of linoleic acid that is essential for your nutrition. It is a powerhouse of nutrients like pectin and insoluble fiber and is also abundant in antioxidants that are good for your health (1). Let us look at the top 5 potential health benefits of okra.

1. May Help In Lowering Risk Of Heart Diseases

Okra secretes a substance called mucilage. During digestion, it binds itself to cholesterol and prevents it from being absorbed into the bloodstream, and flushes it out as excrement. This helps in reducing cholesterol levels and the risk of cardiovascular issues (1).

Okra in powdered form also helps in reducing cardiovascular risks. A study divided mice into three groups and they were fed a high-fat diet containing 1% or 2% okra powder and one group did not have okra powder in their diet. It revealed that the mice who had okra powder in their diet, had lesser amounts of cholesterol in their blood when compared to the other group. Okra also contains polyphenols that are known to reduce inflammatory markers that are linked to cardiovascular issues (3), (4).

2. May Help In Lowering Blood Sugar Levels

People with high blood sugar levels may often suffer from diabetes. Okra helps in reducing blood sugar levels as studies on mice reveal that okra seed and okra peel has a hypoglycemic effect (5).

However, a study on rats revealed some of the compounds present in okra may interfere in the absorption of metformin, a common medication given to diabetes patients (6). If you are diabetic you should consult with your doctor with regards to eating okra.

3. May Contain Anti-cancer Properties

Okra contains a protein called lectin that may prevent the growth of cancer cells.
A test-tube study conducted on rats to ascertain lectin’s cancer inhibitory properties revealed 63% less growth in the cancer cells(7). Another test-tube study on rats revealed that okra extract killed cancer cells (8).

However, all of these tests were conducted on rats and used concentrated okra extracts. Further research on humans is required to substantiate the effectiveness of okra in fighting cancer.

4. May Help Reduce Stress And Its Side Effects

Okra seeds contain an anti-stress agent called adaptogen that helps relieve stress. A study conducted on rats revealed that blood glucose, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels lowered when they were fed okra extracts. These levels generally rise when you are in a stressful situation (9).

5. May Help During Pregnancy

Okra is rich in vitamin B9, otherwise known as folate, which is essential for pregnant women. According to the CDC, it is recommended that pregnant women get 400mg of folic acid every day. Vitamin B9 in okra helps in preventing miscarriages and the formation of neural tubes of the fetus. It also helps in preventing birth defects like spina bifida and can help prevent constipation during pregnancy (10), (11).

The okra is indeed a power-packed vegetable with numerous potential health benefits. Now let us look at some of the possible side effects of okra.

Side Effects And Risks Of Okra

Okra is a safe and healthy vegetable that can be consumed without risks. However, there are a few side effects of okra.

In some cases eating too much okra can result in diarrhea, gas, and cramps due to the presence of fructans (a polymer of fructose molecules) (12). Another side effect of okra is that it may interfere with diabetes medication and blood thinners (6).

In the next section, you’ll find out how to add okra to your diet.

How To Add Okra To Your Diet

Adding okra to your diet is easy; you can add it to your favorite stew, eat it as a pickle, or can deep fry it, seasoned with salt and pepper, or any other seasoning of your choice, and eat it like chips. The possibilities are endless and are left to your creativity and imagination. Feel free to cook and experiment with okra in your kitchen.

For more reference let us look at a few simple recipes that you can try.

Popular Recipes Using Okra

Here is a quick and easy recipe for okra roast.

Ingredients Required

  • 450g fresh whole okra pods chopped
  • 1 medium-sized onion finely chopped
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup of water
  • salt and pepper according to taste

Preparation

  1. Start by washing the okra and pat drying it with a towel. Once dry, chop the stem end of the okra and set it aside.
  2. In a pan, heat up olive oil, add chopped onion, mustard seeds, coriander powder, chili powder, and cook till onions are translucent.
  3. Add 1 cup of tomato puree and salt as per your taste and stir fry for 2 minutes.
  4. Now add the chopped okra pods, vinegar, and water.
  5. Cover the lid and cook for 5-8 minutes on simmer.
  6. Add pepper powder if you want to give it some spice and heat.
  7. Garnish with some coriander leaves and enjoy it hot and fresh.

Pro-Tips

  • It is better that you use fresh okra rather than the frozen version.
  • You can chop up 2 tomatoes and use them instead if you don’t have tomato puree.
  • If you do not want your roast to be slimy, avoid chopping or slicing the okra pod.

Another easy okra recipe that you can try is fat-free okra chips.

Ingredients Required

  • 250g okra slit lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces (wash before cutting)
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika powder
  • salt as per taste
  • ½ tablespoon chickpea flour
  • ½ tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil

Preparation

  • In a bowl add okra and sprinkle it with some oil so that the seasoning sticks to it.
  • Add all the ingredients and mix well. Ensure all pieces are coated with the seasoning.
  • Preheat the oven to 450℉. Once it is heated, in a baking tray sprinkle some oil and spread the seasoned okra.
  • Place the tray in the oven and bake for 5 minutes. Check if it is cooked. The okra must feel dry to touch.
  • Repeat this process till the okra is cooked. Keep checking frequently to ensure it doesn’t burn.
  • Serve with a dip of your choice or eat as is.

Weren’t they quick and easy-to-make recipes? Make sure you try this and cook it for your friends and family.

In conclusion, okra is an extremely healthy and nutritious vegetable that is easily available in any part of the world. There are 13 different varieties of okra that are cultivated and some of them are even red in color. The nutrient-rich okra has many potential health benefits and a few possible side effects. If you are looking to maintain a healthy lifestyle and a clean diet, okra is one vegetable that you must include in your meal plans.

Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

• Why is okra bad for you?

Okra is generally safe and good for you. In some cases, eating okra excessively may cause gas, diarrhea, and cramps (12). People on diabetes medication and blood thinners should consult a doctor before including okra in their diet as it may interfere with the medication (6).

• Are there any health benefits to eating okra?

Okra has numerous health benefits as it is rich in vitamins and minerals. It can potentially reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and may prevent cancer (1), (3), (4).

• What does okra do to your stomach?

Okra is rich in fiber that helps in the better digestion of your food. In some people, overconsumption of okra leads to gas, diarrhea, and cramping (1), (6), (12).

• Is okra bad for the liver?

Okra is not bad for the liver. Its antioxidant properties may help in protecting the liver from damage (13).

References:

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  1. Nutritional Quality and Health Benefits of “Okra” (Abelmoschus esculentus): A Review
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/277813487_Nutritional_Quality_and_Health_Benefits_of_Okra_Abelmoschus_esculentus_A_Review
  2. OkraRaw
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169260/nutrients
  3. Hypolipidemic Activity of Okra Is Mediated Through Inhibition of Lipogenesis and Upregulation of Cholesterol Degradation
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23606408/
  4. Antioxidative Activities and Phenolic Content of Extracts from Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus L.)
    https://medwelljournals.com/fulltext/?doi=rjbsci.2010.310.313
  5. A review on Diabetes and Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus)
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322571262_A_review_on_Diabetes_and_okra_Abelmoschus_esculentus
  6. Water-soluble Fraction of Abelmoschus esculentus L Interacts with Glucose and Metformin Hydrochloride and Alters Their Absorption Kinetics after Coadministration in Rats
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC3263724/
  7. Lectin of Abelmoschus Esculentus (okra) Promotes Selective Antitumor Effects in Human Breast Cancer Cells
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24129958/
  8. Antiproliferative and Proapoptotic Actions of Okra Pectin on B16F10 Melanoma Cells
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20013817/
  9. Phytochemical Analysis Antioxidant Antistress and Nootropic Activities of Aqueous and Methanolic Seed Extracts of Ladies Finger (Abelmoschus esculentus L.) in Mice
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC4221879/
  10. Recommendations: Women and Folic Acid
    https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/recommendations.html
  11. Review Okra (Abelmoschus Esculentus) as a Potential Dietary Medicine with Nutraceutical Importance for Sustainable Health Applications
    https://www.proquest.com/openview/0930d438ee43e71c584fc715987fd799/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=2032355
  12. Dietary Fructose Intolerance Fructan Intolerance and FODMAPs
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC3934501/
  13. ‘Okra’ Hibiscus Esculentus L.: A study of its Hepatoprotective Activity
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC3745186/
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