The Amazing Health Benefits of Okra That Are Based On Science
Okra has amazing health benefits thanks to having lots of beneficial nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
Okra is not just delicious to eat but can be used to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improve your mood, and strengthen your immunity. Many people who have diabetes drink okra water to help regulate blood sugar levels.
To get the best benefits from okra, you can use it in various ways in the kitchen. Okra is delicious in stews and soups or you can grill or roast it with some fresh garlic, pickle it, or make a healthy okra drink from the seeds. So, it doesn’t matter how you decide to consume okra – raw or cooked – you can use the whole fruit to help boost your health.
In this article, you will learn about the many health benefits of okra and how you can use this healthy vegetable (which botanically is actually a fruit) in your diet. You will also find how recent scientific research has backed up many of the health claims that okra is good for your health.
What is Okra?
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus, or Hibiscus esculentus) is a flowering plant that grows in warm climates in South America, the Middle East, and in the southern United States. The Encyclopaedia Britannica says that okra is a member of the mallow family (Malvaceae) and produces large yellow flowers. The fruit or pod measures about 4-10 inches (10-25 cm) and only the tender unripe fruit is eaten.1
Okra becomes gloopy or thick when boiled and therefore is used to thicken many stews, broths, and soups. You can also prepare okra by pickling it, sautéing it, or frying it. In the southern United States, okra is often used in gumbos.
Other names for okra include lady’s fingers (or, ladies fingers), bhindi, bendakaya, bamia or gumbo.
Is Okra a Fruit or a Vegetable?
Okra is technically a fruit, but is eaten as a vegetable. From botanical perspective, an edible plant is considered a fruit if it has seeds, whereas if it’s seedless, such as roots, leaves and stems, it is considered a vegetable.21
In terms of culinary uses, however, many foods that are botanically fruits, but have savory taste rather than sweet, are typically considered vegetables.
Okra Nutrition Facts and Benefits
Packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber
Okra is packed with vitamins and minerals and is an extremely nutritious vegetable to include in your diet. Okra also contains a large amount of fiber that can help improve your digestive health and slow down the release of glucose into the bloodstream.
Excellent source of vitamin C
According to the University of Arizona, okra contains impressive levels of essential vitamins that we need to stay healthy. For example, one cup of okra contains about 40% your recommended daily vitamin C needs. This means that okra can help boost your immunity and keep your skin looking healthy.2
Rich in vitamin K
Okra is rich in vitamin K which your body needs to help blood clot properly and prevent bruising and improve bone health.2
Good source of vitamin A
Okra is also a rich source of vitamin A and other antioxidants that help to maintain good vision and rid your body of free radicals and the visible signs of aging.
Contains high levels of magnesium
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, okra also contains high levels of magnesium. Magnesium is an essential nutrient to give you energy, regulate blood pressure, and control blood sugar levels.
Calcium and potassium
Other important beneficial nutrients in okra are calcium and potassium which help maintain good bone health and control muscle function.3
Good source of folate (B9)
Another beneficial nutritional value of okra is that it contains many B-group vitamins. For example, 100 grams of okra contains around 20% of your recommended daily folate (B9) intake. It is known that folate is essential during pregnancy. Your body needs folate and vitamin B12 to prevent anemia and to boost the immune system and brain function.
Low carb vegetable
Okra is also a healthy lower-carb vegetable if you consume low carb diet.
Okra Health Benefits
Taking into consideration the many health benefits of okra, it’s not difficult to see why this wholesome pod can help boost your health. Let’s look at what scientific research has revealed as to the benefits of consuming okra.
Full of nutrients
One of the best reasons for consuming more okra is that it is packed full of nutrients that are essential for good health.
The journal Food Science & Nutrition stated that okra is a rich source of vital nutrients required by the body to maintain a healthy immune system. The researchers stated that among the beneficial nutrients found in okra are:4
- Calcium that is needed for strong bones and healthy teeth.
- Iron to keep your blood healthy and produce red blood cells.
- Potassium for maintaining normal blood pressure levels.
- Zinc to help protect DNA and strengthen your immune system.
- Antioxidants that help to eliminate free radicals from your body and protect against diseases.
- Dietary fiber to improve the health of your digestive system.
The researchers concluded that okra is a rich source of mineral, vitamins, and nutrients in the diet.
If you suffer from fatigue and a general lack of energy, consuming more okra in your diet can help to boost your energy naturally.
The journal Nutrients published a study showing that okra contains anti-fatigue properties. Certain enzymes and nutrients in the seeds of the okra plant reduce levels of blood lactic acid and other chemicals that affect feelings of fatigue. The research found that okra seeds have anti-fatigue properties and okra pods are rich in antioxidants.5
Helps lose weight
There are a number of ways that okra can help you shed pounds of excess weight quicker than you might imagine.
As research in this article has shown, okra is a rich source of dietary fiber, and consuming okra in meals will keep you feeling fuller for longer. Also, okra is very low in calories but high in vitamins in nutrients. This means that okra can help to nourish your body without piling on extra pounds of excess body fat.
Controls cholesterol levels
You can help reduce cholesterol levels in your blood by eating more okra in your diet. Not only does okra contains no fat, it also has compounds that actively reduces “bad” cholesterol (or, low-density lipoprotein, LDL cholesterol).
According to research published in the journal Phytotherapy Research, components in okra reduce fat cells in the blood. In animal study, dried okra powder was added to the diet, and after 8 weeks the total cholesterol in blood was lower. It was also found that raw okra can help to manage conditions associated with high LDL cholesterol and other metabolic disorders.6
Apart from using okra to control or lower cholesterol levels, there are other ways of lowering cholesterol naturally. These include eating more fiber, reducing the amount of unhealthy fat in your diet, and consuming more omega-3 and healthy fats.
Regulates blood sugar levels
One of the many health benefits of okra is that it helps to prevent blood sugar levels spiking after a meal.
A review of medical literature on the benefits of adding okra to a diet found that okra is a food that has a hypoglycemic effect. Over time, okra extracts can reduce levels of glucose in the blood and can be useful in managing type 2 diabetes.7
Near the end of this article, you can find more information on how to use okra for diabetes as well as some ways to prepare okra water for diabetes.
Reduces stress and anxiety and boosts your mood
One of the benefits of eating okra or making okra water is that it can help to reduce stress and lift your mood at the same time. In fact, extracts of dried okra have been found to have a similar effect as some drugs that are prescribed for anxiety.
The Scientific World Journal published a clinical trial on how eating okra extracts can have a calming effect and get rid of stress. It was found that okra has an anti-anxiety, anti-stress, and anti-depression effect. Okra supplements helped to induce calm and reduce physiological and biochemical responses to stress. The dried okra had a similar effect to benzodiazepine drugs that treat depression and anxiety.8
Research carried out in 2013 found that okra extracts have antidepressant properties. In one clinical trial, okra extracts were as effective as some pharmaceutical antidepressants. The researchers concluded that okra can be used as a natural antidepressant.12
If you are battling with feelings of anxiety, depression, and despair, then you can also try some natural alternatives to depression drugs. There are also many essential oils that have mood-boosting properties and can help with fatigue, depression, and anxiety. You can also help to reduce the effect that stress has on your body by trying some of my natural methods to cope with stress and anxiety.
Protects the liver
This delicious and versatile lady’s finger fruit also has properties that protect the liver from damage and can prevent liver disease.
A study published in the Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal found that okra has an antioxidant effect on liver tissue. In the study, okra helped to stop liver disease and had liver-protective properties. Okra extracts increased protein concentration in the liver and helped to counteract the effects of liver disease.
It’s important to recognize the early signs of liver disease and avoid unhealthy habits that can damage the liver. As well as using okra to cleanse your liver, some other foods that help to keep your liver healthy include drinking plenty of water, consuming cold pressed oils, and consuming green leafy vegetables.
Helps treat ulcers and gastritis
Because of the gelatinous liquid that okra produces, the nutritional benefits of okra mean that it is an excellent treatment for gastritis and stomach ulcers. The high amount of mucilage in okra helps to glue bacteria in the gut and treat the symptoms of ulcers.
Peptic ulcers and gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining) are often caused by the Helicobacter pylori infection. According to the journal PLoS One, okra can bind H. pyloribacteria to it and prevent the bacterial infection damaging stomach lining. This process is caused when the glue-like juice from okra inhibits bacteria infecting the gut.9
Some of the symptoms of gastritis include a burning sensation in your stomach, pain below your ribs, and abdominal discomfort after eating.
Boosts cognitive power
The health benefits of okra also extend to boosting your brain’s cognitive abilities and may also help prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.
According to a study published in the journal Neurochemistry International, compounds in okra have a protective effect on the brain. It was found that quercetin and rutin from okra helped to improve learning abilities and reverse cognitive deficits.10
Other studies have pointed to the fact that okra extracts can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and protect against other degenerative neurological diseases.11
There are also many herbs that can help to boost your brain function. For example, peppermint, rosemary, and ginkgo leaf all help to improve brain power.
Can assist with symptoms of asthma
One of the benefits of eating okra is that it can help treat the symptoms of asthma and other respiratory conditions.
For example, the journal Clinical and Translational Allergy reported that okra is one of the fruits and vegetables that can help reduce asthma symptoms.13 The anti-asthma effect of okra could be due to the high content of vitamin C in okra that helps boost immunity and improve bronchial symptoms.14
Okra is one of the foods that can help to cleanse your lungs. You can also try these essential oils to relieve asthma.
The nutritional benefits of okra also extend to it having anti-cancer properties and helping to reduce the size of tumors.
The journal Phytotherapy Research reported that extracts of okra pods can help to treat melanoma cells and be effective against skin cancer.15 Also, okra extracts have been shown to have a positive effect in reducing breast cancer cells.16
It’s important to remember that the evidence of okra as an anti-cancer treatment has only been shown in clinical settings. Scientists say that more research has to be carried out to see how okra can be used to treat various cancers.
Okra Benefits for Diabetes – Recent Studies
One of the greatest benefits of okra if you suffer from type 2 diabetes is that okra can help to lower blood sugar levels. This is one of the most important factors in treating diabetes mellitus and preventing diabetes complications.
The journal IRSN Pharmaceuticals reported on 2011 that the dietary fiber content of okra helps to reduce glucose absorption. It was noted that okra has been traditionally used to treat type 2 diabetes to control blood glucose levels after a meal.17
Another study published the same year on the Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciencies found that consuming powdered okra seeds and peel extracts for 28 days resulted in a significant reduction in blood sugar levels (the seed extract provided higher reduction in blood sugar than the peels). In addition, scientists noted that okra helped reduce elevated lipids and that the lipid profile returned to near normal. 22
In 2013 the journal Natural Product Communications pointed out that the seed extracts from okra can help to inhibit glucose absorption.18
One of the ways that you can manage your diabetes symptoms is to drink okra water. At the end of this article, you can find out how to make okra water for diabetes.
Safety concerns for people with diabetes
It has to be noted that okra may interact with some medication for diabetes. The journal ISRN Pharmaceuticals (quoted earlier) found that okra can affect how metformin hydrochloride works. They recommended that people treating diabetes with metformin don’t consume high quantities of okra.17
Other Precautions with Okra
Although okra is generally safe to consume and is used to help treat various ailments, there are some precautions that you should be aware of.
Gastrointestinal problems. Okra is high in fructose and if you have fructose intolerance okra can cause digestive upset.19 This includes abdominal cramping, bloating, diarrhea, and excess gas. Also, people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)may find that their symptoms are worse after consuming okra.
Kidney stones. If you suffer from kidney stones, then you may want to avoid okra. Okra contains sources of calcium oxalates, and studies have shown that these minerals can form kidney stones.20
Blood clotting. The vitamin K content of okra means that it can help with blood clotting. However, high amounts of okra can affect blood-thinning medication. If you are at risk of blood clotting or deep vein thrombosis, you should speak to your doctor about using okra for its health benefits.
Is Okra Safe During Pregnancy?
Studies have shown that okra has many health benefits for the general population and can boost your health. There is no medical research pointing to specific precautions for pregnant women using okra. However, if you have fructose intolerance, are prone to kidney stones or blood clots, you should speak to your healthcare advisor.
How to Use Okra for its Health Benefits
Many people say that okra tastes something like eggplant or zucchini. Others say that the taste of okra resembles fresh green beans. However, much of the taste and consistency of okra depends on the method of preparation.
Okra water for diabetes
To get the many health benefits of okra, lots of people make their own okra water. Okra-infused water can deliver many of the health benefits mentioned in this article and can help treat diabetes. This also makes sure that many of the vitamins and nutrients aren’t destroyed in the cooking process.
How to make healthy okra water:
- Thoroughly wash 4 medium size okra pods.
- Slice down both ends of the pods.
- Poke the pods with a fork on opposite sides or split them in half.
- Place in an 8-oz. glass of water and leave overnight.
- In the morning, squeeze the goopy substance from the pods before discarding them from the water.
- Drink daily to help give your health a boost and benefit from the nutritional content of okra.
How to get the health benefits of cooked okra
One of the things that puts many people off cooking “ladies fingers” is that they tend to become slimy and unpleasant to eat. However, there are ways to cook okra to make the pods taste delicious and prevent them from becoming slimy.
How can you prevent okra from becoming slimy when cooking? Here are some ideas:
- Always cut the okra just before adding to a dish. This prevents the slime forming too early.
- Soak whole okra pods in vinegar or lemon juice for 30 minutes before cooking. Rinse well and dry before cutting and using.
- If using okra as a thickener for gumbo or stews, blanch the whole, uncut okra first. Add chopped slices of okra 10 minutes before the end of cooking.
Other ways to use okra – serving suggestions
- Cut okra pods into 1/4-inch slices, dip in some beaten egg and leave them to soak for 5 minutes. Dip the sliced pods in cornmeal and shallow fry them to make delicious okra fritters.
- Steam sliced okra pods and use them as an enjoyable side dish with rice and vegetables or meat.
- Pickle okra pods to preserve them as you would with other vegetables.
How to Select and Store Okra
The fibrous, 5 to 15 centimeters long fruits are best when eaten fresh and slightly immature. If you buy pods that have been left on the plant for too long, they become woody and don’t taste nice. Always buy bright green pods and avoid those that look discolored with dark spots or cuts.
Since okra is very perishable, eat them on the day of purchase if you can. Otherwise refrigerate them in a brown paper bag and use them within two to three days. If you cannot find fresh okra, canned okra (like this one) and dried okra (like this one) can also be used to create okra water for diabetes treatment.