Also referred to as lady’s finger and gumbo, Okra is a nutritional powerhouse used throughout history for both medicinal and culinary purposes. Once loved by the Egyptians and still used in many dishes today (such as the infamous gumbo dish), this pod-producing, tropical vegetable dates back over 3500 years ago. But still today, many are enjoying both okra health benefits and the vegetable’s edible delight.
Like the kiwi fruit (okra actually shares many kiwi fruit benefits), okra is known for it’s high vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate content,(although not quite as high as kiwi). Further, okra is known for harnessing a superior fiber, which helps with digestion, stabilizes blood sugar, and helps to control the rate at which sugar is absorbed.
But there is much more to okra.
Nutritional Content of Okra:
While the “amount of nutrition” from okra varies based on how it’s consumed (pods, grams, etc), some of the key substances in the vegetable remain the same. Here are some prominent vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients found in okra that deserve some spotlight. Each figure is based on 1 cup (100g) of okra.
- Fiber – 2.5 grams. 10% of RDA (recommended daily value)
- Vitamin C – 16.3 milligrams. 27% RDA.
- Folate – 46 micrograms. 11% RDA.
- Vitamin A – 283 international units. 6% RDA.
- Vitamin K – 40 micrograms. 50% RDA. The vitamin K found in okra is known as vitamin K1, one of two beneficial forms. The other beneficial form is K2; K3 is synthetic and should be avoided.
- Niacin (Vitamin B3) – 0.9 mg. 4% RDA.
- Thiamin (Vitamin B1) – 0.1 mg. 9% RDA.
- Vitamin B6 – 0.2 mg. 9% RDA.
- Magnesium – 36 mg. 9% RDA.
- Manganese – 0.3 mg. 15% RDA.
- Beta carotene – 225 mcg.
- Lutein, Zeaxanthin – 516 mcg.
Check out the USDA Nutrient Database for a full nutritional profile of okra.
The Known Okra Health Benefits – What Okra Has to Offer
As mentioned, Okra is rich in numerous vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that are responsible for the health benefits the plant has to offer. Here are some of okra’s health benefits:
- Okra Promotes a Healthy Pregnancy – An extremely important B vitamin for producing and maintaining new cells, folate is an essential compound for optimal pregnancy. The vitamin helps prevent birth defects like spina bifida and helps the baby to grow sufficiently. Vitamin C is also essential for fetal development. Okra is rich in both folate and vitamin C.
- Helps Prevent Diabetes – Thanks to fiber and other nutrients, okra proves beneficial in normalizing blood sugar in the body, helping with diabetes.
- Helps with Kidney Disease – One study published in the October 2005 Jilin Medical Journal found that regular consumption of okra can help prevent kidney disease. In the study, “those who ate okra daily reduced clinical signs of kidney damage more than those that simply ate a diabetic diet.” This also ties in with diabetes, as nearly 50% of kidney disease cases are caused by diabetes.
- Supports Colon Health – Okra is full of dietary fiber, which is essential for colon health and digestive health as a whole. The fiber Okra provides helps to clean out the gastrointestinal system, allowing the colon to work at greater levels of efficiency. Additionally, the vitamin A contributes to healthy mucous membranes, helping the digestive tract to operate appropriately.
- Could Help with Respiratory Issues like Asthma – Okra contains vitamin C, which has been shown to help with respiratory issues like asthma. One study concluded that “the consumption of fruit rich in vitamin C, even at a low level of intake, may reduce wheezing symptoms in childhood, especially among already susceptible individuals.”
- Promotes Healthy Skin – Vitamin C helps keep the skin looking young and vibrant. The vitamin aids in the growth and repair of bodily tissues, which affects collagen formation and skin pigmentation, and helps to rejuvenate damaged skin. Okra is full of vitamin C. Topical tip: Boil a handful of okra until soft. After letting it cool, mash it, and apply it to your face. After 5 minutes, your skin should feel smooth and rejuvenated.
A Health Benefits of Okra Summary – Okra is Great for:
- Preventing diabetes
- Promoting colon health and preventing colon cancer
- Boosting digestive health
- Weight management
- Promoting a healthy pregnancy
- Maintaining healthy skin
- Protecting against free radical damage
- Relief from respiratory issues like asthma, cough, or trouble breathing
- Promoting eye health
- Boosting mood
Okra is one of many vegetables which produces edible pods. A member of the mallow family, the plant itself is coarse, tall (3 to 6 feet or more in height), and grows in warm seasons. While it is cultivated in areas such as West Africa and South Asia, it is most present in the southern United States and West Indes, The pods produced by okra are used primarily for soups, stews, and are fried or boiled as a vegetable. canning and stews or as a fried or boiled vegetable.
If you are interested in feeling okra health benefits and growing okra yourself, don’t hesitate to start right when you can! Okra is simple to grow during warm seasons, or throughout the year in areas that are more topical. The plant can even be stored in a container.
Here are a few steps to take note of for growing okra yourself:
- Begin by planting seeds about 3-4 weeks after the last frost of the season. Plant 3-4 seeds together about 0.5-1 inch deep. Be sure to separate each planting by about 6 inches, and separate each row of plants by about 2 feet if you plan on growing a large amount.
- After planting, water each area gently with water. Don’t water to the point of puddles forming.
- As the plants break the surface, thin them out and space them about a foot apart as they will widen quite a bit as they mature.
- Once the seed pods form and grow to 3-4 inches in length, they are safe for picking. Be sure to check back routinely for more picking.
Okra grows best in well-drained and manure-rich soil, and takes about 45-60 days to get harvestable fruits.
Cooking and Preparing Okra
Although mostly known as the main ingredient of Gumbo, a culinary dish, okra can and is used in various recipes. Okra pods can be: eaten raw, steamed, cooked, or fried, or included in stews and soups.
For soups and stews, okra pods are often used since they turn into a gooey mucilage after being cooked. However, the mucilage can be avoided if the pods are prepared with acidic ingredients like lemon juice or vinegar.
Here are some preparation and serving tips:
- Since some hybrid varieties sprayed with pesticides and insecticides, it is important to thoroughly wash and wipe okras before slicing and preparing. If available, buying organic will bypass the pesticide issue.
- Trim the top stem end (and tip ends if you like) with a paring knife, then cut or slice the pod as you want.
- Chop or slice pods for stewing or frying under low heat oil to soften mucilaginous content.
- Pods can be pickled and preserved.
- Okra leaves may be cooked or eaten raw in salads.
- You can team or blanch okras for 3-4 minutes, then drain and dry before slicing it. Add the okra to the dish at the end to minimize moisture contact.
- You can also shallow dry okra, which is a method used for many Indian dishes.