Okra, also known as lady’s finger or by its scientific name Abelmoschus esculentus, is popular in many countries because of its high nutritional value. It is a good source of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, folate, and fiber. Okra has a mild taste with a unique texture, peach-like fuzz on the outside, and small edible seeds inside the pod. It also has sticky juice that can be used to thicken sauce.
Biologically, okra is classified as a fruit, but it is used as a vegetable in cooking. It comes in colors red and green. Both colors have the same taste, with the red one turning green when cooked. This article will enumerate the nutritional and health benefits of okra.
Nutrition and Health Benefits of Okra
1. Rich in nutrients
One of the health benefits of okra is that it is rich in nutrients. It’s a good source of vitamins C and K1. Okra is low in carbs and calories, high in fiber, and contains some protein, making it unique because most vegetables and fruits do not contain protein. Eating enough protein helps in controlling blood sugar, managing weight, and achieving better bone structure and muscle mass. Okra also provides magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron, niacin, phosphorous, and copper.
One cup of raw okra contains:
Vitamin C: 26% of the DV (Daily Value)
Vitamin K: 26% of the DV
Vitamin A: 14% of the DV
Vitamin B6: 14% of the DV
Folate: 15% of the DV
Magnesium: 14% of the DV
Carbs: 7 grams
Fiber: 3 grams
Protein: 2 grams
Fat: 0 grams
2. Contains many antioxidants
Antioxidants are compounds present in the food we eat that fend off damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals. The main antioxidants found in okra are polyphenols, including flavonoids and isoquercetin, plus vitamins A and C. Research shows that a high dosage of polyphenols improves heart health by reducing the possibility of blood clots and oxidative damage. Polyphenols can improve brain health, cognition, learning and memory, and protect the brain from inflammation and symptoms of aging.
3. May reduce your risk of heart disease
High cholesterol levels can increase your risk of heart disease. Okra contains mucilage, a thick gel-like substance which can bind to cholesterol in the process of digestion, thus excreting it with stools rather than being absorbed by the body. The polyphenol in okra also shows a low inflammatory marker associated with heart disease.
4. May have anticancer properties
Okra contains lectin, a type of protein which might inhibit the growth of cancer cells. One test-tube study showed that lectin in okra may prevent the growth of breast cancer cells by up to 63%. Another test-tube study done in metastatic mouse melanoma cells showed that okra pectin may contribute to the death of cancer cells.
5. May lower blood sugar
Maintaining a healthy blood sugar level is very important for overall health because high blood sugar may lead to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Researchers found that okra reduced the sugar absorption in the digestive tract, causing a more stable blood sugar level. Precautions must be taken, though, since eating okra may interfere with common diabetic medications like Metformin.
6. Beneficial for pregnant women
Pregnant women need Folate (vitamin B9). It helps lower the risk of neural tube defects, which can affect the brain and spine of the developing fetus. Folate is important in preventing miscarriage or pregnancy loss and other health problems for the child, like spina bifida. Women of childbearing age are recommended to consume 400 mcg of folate daily. One cup of okra, about 100 grams, provides 15% of the daily needs of a woman.
Pregnant women may meet their daily folate requirement by simply eating okra. Breastfeeding mothers are also advised by doctors to take more folate. Also, a low folate level may increase the risk of a person developing cancer in the breast, lungs, cervix, and pancreas.
7. May help prevent osteoporosis
Vitamin K present in okra plays an important role in bone formation and blood clotting. Eating foods that are good sources of vitamin K may help in strengthening bones and preventing fractures.
8. May help promote gastrointestinal health
Dietary fiber helps in maintaining a healthy digestive system, thus preventing constipation and minimizing the risk of developing colorectal cancer. People in Asian countries add okra extract to their food to protect them against irritation and inflammatory gastric diseases. Fiber helps in reducing appetite, contributing to weight loss for obese persons.
9. Other health-related uses
In regions where food is scarce, the seeds can be a good source of high-quality protein. Okra seeds can also be used in the small-scale production of oil. The seeds can be roasted and ground and used as a non-caffeinated coffee substitute.
In the field of medicine, the viscous extract of okra was found to be useful as a replacement for blood plasma, as a serum albumin extender, as a suspending agent, as a blood volume expander, in making liquids for suspending compounds, and in binding the compounds in tablets.
10. Easy to add to your diet
When purchasing okra, choose smooth and tender green pods with no brown spots or dried ends. Store them in the refrigerator and consume within 4 days. Okra is quite easy to cook in soups and stews like gumbo. It contains a thick substance called mucilage which becomes gummy when heated. To avoid slimy okra, cook it at high temperature with no crowding in the pan or skillet. Cook it in tomato sauce, pickle it, roast the sliced okra in the oven, or grill it until slightly charred.
Final Thoughts on the Health Benefits of Okra
There are many health benefits of okra. It contains vitamins, antioxidants, folate, minerals, fibers, and protein. It benefits people who have problems with blood sugar control, heart condition, cancer, gastrointestinal diseases, pregnancy, obesity, constipation, blood clotting problems, and high cholesterol.
However, just like other foods, okra should be eaten in moderation and as part of a balanced diet. People taking blood thinner drugs or undergoing medication for blood sugar control should consult their physician before eating okra.
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