Okra, also known as lady’s finger, bhindi, bamia, or gumbo, belongs to the mallow family. This string of alternative names only goes to show that okra is well loved all over the world.
The plant, however, is mainly grown in tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate regions, but its acclaim has traveled far and wide. And why wouldn’t it; after all, it’s a good low-calorie, fat-free, nutrient-dense addition to any diet.
Fresh, unripe okra pods and okra leaves are used in a variety of cuisines as a vegetable and can be enjoyed fried, boiled, or pickled.
The seeds are pressed to make the edible greenish-yellow okra oil, which is not only easy on the palette but also gives off a pleasant odor. It only helps that the oil is high in polyunsaturated fats, such as linoleic acid, which are valued for their health benefits.
Enriched with a truckload of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that account for okra’s numerous health benefits, this vegetable can fix a variety of your nutritional deficiencies.
Nutritional Content of Okra
Okra is rich in fiber, vitamin C and K, folate, as well as calcium and potassium. It also contains niacin (vitamin B3), thiamine (vitamin B1), vitamin B6, magnesium, manganese, beta-carotene, and lutein. Given this nutritionally dense profile along with its potent antioxidant properties, okra can very well qualify as a superfood.
Nutritional value of raw Okra per 100 grams:
- Water – 89.58 g
- Energy – 33 kcal
- Protein – 1.93 g
- Total lipid (fat) – 0.19 g
- Carbohydrate – 7.45 g
- Fiber – 3.2 g
- Sugars – 1.48 g
- Calcium, Ca –82 mg
- Iron, Fe – 0.62 mg
- Magnesium, Mg – 57 mg
- Phosphorus, P – 61 mg
- Potassium, K –299 mg
- Sodium, Na – 7 mg
- Zinc, Zn – 0.58 mg
- Vitamin C – 23.0 mg
- Thiamin –0.2 mg
- Niacin – 1.0 mg
- Vitamin B-6 – 0.215 mg
- Folate –60 mcg
- Vitamin A – 36 mcg
- Vitamin K – 31.3 mcg
- As okra pods may have residue from insecticide or pesticide sprays, wash them thoroughly in water before using them.
- Okra is readily available everywhere, but choose the organically grown varieties to enjoy maximum health benefits.
Advantages of Including Okra in Your Diet
Here are some health benefits of okra.
1. Reduces Blood Sugar Levels
Okra contains insulin-like properties that help reduce blood sugar levels. It also has a low glycemic index of about 20, making it a good choice for people with diabetes.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences confirmed the antidiabetic and antihyperlipidemic potential of Abelmoschus esculentus (okra) peel and seed powder in diabetic rats.
Another 2016 study published in the Iranian Journal of Medical Sciences found that okra extract has a hypoglycemic effect that helps decrease blood glucose levels and inhibits cholesterol absorption, which subsequently decreases the level of lipid and fat in the blood.
- Cut off the ends of 4 or 5 okra and prick the body using a fork. Instead of pricking, you can also slit halfway.
- Soak the pricked okra in a glass of water overnight.
- The next morning, remove the okra and drink the water on an empty stomach.
- Do this daily to maintain a healthy blood sugar level.
2. Lowers Bad Cholesterol
Okra may also help lower cholesterol levels.
A 2014 study published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal expounded upon the hypolipidemic activity of okra skin extract and its cholesterol-lowering benefits.
Okra inhibits pancreatic cholesterol esterase activity, reduces the efficacy of cholesterol micellization, and binds to bile acids, which in turn delay cholesterol absorption and increase its excretion through feces.
In addition, it contains no saturated fats or cholesterol and helps prevent heart disease and other health problems caused by cholesterol in the blood.
Include okra in your diet to lower your bad cholesterol level. You can even take okra extract, after consulting your doctor.
3. Treats Leukorrhea
According to folkloric practice, fresh tender okra pods are beneficial in treating leukorrhea, which causes whitish or yellowish vaginal discharge between menstruations.
Its mucilaginous property helps remove mucus from your system, which in turn reduces vaginal discharge. In addition, it boosts your immune system to help fight the problem.
- Wash 1 cup of fresh okra and cut them into small pieces.
- Boil the pieces in 2 cups of water for about 15 minutes or until the water is reduced by half.
- Strain, divide it into 3 parts, and add drink it 3 times a day until you notice an improvement in your condition.
4. Promotes a Healthy Pregnancy
Okra is highly recommended for pregnant women. The important B vitamins in it help ensure the healthy growth of the baby in the womb and prevent birth defects like spina bifida.
In addition, it is rich in folic acid that aids in producing and maintaining new cells, which is important for a healthy pregnancy. Folate also prevents miscarriage. The vitamin C in okra also plays a key role in fetal development.
Furthermore, the high fiber content of okra helps stave off constipation, which is a common problem during pregnancy.
Include okra in your diet during pregnancy, especially during the 4th and 12th weeks when the neural tube develops in the fetus.
5. Backents Liver Disease
Okra may help cleanse the liver and prevent liver disease. It contains substances that bind bile acids and cholesterol to detoxify the liver. It even prevents the accumulation of fats in the liver.
In a 2012 study published in the Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal, researchers concluded that the potent antioxidant property of okra extract has the ability to protect against chemically induced liver damage.
To improve your liver health and prevent disease, include okra in your diet or take an okra supplement after consulting your doctor.
6. Makes Your Hair Soft and Shiny
The antioxidants and vitamins in okra can help you enjoy well-conditioned, shiny, and bouncy hair. It also contains other useful nutrients like copper, zinc, potassium, folate, and thiamine that are good for your hair.
In addition, the transparent mucilage in okra works as a natural conditioner and adds life to dull hair.
- Put 8 to 10 horizontally cut okra in a pot with 1 cup of water.
- Allow it to simmer on low heat until you get a sticky texture.
- Remove it from the heat, add a few drops of lavender or mint oil, and allow the concoction to cool.
- Filter the mixture using a muslin cloth, and store the filtered content in a bottle.
- After washing your hair, apply this homemade conditioner.
- Wait for 5 minutes, and then rinse your hair thoroughly with water.
7. Promotes Healthy Skin
Several nutrients in okra can help keep your skin looking young and vibrant. The vitamin C aids the growth and repair of damaged tissues, which affects collagen formation and skin pigmentation. It also prevents acne, psoriasis, and other skin conditions.
Being a rich source of dietary fiber, it also promotes smooth digestion, which is another important factor for healthy skin.
- Boil 2 cups of chopped okra in about 2 cups of water for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat and set it aside for 10 minutes.
- Remove the okra pods, and mash them with a little jojoba oil or any carrier oil to make a paste.
- Apply it to your face and neck.
- Allow it to sit for 15 minutes, and then rinse it off with water.
- Use this face mask once or twice a week.
8. Improves Digestion
Okra is a good source of dietary fiber, which is good for your digestive and colon health. Fiber facilitates the unobstructed movement of food through the digestive tract by adding bulk to the stool, thereby ensuring easier elimination of waste products from your body.
This, in turn, ensures regular bowel movements, which helps prevent constipation and other gastrointestinal discomforts, such as bloating, cramping, and gas. In addition, the vitamin A content in okra helps the digestive tract function properly.
To improve your digestive health, eat 1 to 2 cups of okra daily. You can use it to make soup or stir-fried dishes.
9. Boosts Immunity
Regular intake of okra can help strengthen your immune defenses. Its high vitamin C content helps stimulate the production of white blood cells, which are our body’s foot soldiers in the battle against foreign pathogens and harmful free radicals.
Its powerful antioxidant nature also strengthens your immunity and reduces episodes of illness. Antioxidants also play a part in warding off heart disease, cancer, and premature aging.
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- Basic Report: 11278, Okra, raw. USDA Food Composition Databases. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/11278. Published April 2018.
- Sabitha V, Ramachandran S, Naveen KR, Panneerselvam K. Antidiabetic and antihyperlipidemic potential of Abelmoschus esculentus (L.) Moench. in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3178946/. Published 2011.
- Khosrozadeh M, Heydari N, Abootalebi M. The Effect of Abelmoschus Esculentus on Blood Levels of Glucose in Diabetes Mellitus. Iranian journal of medical sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27516694. Published May 2016.
- Mäkynen K, Ngamukote S, Adisakwattana S. The okra skin extract and its cholesterol-lowering activities — in vitro study. FASEB Journal. https://www.fasebj.org/doi/abs/10.1096/fasebj.28.1_supplement.1045.28. Published April 1, 2014.
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- S K, S D, A H. Okra (Abelmoschus spp.) in West and Central Africa: Potential and progress on its improvement. Cirad. http://publications.cirad.fr/une_notice.php?dk=558587. Published 2010.
- M’soka NC, Mabuza LH, Pretorius D. Cultural and health beliefs of pregnant women in Zambia regarding pregnancy and child birth. Curationis. https://curationis.org.za/index.php/curationis/article/view/1232/1605#CIT0020_1232. Published 2015.
- Alqasoumi SI. ‘Okra’ Hibiscus esculentus L.: A study of its hepatoprotective activity. Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1319016411000909. Published November 7, 2011.
- Gemede HF, Ratta N, Haki GD, Woldegiorgis AZ, Beyene F. Nutritional Quality and Health Benefits of Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus): A Review. OMICS International. https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/nutritional-quality-and-health-benefits-of-okra-abelmoschus-esculentusa-review-2157-7110-1000458.php?aid=54850. Published May 8, 2015.
- Kanlayavattanakul M, Rodchuea C, Lourith N. Moisturizing effect of alcohol‐based hand rub containing okra polysaccharide. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1468-2494.2012.00715.x. Published April 4, 2012.
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- Wahyuningsih SPA, Pramudya M, Indah NI. Crude Polysaccharides from Okra Pods (Abelmoschus esculentus) Grown in Indonesia Enhance the Immune Response due to Bacterial Infection. Advances in Pharmacological Sciences. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/aps/2018/8505383/. Published October 9, 2018.