Okra is a vegetable commonly used in various international cuisines and Southern cooking but one that many people may be unfamiliar with. The ridged green vegetable is sometimes called ladies’ fingers. It is a popular ingredient in stews and gumbos because of a gel-like substance released from the pods during cooking. It can also be enjoyed sauteed, fried, boiled, or even pickled. To understand why you should be eating this vegetable, here is a breakdown of okra health benefits, along with its nutritional value and some recommended uses.
Okra Health Benefits
Okra is rich in vitamins and minerals and consuming the vegetable comes with a host of health benefits. In this list, we only wrote down the most important okra health benefits we thought you should know about.
Improving digestive health is one of the most important okra health benefits. Okra is high in fiber, specifically mucilaginous fiber. Mucilage is a substance found in a variety of plants. Mucilage is well-known for its healing properties and has various medicinal uses. As far as digestive health is concerned, the mucilaginous fiber in okra helps add bulk your stool. This allows it to pass easily through the digestive track. The effect okra fibers not only helps to keep you regular, but it can also minimize bloating, cramping, constipation, and excess gas. It can also help prevent diarrhea. If high cholesterol is a problem for you, okra can help clear it from your body.
Okra has a lot of vitamin C which helps to stimulate the immune system and boosts production of white blood cells. This can help you fight off infections. Okra also has many antioxidant compounds that can help fight free radicals.
Another of the most important okra health benefits is the way it can improve heart health. The high potassium content of okra helps maintain the proper balance of fluids in the body. Potassium also lowers blood pressure and helps relax blood vessels and arteries. This minimizes strain on the cardiovascular system, in part by helping to minimize clotting and clogged arteries. The aforementioned cholesterol-reducing property is also beneficial to cardiovascular health.
Okra is a powerhouse for eye health, with its high content of vitamin A and antioxidant compounds beta-carotene, xanthein, and lutein. These compounds help protect your vision by minimizing the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.
The same vitamin A and antioxidants that can protect your eyes can also benefit your skin. They can promote rapid healing which can reduce the appearance of scars from any injuries. They can also help to minimize wrinkles. Finally, they can minimize acne.
Okra is thought to contribute to healthy brain function by protecting the brain’s neurons. It’s also particularly beneficial to the healthy brain development of the fetus, making it a popular vegetable for expectant mothers to consume.
Okra can help reduce blood sugar levels. For those at risk of developing diabetes, adding okra to your diet can help prevent the onset of the disease. The high-viscosity fiber content in okra can also help improve insulin sensitivity.
Okra Nutritional Value
As made clear by the long list of okra health benefits, the vegetable is full of essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Here is a breakdown of okra’s nutritional value. In one half-cup of okra there is
- 150 mg of potassium
- 1.6 g dietary fiber
- 1 g protein
- 7% daily value vitamin A
- 4% daily value calcium
- 19% daily value vitamin C
- 1% daily value iron
- 5% daily value vitamin B-6
- 7% daily value magnesium
It also contains fair amounts of catechin, epicatechin, procyanidin B1 and B2, quercetin and rutin. Additionally, okra is very low in calories and carbohydrates.
If you want to cash in on the many okra health benefits, here are some of the most common ways to use the vegetable. As we mentioned, okra is rich in nutrients, but low in calories. This makes it an ideal diet food, as you can eat fairly large amounts of okra, without adding weight. On the contrary, you’ll take advantage of all the health benefits okra has to offer.
In a Gumbo, Stew, or Curry
Because of its mucilaginous fiber content, okra works particularly well in stews, gumbos, and curries. During cooking, a gelatinous substance is released from the pods. This acts as a natural thickening agent, making it perfect to include in a gumbo or stew. Some people might not like this somewhat sticky quality of cooked okra, but it is generally not noticeable when part of a stew, gumbo, or curry dish.
Sauteed or Fried
Perhaps the easiest way to prepare okra is a quick pan fry or sautee. Just slice the okra and sautee in a little oil. Okra works well when sauteed with other vegetables. It can be delicious when just made with oil and topped with a bit of salt, but you might prefer it with some garlic and spices. You can also dust it with cornmeal and pan fry it.
Another way to enjoy okra is to simply boil it for 3-4 minutes until it’s tender. After boiling, coat the okra in melted butter for a simple and tasty side dish. It’s important not to overcook okra when boiling as that will lead to a less than desirable slimy mush.
Okra can also be enjoyed in the following ways:
- air fried
As you can see, okra is a vegetable that deserves to be a part of your diet. With its long list of health benefits, its robust nutritional makeup, and its versatility of preparation, okra can be a vital addition to a healthy diet. The boost to digestive, immune, heart, skin, brain, and eye health are some of the okra health benefits that make this vegetable particularly worthy of attention. Have you tried okra? Do you have a favorite way to prepare the vegetable? Please share!