Summer is upon us, a perfect time to experience the health benefits and culinary delights of okra. Cleopatra and the early Egyptians revered okra for its health benefits while the people of Japan believe it is the secret to good health.
In the warmer southern climates of the United States, people celebrate okra for its gelatinous texture, using it as thickening agent in delicious soups like gumbo. Whatever the use, okra is a powerhouse vegetable quickly gaining popularity for its nutritional benefits and versatile nature in cooking.
Okra is vegetable well known for its nutritional value. An excellent source of dietary fiber, okra also packs a wallop with its high concentration of vitamins A, B, C, and K. Furthermore, it is also a great source of calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, and has a high folate content.
If that is not enough to sell you, okra is filled to the brim with antioxidants, and a powerful cancer-fighter. Low in calories but packed with vitamins, nutrients, and minerals, okra definitely finds its place in the super food category.
- Digestive health:
Okra is a great natural laxative. The high fiber content in okra absorbs water and adds bulk in the stools while the slimy texture of okra known as mucilaginous soothes the digestive tract, allowing a more comfortable elimination process.While eliminating waste, okra cleans out toxins found in bile acids and excess cholesterol. Okra is also known to heal ulcers, treats irritable bowels, helps to protect from colon cancer while also increasing the population of good bacteria in the gut.
- Heart health:
As mentioned above, the soluble fiber in okra binds cholesterol and washes it out, reducing the risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis.
- Blood sugar:
By regulating the absorption of sugar in the intestinal tract, okra stabilizes blood sugar.
- Blood health:
Okra boosts red blood cell production and helps prevent anemia. Eating okra ensures stronger capillaries while the high vitamin k content aids in the blood clotting process.
You can reduce your asthma attacks by adding okra to your diet. Rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, this vegetable is highly recommended by doctors for respiratory health.
- Bone strength:
High in vitamin K, eating okra strengthens your bones, providing a good defense against osteoporosis.
- Eye health:
Full of antioxidants, okra contains properties that benefit your vision and help to protect against cataracts and glaucoma.
- Immune System support:
The high concentration of vitamin C and antioxidants builds up your immunity, decreasing your chances of developing a cold.
It is recommended that pregnant women or women during preconception eat okra. Containing folates, eating okra decreases the risk of neural tube defects in babies.
If the hot summer sun leaves you feeling limp, eating okra helps to relieve weakness and exhaustion caused from the heat.
A little known fact is that okra is full of antidepressant compounds. Because it’s full of soluble and insoluble fibers, as well as good gut flora, studies have shown that these properties help to increase motivation, enhance cognitive function, and boost overall mood.
Okra contains a treasure trove of antioxidants, protecting the immune system against harmful free radicals and preventing the mutation of cells.
Full of vitamin C, eating okra gives you a health glow. Vitamin C helps keep a youthful appearance by aiding in the growth/repairing bodily tissues, reversing pigmentation, promoting collagen formation and giving life to damaged skin.
Okra and Diabetes
There has been speculation that consuming okra can be a natural, alternative diabetes cure. For years, people ate okra to help regulate their blood sugar levels, which is definitely a desired benefit in a diabetic’s diet.
However, fairly recently, anecdotes started popping up on the internet claiming that by soaking okra in a glass of water overnight, and simply drinking the water the next morning, you could treat diabetes without insulin and pricy pharmaceuticals.
Sounds wonderful, however, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Despite not being a miracle diabetes cure, scientists have found that eating okra may provide some benefits for diabetics.
In a study published in 2011, researchers in India fed diabetic rats a solution of okra pods and water through a gastric feeding tube. They found that the rats that consumed okra experienced a reduction in their blood sugars levels and the absorption of sugar.
In a study published in the Journal of Pharmacy & Bioallied Sciences, researches fed diabetic rats powdered okra and peel extracts. After 28 days of feeding the rats okra, the researchers found that there was a significant reduction in blood sugar levels.
These results are promising, however, it is unclear if they can be replicated in human beings. Although consuming okra can be added to your diet to help regulate sugar levels, there is no scientific evidence supporting okra as a diabetes cure.
In the meantime, it’s best just to treat okra as supplement while practicing a healthy diet, exercising daily, and maintaining a healthy weight.
What to Look For When Selecting Okra
- Size: When buying okra, look for pods smaller in size as they are much more tender than larger sizes, which tend to be tough and stringy.
- Color: Look for okra that is bright green in color with unblemished skin. This ensures that your okra is fresh and not rotten on the inside.
- Firmness: Although smaller pods are valued for their firmness, make sure they are not too soft or mushy.
Cooking with Okra
- Right before preparing the okra, make sure to thoroughly wash and rinse the whole okra. This ensures to rinse away any pesticides/insecticides used during the growing process. You can buy organic to completely avoid this issue.
- Trim both ends and then slice the pod as desired.
- To reduce the mucilage as well as the raw taste, chop the pods into 2-3 inch pieces and cook under low heat in oil.
- To receive the full benefits of the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, eat okra leaves raw in salads.
- Okra can be pickled and preserved.
- When cooked, okra releases a juice that thickens liquids, making it an excellent addition to soups and stews.
- Cooked in oil and a skillet, okra makes a delicious fried treat fondly referred to as fritters.
- Due to its fibrous texture and gelatinous content, okra cannot be juiced.
- Okra is a nutritious treat, however, it may not be suitable for everyone. Okra contains a small amount of oxalic acid, so if you suffer from kidney stones, eating an excessive amount of okra can worsen your symptoms.
- Overcooking okra will greatly reduce its nutrient content.
- Cooking okra in butter, margarine, lard, or oil neutralizes okra’s ability to decrease cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
- Okra has been shown to help regulate glucose levels, however, please remember that when dealing with diabetes, nothing beats a healthy diet, exercise, weight management, and traditional medical intervention.Okra is best treated as a supplement in a nutritious diet and should not be regarded as a miracle diabetes cure. If you’re thinking about adding okra to your diet to help manage your diabetes, it is always important to discuss any dietary choices with your health care provider.