Okra is more than an exotic, interestingly shaped vegetable. It may be a nutritional hero. It’s certainly treated as something of a godsend and in fact has been regarded highly for quite some time. Let’s learn a little more about okra, its benefits, and what to do with it.
What is okra?
Okra has been adored for nearly 4000 years, by no less than the ancient Egyptions. It earns its affection thanks to its nutritional and medicinal uses and its delicious taste and contribution to tasty dishes. (Natural Society).
It is a tropical vegetable, and therefore probably more familiar to those of us that come from warm, southern climates. It is an annual plant and is closely related to hibiscus and hollyhock. During its growth, it sprouts lovely flowers of white and yellow. The edible okra pods are [best] harvested when they are soft (Health Line). It is a tough little plant that can endure low water conditions. Well, maybe it’s not so little, the plant. The full plant can grow to 9 feet tall, full of leaves shaped like hearts. It’s not just the pod that people use in their cooking. The fruit, if plucked in its youth, has a juice in it that can be used as a thickening agent for soups and stews (Medical Health Guide).
Okra was known both throughout history and is still known all around the world, though may be known by a number of names. There is quite a list of namesakes of this nutritionally little pod.
- Some common names in English include: okra, gumbo and lady fingers
- Scientifically speaking, we’d call it: Abelmoschus esculentus Moench, Hibiscus esculentis Linn
- In China, we’d call them Huang su kui.
- In Hindi or Urdu, okra is known as bhindi.
- Spanish is not so far of from English, naming okra gombo.
- In Thailand, when they enjoy this little vegetable, they call it krachiap mon.
And the list goes on, but no matter what it’s called, people are eating it. And by what we’ve heard so far, they’re loving it (Medical Health Guide)!
No matter what health enthusiasts and Okra-fans say okra does, it’s important to start small and figure out what it is. It’s smart to know exactly what is inside the walls of these little green veggies.
One cup of raw okra has a little over 30 calories, around 3 grams of dietary fiber, two grams of protein, 7.6 g carbohydrates, hardly any fat (0.1 grams), 21 mg of vitamin C, around 88 mcg of folate, and 57 mg of Magnesium (The Gardening Channel).
What about from a good vs. bad point of view? It’s not necessarily so black and white, but Self Nutrition Data, put it into a good and bad perspective for us.
According to them, the good things inside and about okra are:
- A decent supply of dietary fiber
- Low in saturated fat
- Good source of vitamin A, C, B6 and K
- Low in cholesterol
- Contains thiamin and folate
- Decent source of magnesium, manganese and calcium
- Low in sodium
Self Nutrition Data puts the bad simply, somewhat comically short, and all in one sentence:
- “A large portion of the calories in this food come from sugars.”
When considering proportions of a food this may be a very valid claim but when part of a well-rounded diet, it may make little difference. It certainly isn’t an empty calorie food!
Healthy Benefits of Okra
The health benefits of okra are dancing all across the web. Some benefits are simple and low-key. Some are better researched and documented than others. Other benefits have bold claims that would impact suffering groups of people, should okra’s tales be true. Let’s look at a few of the health benefit claims, big and small:
This, my friend, is a big claim. With so many people suffering from diabetes, a natural treatment would be a dream come true. Studies have actually shown that okra has anti-diabetic properties. It has been confirmed in some that okra lowers glucose in the blood. There is also more anecdotial evidence that soaked okra in water for several hours, and then drinking the steeped mixture has positive effects against diabetes as well. Traditionally speaking, okra seeds have been used as a medicine against diabetes, too. Okra is said to be able to help with diabetes because it has a great insoluble fiber, which keeps blood glucose more stable by affecting the sugar absorption rate in the intestines (Diabetes.co.uk).
Promotes healthy digestion
Speaking of intestines, okra and its substantial fiber content can help your intestines stay happy and healthy. Okra has mucilaginous fiber, which adds bulk to the food moving through your system. This added bulk helps to keep your system and movements regular. It will even dispel extra cholesterol in your body. You will be less crampy and gassy, too. It’s even been known to ward off chances of diarrhea.
Improves eye health
Thanks to the vitamin A, beta carotenes, xanthein, and lutein okra has been said to help with vision health, too. By eliminating free radicals, you can count on clearer vision. The cells in your eyes (and the rest of your body) will have been saved from some damage usually endured by free radicals, unless stopped by antioxidants. Eat more okra to safe guard against serious vision conditions such as cataracts and macular degeneration.
Boost your immune system
Okra has vitamin C, and a good dose of it at that. This vitamin aids your immune system, keeping it strong. Vitamin C is also said to have a stimulating effect on white blood cells. These also help to fight things that may otherwise hurt your immune system.
The potassium in okra can positively affect the blood vessels and arteries in our body. It relaxes them and keeps blood pressure low. This lowered blood pressure helps to reduce the workload of the cardiovascular system as a whole. Chances of clotting and atherosclerosis are therefore also lowered.
There are also some beauty benefits of okra. They are said to help guard the skin. Supposedly okra encourages fast healing. It is also said to eliminate or reduce the severity of scars and acne. Some even go so far as to say that it can get rid of wrinkles. (These benefits shared by Organic Facts.)
Some less researched, but still widely claimed benefits are the folk medicine [believed] benefits of okra. The list is long:
- treat inflammation of respiratory system
- soothe a sore throat
- for urinary problems
- helps with diarrhea
- counters skin itches
- can promote sweating (if that’s what you want…)
- prevent some muscle spasms
- as a headache and fever reliever
- as an acne treatment
- and the list goes on! (Medical Health Guide)
Wanna grow it yourself?
If you’re convinced that okra is for you, you may also want to be a part of its creation. If you are living in a warm weather climate, growing should be easy as following a few dimensions and watering instructions. Okra requires a relatively large amount of space. They need to be planted 15 inches from one another. You should plant three seeds in each planting spot to make sure you harvest enough plants. After they start growing, if more than one survive, you can thin the rest once they’ve reached about 6 inches tall. So if you can promise your okra space and at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit, you should be on your way to a happy and healthy okra plant and later a happy and healthy diet (Gardening Channel).
Okra’s popularity ensures that there is and will never be a shortage of delicious and exciting okra recipes on the Internet. No matter your pallet, you’ll find something that suits it. But let’s start spicy, this recipe suggestion from All Recipes, gives us an idea of Haitian cooking:
Chicken and Okra Stew
This is a stew for inspiration. It’s warm, it’s hearty. It’s full of some amazing vegetables and spices. Listen to some of the ingredients:
- Chicken thighs
- Habanero pepper
- Green bell pepper
- Black pepper
- And of course, okra pods
You prepare it much like any other stew, slowly and with love, and have the freedom to adjust some of the spicier ingredients as per your liking.
If you like pickles, you are bound to like pickled okra. All Recipes shares a delightful pickled okra recipe, affectionately named Grandma Oma’s Pickled Okra recipe as shared by All Recipes.
All you need is:
- Fresh okra
- Red chile peppers
- Dried dill
Follow the instructions for this simplified version of pickling and your okra pickles will be all prepped and chilling in about an hour.
If you’re a fan of Indian cuisine, chances are you’ve already tasted the classic bhindi masala curry. And now that you know that bhindi means okra, you know what you’ve been eating all this time! Now it’s time to make your own delicious Indian curry. Veg Recipes of India shares lovely recipe for your very own bhindi masala, with beautiful photos to help you along the way. As with many Indian dishes, the ingredient list is hefty and the preparation careful. But it’s worth it. Gather the following ingredients and get started:
- Garlic paste
- Red chili powder
- Coriander powder
- Garam masala
- Amchur powder
Cooking (and tasting) this dish will fill your kitchen with dreamy aromas and tantalizing aromas. It will be like actually taking a vacation to beautiful India. Enjoy!
As with every new food in your diet, consult your physician before making any notable changes. Practice a little bit of extra caution about okra, though. It contains a high amount of oxalates which in some people can cause kidney problems or gall stones. Also, although okra is deemed “healthy” if it is prepared in unhealthy ways, such as with lots of oil or deep fried, you may find yourself backtracking on all of your hard, healthy work (Organic Facts).
- All Recipes, Grandma Oma’s Pickled Okra Recipe. Online.
- Barrett, M., Natural Society, Over 6 Benefits of Okra, Plus Growing Tips. 2013. Online.
- Diabetes.co.uk, Okra, online.
- Gardening Channel, Health Benefits of Okra, Online.
- Medical Health Guide, Okra Health Benefits. Online.
- My Recipes, Chicken and Okra Stew. Online.
- Organic Facts, Health Benefits of Okra. Online.
- SELF Nutrition Data, Okra cooked, boiled, drained, without salt. Online.
- Story, C.M., Healthline, Is Okra the Secret Weapon Against Diabetes? 2014. Online.
- Veg Recipes of India, Bhindi Masala. 2015 Online.
- Image Source: imgur.com & exhibithealth.com