Interesting Facts About Okra
- Cleopatra of Egypt and Yang Guifei of China loved to eat okra.
- Okra seeds were used as coffee bean substitutes during World War II.
- Okra found its way to different parts of the world during the Atlantic slave trade.
Ethiopian in origin, Abelmoschus esculentus or Hibiscus esculentus is known by many names around the world – okra, okro, lady’s finger (England), gumbo (U.S.), guino-gombo (Spain), guibeiro (Portugal), Kacang bendi (Malaysia), and bhindi, gombo, and bendakai (India). The fact that it even has that many names suggests its global popularity and widespread cultivation. The tender, young, seed-containing pod of the okra plant is eaten as a vegetable in salads, broths, stews, and stir-fries.
Being a green veggie, it is easy to wrap your head around the fact that okra is “all healthy.” Here’s what it offers:1 2
|Nutrients In 1 Cup Of Okra||% of Daily Value|
|Vitamin C||23 mg||38.3|
|Vitamin K||31.3 mg||39.1|
|Folate (vitamin B9)||60 µg||15|
|Vitamin A||716 IU||14.3|
|Thiamin (vitamin B1)||0.2 mg||13.3|
|Vitamin B6||0.2 mg||10.8|
Benefits Of Okra
Like a number of natural ingredients, scientists are turning a keen eye to this time-tested home remedy. We now have research to back the folklore – which happened to be right. The following are benefits of okra, most of which would probably have never occurred to us.
1. Packs A Truckload Of Nutrients
Okra pods are loaded with significant amounts of vital nutrients – protein, fiber, calcium, iron, and zinc.3 It, thus, qualifies as an effective economical tool capable of treating malnutrition around the world.
2. Helps Control Hunger
Okra is loaded with soluble fibers.4 Soluble fiber makes you feel full faster and for longer. This can help keep your calorie intake in check, helping you with your weight loss goals. With a longer-lasting feeling of satiety, your need to binge will be curbed immensely.
3. Keeps You From Getting Tired
It is unfortunate how common the word “fatigue” has become in today’s world. What used to be mostly age and sickness-related, is now an everyday struggle for young, healthy individuals. Okra seeds can delay fatiguing.5 They contain antioxidant polyphenols and flavonoids that promote glycogen storage in the liver. Glycogen is a body fuel reserve, and more of it means you will take longer to tire.
This is why okra is also good for individuals suffering from depression. You will be able to fight the feeling of being inexplicably tired.6
[Also Read: Why Am I So Tired All The Time]
4. Manages Diabetes Mellitus
Turkish people have long been consuming an infusion of roasted okra seeds to manage diabetes mellitus.
Okra’s peel and seed can lower blood glucose levels, making them useful in managing diabetes mellitus.7 They do so by inhibiting carb-breaking enzymes, increasing sensitivity to insulin, and ensuring there are sufficient insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.8 More insulin and less breakdown of carbs to glucose means lower blood sugar.
One study proved that okra seeds prevent the intestinal breakdown of carbohydrates to glucose by inhibiting the enzyme alpha-glucosidase.9
5. Stabilizes Cholesterol Levels
Okra would make a great functional food ingredient!
The more finely ground okra powder is, the better it can adsorb cholesterol.10
Okra promotes cholesterol degradation and inhibits the production of fat in the body.11 It, thus, decreases total cholesterol and triglyceride and enhances excretion of bile acids (made from cholesterol) in the feces.
By regulating cholesterol levels in the blood, okra can prevent clogging of arteries – protecting us from heart diseases like atherosclerosis.
6. Fortifies Bones And Prevents Excessive Bleeding
The most abundant vitamin in okra is vitamin K.12 This vitamin helps strengthen bones and promotes clotting of blood. Okra, thus, helps prevent osteoporosis, fractures, and excessive bleeding (due to injury or bleeding disorders).
7. Boosts Immunity And Improves Eyesight
Okra contains moderate levels of vitamin A.13 Vitamin A encourages the production of white blood cells, key players in your immune system. While infections and diseases do their rounds in the general population, okra will equip your body well enough to resist.
Vitamin A also supports eyes health. If you have weak eyesight or if you come from a family with a history of weak eyesight, it makes sense for you to consume okra regularly.
8. Prevents Gastritis
In Asian medicine, the fruit of the okra plant is used as a mucilaginous food additive to treat gastric irritations.
H. pylori bacteria infect the stomach lining and cause inflammation called gastritis. Okra juice contains anti-adhesive compounds that bind to the surface of free-floating bacteria in the gut.14 15 This unanticipated binding blocks sites on the bacteria responsible for docking to the stomach lining. In effect, okra juice prevents H. Pylori infections and gastritis.
A concern that arises is whether okra’s non-specific binding to bacteria can deter normal gut bacteria. Further studies are required to assess whether okra’s benefits outweigh its potential side effects. Having said that, we can take refuge in the fact that okra is eaten widely in Asia and Africa for centuries now with no adverse effects on the digestive system.
Children between 2 to 5 are more vulnerable to H. Pylori infections, so it makes sense to ensure they eat okra regularly.
9. Prevents Liver Disease
Your liver is your body’s prime detox organ. Okra can help ensure it is protected from disease. In one study, chemically-induced liver disease in rats was efficiently counteracted by okra.16 Oral pre-administration of okra extracts reduced the effects of damaging free radicals that cause liver disease. Okra may have done so by stabilizing liver cell membranes, making them more defensive against intruding free radicals.
[Also Read: Foods That Cleanse the Liver Naturally]
10. Staves Off Neurodegenerative Disorders
Okra may help reduce the risks of Alzheimer’s in individuals who are genetically predisposed to it.17 It may also help prevent other neurodegenerative diseases related to oxidative stress.
Imagining how difficult it can be to live with a nerve disorder, this benefit of okra is of great preventive value.
11. Kills Breast Cancer Cells
In one study, a lectin isolated from okra was capable of instigating cell suicide in breast cancer cells.18 The growth of breast tumor cells was inhibited by a significant 63%.
Breast cancer affects 1 in 8 women during their lifetime.19 Incorporating okra in your diet may help reduce this statistic drastically.
12. Keeps Asthma Symptoms In Check
Okra seems to be beneficial for asthma patients.20 21 How exactly it does so is not yet known. Some postulate that okra’s high vitamin C content is responsible for its respiratory benefits, however, no clear correlation between vitamin C and asthma exists.22
How To Consume Okra
Cooking Tip: To make okra more palatable, cook it in slightly salted water to reduce its slimy texture.
It is safe to say that for the general population, okra is an acquired taste. You may incorporate it in your meals with some palate-appealing, healthy recipes. To maximize benefits, you may consume the following:
1. Okra Water
Soak okra pods in a glassful of water overnight at room temperature. Some of its water-soluble nutrients and compounds will get leached out into the water. Strain out the pod, and drink the infused water.
Alternatively, you may soak sliced pods instead of whole pods. Bear in mind that there will be a bitter after-taste.
2. Okra Peel
Using a handheld grater or lemon zester, scrape the peel from the okra pod. Directly consume about half a teaspoon of the peel at a time. This is a good way to avoid ingesting okra’s mucilaginous secretion.
3. Okra Powdered Seeds
It is difficult to manually separate okra seeds from the pod and then make a powder. A more pragmatic approach is to buy readily available dried okra seed powder. It is generally advised not to have more than 5 gm of this powder in a day. Check the dosage with your health practitioner, especially if you are on diabetic medications.
An Interesting Fact
In addition to the vast array of nutrients, okra also contains antinutrients that reduce the body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients. However, the antinutrients are low in concentration and the minerals okra offers can easily be absorbed and used by the body (mineral bioavailability is high) despite them.
One can argue that most of the laboratory studies supporting the claims mentioned above use extracts and isolated compounds from okra and not the whole pod. While that is mostly true, natural remedies are best self-tested. They have been proved worthy and effective for centuries now as opposed to antibiotics and drugs developed only in the last century or two. Don’t miss out!
|↑1||National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture.|
|↑2, ↑12, ↑13||Okra. College of Agriculture & Life Sciences.|
|↑3||Gemede, Habtamu Fekadu, Gulelat Desse Haki, Fekadu Beyene, Ashagrie Z. Woldegiorgis, and Sudip Kumar Rakshit. “Proximate, mineral, and antinutrient compositions of indigenous Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) pod accessions: implications for mineral bioavailability.” Food science & nutrition (2015).|
|↑4||Khatun, Hajera, Ajijur Rahman, Mohitosh Biswas, and Anwar Ul Islam. “Water-soluble fraction of Abelmoschus esculentus L Interacts with glucose and metformin hydrochloride and alters their absorption kinetics after coadministration in rats.” ISRN pharmaceutics 2011 (2011).|
|↑5||Xia, Fangbo, Yu Zhong, Mengqiu Li, Qi Chang, Yonghong Liao, Xinmin Liu, and Ruile Pan. “Antioxidant and anti-fatigue constituents of okra.” Nutrients 7, no. 10 (2015): 8846-8858.|
|↑6, ↑8, ↑21||Sabitha, V., S. Ramachandran, K. R. Naveen, and K. Panneerselvam. “Antidiabetic and antihyperlipidemic potential of Abelmoschus esculentus (L.) Moench. in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats.” Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences 3, no. 3 (2011): 397.|
|↑7||Khosrozadeh, Maryam, Naval Heydari, and Malihe Abootalebi. “The Effect of Abelmoschus Esculentus on Blood Levels of Glucose in Diabetes Mellitus.” Iranian journal of medical sciences 41, no. 3 (2016): S63.|
|↑9||Thanakosai, Wannisa, and Preecha Phuwapraisirisan. “First identification of α-glucosidase inhibitors from okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) seeds.” Natural product communications 8, no. 8 (2013): 1085-1088.|
|↑10||Chen, Yi, Bing-Cheng Zhang, Yu-Han Sun, Jian-Guo Zhang, Han-Ju Sun, and Zhao-Jun Wei. “Physicochemical properties and adsorption of cholesterol by okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) powder.” Food & Function 6, no. 12 (2015): 3728-3736.|
|↑11||Wang, Hong, Gu Chen, Dandan Ren, and Shang‐Tian Yang. “Hypolipidemic activity of okra is mediated through inhibition of lipogenesis and upregulation of cholesterol degradation.” Phytotherapy Research 28, no. 2 (2014): 268-273.|
|↑14||Messing, Jutta, Christian Thöle, Michael Niehues, Anna Shevtsova, Erik Glocker, Thomas Borén, and Andreas Hensel. “Antiadhesive properties of Abelmoschus esculentus (Okra) immature fruit extract against Helicobacter pylori adhesion.” PloS one 9, no. 1 (2014): e84836.|
|↑15||Lengsfeld, Christian, Fritz Titgemeyer, Gerhard Faller, and Andreas Hensel. “Glycosylated compounds from okra inhibit adhesion of Helicobacter pylori to human gastric mucosa.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 52, no. 6 (2004): 1495-1503.|
|↑16||Alqasoumi, S. I. “‘Okra’Hibiscus esculentus L.: A study of its hepatoprotective activity.” Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal 20, no. 2 (2012): 135-141.|
|↑17||Mairuae, Nootchanat, James R. Connor, Sang Y. Lee, Poonlarp Cheepsunthorn, and Walaiporn Tongjaroenbuangam. “The effects of okra (Abelmoschus esculentus Linn.) on the cellular events associated with Alzheimer’s disease in a stably expressed HFE neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y cell line.” Neuroscience letters 603 (2015): 6-11.|
|↑18||Monte, Leonardo G., Tatiane Santi-Gadelha, Larissa B. Reis, Elizandra Braganhol, Rafael F. Prietsch, Odir A. Dellagostin, Rodrigo Rodrigues e Lacerda, Carlos AA Gadelha, Fabricio R. Conceição, and Luciano S. Pinto. “Lectin of Abelmoschus esculentus (okra) promotes selective antitumor effects in human breast cancer cells.” Biotechnology letters 36, no. 3 (2014): 461-469.|
|↑19||Breast Cancer. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑20||Garcia-Larsen, Vanessa, Rhonda Arthur, James F. Potts, Peter H. Howarth, Matti Ahlström, Tari Haahtela, Carlos Loureiro et al. “Is fruit and vegetable intake associated with asthma or chronic rhino-sinusitis in European adults? Results from the Global Allergy and Asthma Network of Excellence (GA 2 LEN) Survey.” Clinical and translational allergy 7, no. 1 (2017): 3.|
|↑22||Milan, Stephen J., Anna Hart, and Mark Wilkinson. “Vitamin C for asthma and exercise‐induced bronchoconstriction.” The Cochrane Library (2013).|