If you’re from the deep south you’re very familiar with it!  Okra is both a common pod vegetable and nightshade vegetable, commonly known as “gumbo” in the U.S. When we think of gumbo we usually think of soups, cajun and creole cuisine, but okra has numerous health benefits and many people are clueless to its nutrition or how to prepare it other than frying it! Yikes!

An edible flowering hibiscus, okra is an annual herb with stems that contain stiff hairs. The whole plant has an aromatic smell resembling that of cloves and somewhat resembles the cotton plant, but okra has much larger and rougher leaves and a thicker stem.

It’s best to gather the pods while they are green, tender and at an immature stage. The okra plant requires warm, humid climates preferably where temperatures go above 85 degrees, and can easily be destroyed or diminished by cold and frost. The fruit is a long pod, generally ribbed and spineless in cultivated varieties, however, pods vary in length, color and smoothness depending on the variety and grow best in well-drained and manure-rich soil.

The good news is okra’s fresh leaves, buds, flowers, pods, stems and seeds all have value. As a vegetable, it can be used in salads, soups and stews, fresh or dried, and fried or boiled. It offers mucous-like consistency after cooking. Often, the extract obtained from the fruit is added to different recipes like stews and sauces as a thickener, and the leaves have been known to help reduce disease-causing inflammation!

Okra Nutrition

Okra is packed with valuable nutrients and is a high-fiber food. Nearly half of its nutrition is a soluble fiber in the form of gums and pectins. Nearly 10 percent of the recommended levels of vitamin B6 and folic acid are also present in a half cup of cooked okra.

Nutrition in okra, both cooked and sliced: 

1.5 grams protein
5.8 grams carbohydrates
37 micrograms folic acid
13 milligrams vitamin C (22 percent DV)
46 milligrams magnesium (11.5 percent DV)
460 IU vitamin A (9.2 percent DV)
2 grams dietary fiber (8 percent DV)
257 milligrams potassium (7.3 percent DV)
50 milligrams calcium (5 percent DV)
0.4 milligrams iron (2.3 percent DV)

Okra Nutrition Benefits 

A powerhouse of valuable nutrients, okra provides numerous health benefits. Known as a high-antioxidant food, okra may support improvement in cardiovascular and coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, digestive diseases, and even some cancers. Okra is also abundant in several vitamins and minerals, including thiamin, vitamin B6, folic acid, riboflavin/vitamin B2, zinc and dietary fiber.

Okra Improves Heart Health

The soluble fiber within okra helps naturally reduce cholesterol and, therefore, decreases the chance of cardiovascular disease. Okra is also loaded with pectin that can help reduce high blood cholesterol simply by modifying the creation of bile within the intestines.

Helps Lower Cholesterol

Research has found that nearly half of the contents of the okra pod is soluble fiber in the form of gums and pectins, which help lower serum cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart diseases. That means you can add okra to the list of cholesterol-lowering foods. Okra binds excess cholesterol and toxins in the bile acids, making it easy to eliminate and thus preventing many health problems.

Okra also assures easy passage of the waste from the body. The mucilage in okra has medicinal applications when used as a plasma replacement or blood volume expander. The mucilage of okra binds cholesterol and bile acid, carrying toxins dumped into it by the liver with it.

Okra is Great for Digestion

The insoluble fiber found in okra helps keep the intestinal tract healthy by decreasing the risk of some forms of cancer, especially colorectal cancer. Okra helps lubricate the large intestines due to its bulk laxative qualities. It also helps prevent constipation! Unlike harsh wheat bran, which can irritate the intestinal tract, okra is more gentle, making elimination more comfortable.

Good Source of Calcium

Okra provides ample calcium and magnesium, helping prevent both calcium deficiency and magnesium deficiency. In addition to healthy bones, calcium is needed to regulate heart rhythms, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It also helps with muscle function and nerve-signaling functions.

For those who suffer from the symptoms of lactose intolerance or are vegans or vegetarians, okra can help provide enough calcium to make up the lack of dairy. It provides nearly 51 milligrams of calcium per serving, and while that is not enough for the day with the recommendation daily value at around 1,000 milligrams for most adults, it can be integrated as part of the diet on regular basis.

Okra is a Great Source of Protein

The dietary fiber and distinct seed protein balance of both lysine and tryptophan amino acids, along with its amino acid composition is actually comparable to that of soybeans. (Okra’s protein efficiency ratio is actually higher.) Okra’s protein level is on par with various beans (legumes).

Okra Improves Eyesight!

Okra pods are fantastic source of vitamin A and beta-carotene, which are both important nourishment for sustaining excellent eyesight (along with healthy skin). Additionally, this nourishment may help inhibit eye-associated illnesses!

Helps Stabilize Blood Sugar

Okra helps stabilize blood sugar by regulating the rate at which sugar is absorbed from the intestinal tract. The okra seed contains blood glucose normalization qualities and lipid profiles that may help naturally treat diabetes!

Outside of scientific research, many people with diabetes have reported decreasing blood sugar levels after soaking cut-up okra pieces in water overnight and then drinking the juice in the morning, while in Turkey roasted okra seeds have been used as a traditional diabetes medicine for generations.

Did You Know? You can juice okra! A person suffering from anemia can derive the benefits of this vegetable from its juice. The juice of okra is potent and rich in nutrition, including Vitamin A, Vitamin C, magnesium and various minerals, which help in producing more red blood cells in the body.

Okra History

Okra’s scientific name is Abelmoschus Esculentus or Hibiscus Esculentus. In various parts of the world, it’s known as okra, lady’s fingers, gumbo, okro, gombo, and a myriad of other names from other cultures. The okra or gumbo name are both of African origin.

Okra was apparently discovered in the Abyssinian center of origin of cultivated plants, an area that includes present-day Ethiopia, the mountainous or plateau portion of Eritrea, and the eastern, higher part of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.

Modern travelers have found okra growing wild along the White Nile and elsewhere in the upper Nile country, as well as in Ethiopia. One of the earliest accounts of okra is by a Spanish Moor who visited Egypt in 1216, describing the plant in detail stating that the pods were eaten when young and tender.

Did You Know? Some of the world’s most powerful women throughout history, such as Cleopatra and Yang Guifei of China, loved to eat okra, according to the records!

More Okra Info

For those growing up in the South, okra is a staple and most often served fried (gasp!) with a generous cornmeal coating. However, it is most popular in dishes and areas in Louisiana, in particular with Creole cooks in New Orleans.

It is not uncommon to hear negative comments about okra, but that is mostly because many people do not know how to prepare it. Additionally, there are many uses for okra!

Aside from the obvious frying, okra can be steamed, grilled, battered or eaten raw and even juiced or extracted. The fruits of the okra plant are preserved by pickling or drying and grinding into powder. They’re used to make soups, sauces, stews, curries and even salads.

The principal use of okra is in soups and various culinary preparations in which meats form an important factor, as in the well-known gumbo soups, to which young pods provide excellent flavor and a pleasant mucilaginous consistency. Okra is also sometimes cooked similarly to the way green peas are cooked. The very young and tender pods are boiled and served as a salad with French dressing. The stem and mature pods contain a fiber that is employed in the manufacture of paper.

Okra is an acquired taste. Most often it is found within other vegetables and in soups and stews. Because of the stringy mucous within the pod, it often is unappealing to consumers, however, many of the crops today are used mostly at large soup companies. The slimy texture can be reduced by cooking in salted water. (For cooking ideas and recipes simply go online and you’ll find scores of information.)

Okra can easily be dried for later use. A little dried okra in prepared dishes produces much of the same results as the fresh product. Often the seeds, rather than the whole young pods, are of most interest. When ripe, the seeds yield an edible oil that is the equal of many other cooking oils. In Mediterranean countries and the East, where edible oils are more scarce than in the U.S., okra oil is common. The ripe seeds of okra are sometimes roasted and ground as a substitute for coffee. In Turkey, the leaves are used to soothe or reduce inflammation.

Okra Concerns

The USDA has noted that no copper, brass or iron cooking vessels should be employed in preparing okra because the metal will be absorbed and the pods will be rendered poisonous. The cooking should be done in agate, porcelain, ceramic or earthware.

Now that you’ve learned all about okra, go out and get yourself some now! Open yourself to new food ideas.



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