Okra, often referred to as ladyfinger, is not just a staple in many cuisines around the world but also a storehouse of health benefits. This blog explores the numerous advantages of incorporating okra into your diet, ranging from improving digestive health and managing diabetes to boosting endurance and reducing fatigue. Renowned for its rich nutritional profile, okra is packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Its potential role in stress reduction, cholesterol management, and even cancer prevention further underscores its significance as a health-enhancing food. As we delve into the multifaceted benefits of this unique vegetable, we’ll uncover the myriad ways okra can contribute to a healthier, more balanced lifestyle.
What is Okra?
Okra is a flowering plant that is known in many parts of the world as ladyfinger or bhindi and is highly prized because of its seed pods. The scientific name of this interesting plant is Abelmoschus esculentus. While its origin is still unclear, research says that it could have been native to South Asia, West Africa, or Ethiopia but the jury is still out.
Watch Video: 9 Reasons To Eat Okra
Okra is frequently used in dishes worldwide, from the Caribbean to China. Its popularity is increasing all the time, particularly due to its various uses. The different uses include:
- As a pickled vegetable
- As an ingredient in soups, and side dishes
- The oil extracted from okra can also be utilized as a vegetable oil
- Okra water is used as a traditional and alternative therapy for diabetes
|Serving Size :|
|Total lipid (fat) [g]||0.19|
|Carbohydrate, by difference [g]||7.45|
|Fiber, total dietary [g]||3.2|
|Sugars, total including NLEA [g]||1.48|
|Glucose (dextrose) [g]||0.32|
|Calcium, Ca [mg]||82|
|Iron, Fe [mg]||0.62|
|Magnesium, Mg [mg]||57|
|Phosphorus, P [mg]||61|
|Potassium, K [mg]||299|
|Sodium, Na [mg]||7|
|Zinc, Zn [mg]||0.58|
|Copper, Cu [mg]||0.11|
|Manganese, Mn [mg]||0.79|
|Selenium, Se [µg]||0.7|
|Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid [mg]||23|
|Pantothenic acid [mg]||0.25|
|Vitamin B-6 [mg]||0.22|
|Folate, total [µg]||60|
|Folate, food [µg]||60|
|Folate, DFE [µg]||60|
|Choline, total [mg]||12.3|
|Vitamin A, RAE [µg]||36|
|Carotene, beta [µg]||416|
|Carotene, alpha [µg]||27|
|Vitamin A, IU [IU]||716|
|Lutein + zeaxanthin [µg]||280|
|Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) [mg]||0.27|
|Tocopherol, gamma [mg]||0.16|
|Vitamin K (phylloquinone) [µg]||31.3|
|Fatty acids, total saturated [g]||0.03|
|Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]||0.02|
|Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]||0.03|
|Aspartic acid [g]||0.15|
|Glutamic acid [g]||0.27|
|Sources include : USDA|
Okra may not be the most conventional vegetable in the garden, but it has a rich content of vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins as well as vitamins A, C, E, and K, as per the USDA National Nutrient Database. The vegetable also contains calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. Furthermore, it contains high levels of nutritious mucilaginous fiber, colloquially called “okra slime”. Most of the health benefits are due to the presence of minerals, vitamins, and organic compounds found in it.
Health Benefits of Okra
Let us discuss the important health benefits of okra in detail below.
May Aid in Diabetes Management
Okra, known for its antioxidant properties in seeds and peel, shows promise in managing type 2 diabetes. A study in the Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences demonstrated that diabetic rats fed powdered okra for 14 to 28 days experienced improved lipid profiles.
Additionally, in Turkey, a natural remedy for diabetes involves drinking water infused with roasted okra seeds, as reported in Natural Product Communications, highlighting its role in blood glucose regulation.
Another study involving pregnant rats with gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) showed that okra extract effectively reduced oxidative stress and insulin resistance, thereby improving blood glucose levels in GDM rats.
May Help Improve Digestion
Okra’s high fiber content is key to its gastrointestinal benefits. A 2016 study highlighted that the vegetable’s fiber improves digestion by enhancing absorption in the large intestine and stimulating peristalsis, potentially aiding in preventing constipation.
Additionally, okra extract (OE) has shown promising results in alleviating depressive behaviors and inflammatory responses in sleep-deprived rats. It positively impacted gastrointestinal hormones and microbiota balance, indicating its potential to support gastrointestinal health.
May Reduce Fatigue
Okra might play a role in reducing fatigue, particularly due to its high antioxidant content. A study led by Fangbo Xia in Beijing found that seeds from this antioxidant-rich vegetable could help alleviate muscle tiredness. In experiments with laboratory mice, those given okra extract showed significantly increased swimming endurance and lower lactic acid levels, indicating reduced muscle weakness.
Another study focusing on water-soluble pectic hydrocolloids from okra stems demonstrated that a high dosage increased energy storage capacity and improved renal function in physically fatigued mice, outperforming some conventional herbal supplements.
May Help Lower Cholesterol Levels
Okra might be beneficial in reducing cholesterol levels. A study by the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine found that administering an ethanol extract of okra to obese mice helped lower blood glucose, insulin, and total cholesterol levels, thanks to nutrients like isoquercitrin and quercetin.
Further research demonstrated that okra powder when added to a hyperlipidemic diet, can decrease serum and hepatic cholesterol and triglycerides in mice. This effect is linked to the upregulation of cholesterol degradation and inhibition of lipogenesis.
May Have Anticancer Properties
Okra has shown potential in cancer prevention and treatment. A study identified a lectin in okra, Abelmoschus esculentus (AEL), with significant anti-tumor effects on human breast cancer cells. AEL increased the expression of pro-apoptotic genes, leading to apoptosis in these cells.
Another research evaluated okra’s pectic rhamnogalacturonan (RG-I) and its impact on metastatic melanoma cells. The study found that okra RG-I induced apoptosis, especially in 3D cell cultures, suggesting its potential in melanoma treatment.
Additionally, an investigation into okra seed extract (OSE) revealed its effectiveness against various carcinoma cell lines, including breast, liver, and cervical cancers. The presence of flavonoids in OSE, particularly isoquercitrin, was linked to its cytotoxic effects, although further research is needed to fully understand its mechanisms and potential for clinical use.
Possible Anti-stress Effect
Researchers in India have found scientific evidence through a study conducted on laboratory rats that okra seed extracts have anti-stress (adaptogen) properties. Adaptogens can help enhance overall health, as prolonged stressful situations can cause ineffective adaptation in the body, which can include reduced stamina levels and affect mood. According to the study not only can it help reduce stress levels, but it also has the potential to manage stress-related disorders and dementia. Further detailed studies, particularly with human subjects are required to explore this particular health benefit.
Word of Caution: People who are taking metformin to control type 2 diabetes should not complement it with excessive okra consumption. A study published in the International Scholarly Research Notices shows that consuming vegetables may improve glycemic control but can interact with metformin and alter its absorption.
In conclusion, okra emerges as a remarkable vegetable, offering a spectrum of health benefits. From aiding diabetes management and gastrointestinal health to reducing fatigue and cholesterol levels, okra is a nutritional powerhouse. Its potential role in cancer prevention and stress management further elevates its value. While it’s essential to be mindful of interactions with certain diabetes medications, the overall advantages of including okra in your diet are significant. Rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, okra is more than just a culinary delight; it’s a key contributor to a healthier lifestyle.