Health benefits of Okra, a produce originally hailing from Africa
Okra, a summer produce hat originally hails from Africa, is impressively healthy thanks to its lineup of nutrients such as antioxidants and fiber.
Known for its slimy texture when cut or cooked, okra often gets a bad rep; however, with the right techniques, okra can be also be delicious.
Though it's usually prepared like a vegetable, okra is actually a fruit. It grows in warm and moist climates.
The entire okra pod, including the stem and seeds, is edible. But if you happen to have access to a whole okra plant in a garden, you can also eat the leaves, flowers, and flower buds as greens, according to North Carolina State University Extension.
Okra is a nutritional superstar, boasting plenty of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, riboflavin, folic acid, calcium, and potassium, according to an article in the journal Molecules.
As for that thick, slimy stuff that okra releases when it's cut and cooked? The goo, scientifically called mucilage, is high in fiber, which is responsible for many of okra's nutritional benefits, including digestive support, blood sugar management, and heart health.
Okra Health Benefits
If its roster of nutrients isn't enough to make you add this summer produce to your rotation, okra's health benefits may do the trick. Discover what this green machine of an ingredient can do for your body, according to experts.
Wards off disease
Okra happens to be a great source of antioxidants. The main antioxidants in okra are polyphenols, which is also found in green tea, as well as vitamins A and C, making okra one of the best antioxidant foods you can eat.
Antioxidants are known to neutralize or remove free radicals (aka unstable molecules) that can damage cells and promote illnesses like cancer, heart disease.
Supports healthy digestion
The mucilage in okra is particularly high in soluble fiber. This type of fiber absorbs water in the gastrointestinal tract, creating a gel-like substance that firms up stool and helps curb diarrhea.
The okra pod's "walls" and seeds also contain insoluble fiber, a type of fiber that increases fecal bulk and promotes intestinal muscle movements, which can offer relief from constipation, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Manages blood sugar levels
By forming that gel-like substance in your gut, the soluble fiber in okra can also slow down the absorption of carbohydrates, thus preventing blood sugar spikes and reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes.
A 2016 study found that regular intake of soluble fiber can improve blood sugar levels in people who already have type 2 diabetes.
Okra is also rich in magnesium, a mineral that helps your body secrete insulin. In other words, magnesium helps keep your levels of insulin — the hormone that controls how the food you eat is changed into energy — in check, thereby helping to normalize your blood sugar levels, according to a 2019 study.
Protects the heart
As it turns out, the fiber in okra is quite the multi-tasking nutrient; it helps lower LDL, or bad cholesterol, by collecting extra cholesterol molecules as it moves through the digestive system. The fiber then brings along cholesterol as it's excreted in the stool.
This decreases the absorption of cholesterol into the blood, helping manage your cholesterol levels and reducing your risk of heart disease.
Antioxidants, such as the phenolic compounds found in okra, also protect the heart by neutralizing excess free radicals.
When free radicals interact with LDL cholesterol, the physical and chemical properties of this bad cholesterol change. This process, called LDL oxidation, contributes to the development of atherosclerosis or plaque buildup in the arteries that can lead to heart disease.
However, a 2019 scientific review notes that phenolic compounds can prevent LDL oxidation, thus potentially protecting the heart.
Supports healthy pregnancy
Okra is rich in folate, aka vitamin B9, which everyone needs to form red blood cells and support healthy cell growth and function. But it's especially crucial for proper fetal development during pregnancy. Low folate intake during pregnancy can cause birth abnormalities such as neural tube defects, a disease that causes defects in the brain and spinal cord in a fetus.
One cup of cooked okra offers about 88 micrograms of folate, according to the USDA, so okra is sure to help you meet those goals.