Health Benefits of Okra

Health Benefits of Okra



Medically reviewed by Simone Harounian, MSMedically reviewed by Simone Harounian, MS

Abelmoschus esculentus, commonly known as okra, is an edible plant with seeds and a smooth texture that is suspected to have been native to the East African region near Ethiopia. It is commonly consumed as a side dish or as a tangy ingredient in soups and stews.

Okra is rich in nutrients and other compounds that may reduce blood sugar levels and decrease your risk for heart disease and high cholesterol. Okra is also rich in fiber, which may benefit your digestive health.

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May Lower Blood Sugar

In a small study, researchers found that okra could help reduce blood glucose levels in people with diabetes.

Okra contains polysaccharides (macromolecules found in food) and flavonoid antioxidants. Polysaccharides and antioxidants prevent enzymes from breaking down carbohydrates and slow the absorption of sugar in your blood.

In another study, people with type 2 diabetes who received 1,000 milligrams (mg) of powdered okra three times a day for three months saw a decrease in their blood sugar. The results showed better long-term blood sugar management than participants who did not consume okra powder.

According to research, the mucus on okra that gives it its slimy texture may also have anti-diabetic benefits, such as lowering glucose in the blood. In some cases, the mucus on okra has also been used for other medicinal purposes that benefit the blood.

High in Nutrients

Okra is high in several important nutrients, including magnesium and folate. It is especially beneficial for people who do not get enough magnesium in their diet.

Magnesium supports blood pressure regulation, blood sugar management, and stress maintenance. A serving of okra provides 57.6 mg of magnesium, or 14% of the Daily Value (DV).

Research suggests that each 100 mg increase in your daily magnesium intake may reduce hypertension (high blood pressure) risk by as much as 5%. More research is needed to fully understand magnesium's effect on preventing hypertension.

Okra is also rich in folate, a B vitamin required for cell growth. Due to its role in fetal brain development, folate is very important for pregnant people. One cup of cooked okra covers over 12% of the daily folate needs of a pregnant person.

May Improve Heart Health

Polysaccharides in okra are carbohydrates that help your body maintain cholesterol levels. Fiber in okra pods also reduces levels of cholesterol.

A small study of people with type 2 diabetes found that those who received 10 grams (g) of okra powder blended with 150 g of yogurt with their lunch and dinner for eight weeks experienced a significant decrease in their LDL cholesterol. This type of cholesterol is in most of your body and can cause heart disease when it gets too high.

The participants in the okra group also had lower levels of C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) (a protein produced in the liver). Reducing the C-reactive protein can lower the risk of heart disease and other heart conditions.

Nutrition

Okra is rich in several vitamins and minerals that support digestive health.

Here's the nutrition breakdown for a one-cup serving of cooked okra:

  • Calories: 35.2 cal
  • Carbohydrates: 7.22 grams (g)
  • Fiber: 4g
  • Protein: 3g
  • Fat: <1g
  • Vitamin B6: .3 milligrams (mg) or 18% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Vitamin C: 26 mg, or 29% of the DV
  • Vitamin K: 64 micrograms (mcg), or 53% of the DV
  • Folate: 73.6 mcg or 18% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 57.6 mg or 14% of the DV 

Okra is rich in vitamin B6, which helps to regulate the amount of homocysteine (an amino acid) in your blood. High homocysteine levels in your blood can increase your risk of inflammation and health conditions.

In addition to B vitamins, okra contains a good amount of fiber—a nutrient that supports digestive health. Adding fibrous foods, like okra, to your diet can help you meet your daily fiber needs and promote overall health.

Risks of Okra

When consumed in normal amounts, okra has no harmful side effects. However, okra contains compounds called oxalates, which naturally occur in many plant-based foods.

Oxalates may decrease the absorption of minerals like calcium and iron. Making cooked okra reduces its oxalate content. Foods high in oxalates may harm people with kidney disease if the kidneys cannot filter enough oxalates out of the kidneys.

Tips for Consuming Okra

Okra can be enjoyed in many ways, including raw, cooked, and pickled.

Here are a few ways to incorporate okra into your diet:

  • Sprinkle raw, sliced okra with a bit of salt for a crunchy snack
  • Add pickled okra to salads and grain dishes
  • Use okra as an ingredient in gumbos, soups, and stews
  • Roast, grill, or boil okra as a side dish

Okra's texture can range from crunchy to tender, depending on how long it's cooked. To avoid its sliminess, cook it for a shorter period of time. Although rare, the seeds of okra can also be used to make cooking oil.

You can also soak okra in vinegar for 30 minutes. For some recipes, the thick consistency of the slime inside the okra plant can be used as a substitute for egg whites and fat.

Eating okra may also help when you are experiencing digestive issues. Okra helps to balance bacteria in the stomach and cleanse the colon of toxins.

A Quick Review

Okra is packed with nutrients that may support your heart health and improve blood sugar levels. Different parts of the okra plant, from the seeds to the pods, can also be used in the kitchen for their health benefits. You can enjoy it raw, cooked, or pickled in your favorite stew recipe or as a crunchy snack.

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