Okra, native to Africa, made its way around the world during slave trades. Also referred to as gumbo, the 2- to 3-inch-long green pods can be found year-round at most grocery stores. Packed with nutrients, okra is a healthy addition to any menu and can be eaten raw or added to soups and casseroles.
Blood Sugar Benefits
Okra has the ability to lower blood sugar levels, according to the July 2011 issue of the "Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences." Researchers fed okra seed and peel to diabetic rats and found that okra lowered blood sugar as well as a common diabetes drug. The study states that not only does okra have the ability to lower blood sugar, it also lowers bad cholesterol levels and raises good cholesterol levels.
The October 2011 issue of "Neurochemistry International" reported that okra contains compounds that have positive effects on the brain. These compounds were extracted from okra and tested on rats that had impaired brain function. The study found that treatment with okra extracts reversed cognitive deficits in the rats. More studies are needed to determine the mechanism behind these results.
Okra pectin is found just under the peel. A study by researchers in France, published in the July 2010 issue of "Phytotherapy Research," found that okra pectin has the ability to fight cancer cells. When tested against melanoma tumor cells in a lab, beneficial compounds in okra pectin helped stopped the growth and spread of the tumors and even triggered a die-off of the cancer cells. When eating okra, whether raw or cooked, be sure to include the peel in order to obtain pectin's health benefits.
Okra delivers several nutritional benefits which include vitamins, minerals and fiber. The USDA National Nutrient Database reports that a 1/2-cup serving of sliced, boiled okra contains vitamin A, vitamin E and the B-vitamin family. The predominant vitamins in okra, however are vitamins C and K. A 1/2-cup serving contains 13 milligrams of vitamin C, or 22 percent of the recommended daily intake for adults. The same serving contains 32 micrograms of vitamin K, or 40 percent of the RDI. Vitamin K promotes blood clotting, and if you are on medications for blood thinning, you need to speak with your physician before consuming okra. Its high vitamin K content may interfere with your medication's ability to work properly.
Other Nutritional Benefits
Okra is low in calories and carbs, making it safe for any diet. A 1/2-cup serving contains only 18 calories and 4 carbs, but it also contains 2 grams of fiber, or 8 percent of the RDI. The July 1, 2012 issue of "Advances in Nutrition" reports that dietary fiber intake helps prevent obesity and heart disease. High-fiber foods, such as okra, fill you up faster and discourage you from overeating. Other nutritional benefits of okra include 1.5 grams of protein, and minerals such as manganese, magnesium, calcium, phosphorous, potassium, copper, zinc and iron.
- Texas A&M Extension Service: Okra, or "Gumbo," From Africa
- Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences:
- Neurochemistry International: Neuroprotective Effects of Quercetin, Rutin and Okra (Abelmoschus Esculentus Linn.) in Dexamethasone-Treated Mice
- Phytotherapy Research: Antiproliferative and Proapoptotic Actions of Okra Pectin on B16F10 Melanoma Cells
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Okra, Cooked, Boiled, Drained, Without Salt
- Advances in Nutrition: Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables
A certified nutritionist who majored in health, fitness and nutrition, Traci Vandermark has been writing articles in her specialty fields since 1998. Her articles have appeared both online and in print for publications such as Simple Abundance, "Catskill Country Magazine," "Birds and Blooms," "Cappers" and "Country Discoveries."