Okra, also called gumbo or lady’s fingers, is a coarse, tall, flowering plant that was prized for centuries for its edible pods. Most commonly cultivated in the West Indes and the southern United States, but also West Africa and South Asia, okra’s pods are often used as a basis for stews and soups since they transform into a thick, gooey mucilage once cooked. Many cultures, however, dislike preparing okra in this manner, and prefer to cook the pods with acidic ingredients like lemon juice or vinegar to dissolve the mucilage and prepare the plant for stir fries and other dishes that favor solid vegetables.
List of Health Benefits
High fiber content – Okra contains high amounts of dietary fiber. In fact, one cup (100g) of okra provides us with 13% of our RDA of fiber, which is more than many other green-leafed vegetables. It is a good idea to eat fibrous foods because fiber adsorbs water from the digestive tract, which softens stools and prompts intestinal peristalsis (i.e. bowel movements), which prevents toxin build-ups and makes you feel less bloated. Fibrous foods also make you feel fuller than other foods, thereby discouraging overeating. They also control blood sugar levels, since fiber influences the rate by which sugar is digested.
High in vitamin C – One cup of okra contains a whopping 35% of our RDA of vitamin C, one of the most important vitamins for our bodies since it helps the repair and growth of our bodies’ tissues. Vitamin C also helps us make collagen, an essential protein used to make blood vessels, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and skin.
Antioxidant activity – Okra is well-known for its high antioxidant activity. Antioxidants are substances that inhibit the process of oxidation in our bodies, which can lead to an electron imbalance. Consuming foods high in antioxidants has been linked to improved vision, a reduced risk of cancer, and clearer skin.
High in folates – Okra is high in folic acid, a B vitamin that is important for cell growth and reproduction, including decreasing the risk of birth defects. For this reason, okra is an excellent choice for women who are pregnant or hope to become pregnant.
Weight loss – Okra is very low in calories and fat. One cup of okra contains a mere 31 calories and 0.1g of fat, effectively making it fat-free. It is also cholesterol-free. These facts, coupled with its aforementioned high fiber content, makes okra an ideal weight loss food.
On a more general level, one cup of okra also provides us with the following: 8% of our RDA of vitamin A (including large amounts of beta-carotene), 8% of our RDA of calcium, 4% of our RDA of iron, and 2g of protein.
As you can see, okra is an excellent ingredient to include in most dishes, even if it’s just as a soup thickener. Hopefully, as its impressive nutritional profile becomes better-known among cooks and foodies, okra will become a more popular ingredient in Western cuisine.