Okra is a warm-season vegetable popular in the southern United States, parts of Africa and the Middle East, the Caribbean, and South America.
The small green pods of okra are also called gumbo or ladies fingers.
The taste of okra is mild and similar to eggplant. It has a unique texture with peach-like fuzz on the outside and mini edible seeds on the inside of the pod.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of okra and an in-depth look at its possible health benefits, how to incorporate more okra into your diet, and any potential health risks of consuming okra.
Contents of this article:
Nutritional content of okra
According to the National Nutrient Database, one cup of raw okra (around 100 grams) contains:
One cup of raw okra contains 66 percent of an adult's recommended daily vitamin K intake.
- 33 calories
- 1.93 grams of protein
- 0.19 grams of fat
- 7.45 grams of carbohydrate
- 3.2 grams of fiber
- 1.48 grams of sugar
One cup of okra provides the following percentages of recommended daily nutrient intake:
- 66 percent of vitamin K
- 50 percent of manganese
- 35 percent of vitamin C
- 22 percent of folate
- 14 percent of magnesium
- 13 percent of thiamin
- 11 percent of vitamin B6
Possible health benefits of eating okra
Eating fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been linked with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions.
Many studies have suggested that eating more plant foods like okra reduces the risk of conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Eating more plant foods may also help with increasing energy levels and keeping a healthy complexion and hair.
Lectin is a type of protein found in okra, beans, peanuts, and grains. Lectin from okra was used in a study to treat human breast cancer cells. The treatment reduced cancer cell growth by 63 percent and killed 72 percent of the human cancer cells.
People who do not eat enough folate are at a higher risk for breast, cervical, pancreatic, lung, and other cancers. Researchers are unsure of why folate intake and cancer risk are connected.
There is no evidence that taking a folate supplement lowers the risk for cancer. As a result, getting folate from food like okra is important. Getting enough folate is especially important for women who are pregnant and people who are dependent on alcohol.
More studies need to be done to see if okra has an effect on cancer in humans.
In a 2011 study, researchers made a powder from the peel and seed of okra to treat rats with diabetes. The rats that were treated with the powder had lower blood sugar and fat levels than rats that did not receive the powder.
According to the American Heart Association, eating foods that are high in fiber can reduce harmful cholesterol levels in the blood. High-fiber foods lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and diabetes. Fiber can also slow heart disease in people who already have it.
People should aim to get at least 25 grams of fiber per day from vegetables, fruits, and legumes. It is best to choose whole grains over processed grains like white breads and snack cakes. Okra has 3.2 grams of fiber per cup.
Foods that are high in vitamin K like okra are good for the bones. Vitamin K helps the bones to absorb calcium. People who eat a low amount of vitamin K are more likely to have fractures.
Okra and leafy greens such as Swiss chard, arugula, and spinach add vitamin K and calcium to a diet. Just one cup of okra has 66 percent of an adult's daily need for vitamin K.
Eating fiber helps to prevent constipation and maintain a healthy digestive system.
Fiber in the diet also helps to reduce appetite and may aid in weight loss.
How to use more okra into your diet
Okra is easy to grow in hot climates. People should choose okra that is taut and firm to the touch. It is best to avoid pods that are shriveled or soft. Once the pods start to turn dark on the ends, they will go bad if they are not used soon.
Okra should be kept dry, and only washed when it is ready to be used.
People should keep okra dry and in the crisper drawer in a paper or plastic bag to keep it from getting slimy or moldy. Fresh okra does not last for more than 3-4 days. Users should not wash okra until it is ready to be used.
Okra is used as a thickener in many dishes. It can be roasted, pickled, sautéed, fried, stewed, or boiled. Cutting okra and cooking it in moisture releases the slimy juice that increases the thickness of soups and stews.
Some people do not enjoy the "gummy" texture that okra gets when it is chopped and prefer to cook the whole pods quickly to avoid it.
Try these healthy and delicious recipes developed by registered dietitians using okra:Easy roasted okra
Roasted corn, okra, and tomato salsa
Lemon and parmesan grilled okra
Risks and precautions for eating okra
Okra is rich in fructans, a type of carbohydrate that can cause diarrhea, gas, cramping, and bloating in people with bowel problems. People with irritable bowel syndrome and other gut conditions are more likely to be sensitive to foods high in fructans.
People who take blood-thinning drugs should be wary of foods that are high in vitamin K like okra.
Okra is also high in oxalates. The most common type of kidney stone is made of calcium oxalate. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, high oxalate foods can increase the risk of these stones in people who have had them previously. Other high oxalate foods include spinach, rhubarb, and Swiss chard.
Okra contains a compound called solanine. Solanine has been linked to joint pain, arthritis, and long-lasting inflammation for a small percentage of people who may be sensitive to it. Solanine is found in many fruits and vegetables including potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, blueberries, and artichokes.
There have been no studies to suggest reducing solanine intake for the general population. It is worth remembering that vegetables and fruit in general help to reduce inflammation.
Eating foods like okra that are high vitamin K can affect people taking blood-thinning drugs like warfarin. Blood thinners are used to prevent harmful blood clots that can block blood from getting to the brain or heart.
Vitamin K helps the blood to clot. People who are at risk of blood clots should not suddenly increase or decrease the amount of vitamin K they eat. People should aim to keep their intake of vitamin-K-rich foods steady from day to day.
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.