Also known as ladyfingers, okra is a green, seedy vegetable that is popular in savory dishes in the southern United States, India, and increasingly around the world.
The inner part of an okra pod contains mucilage, a substance with a characteristic "slimy" consistency.
Research into the effects of okra on blood sugar is still in the early stages, but the results are promising.
What is okra?
Okra is a vegetable-like fruit with a mild flavor and an unusual texture.
Okra thrives in temperate climates. The plant produces large, hibiscus-like flowers and green seed pods.
It is a member of the mallow family. Other popular members include hibiscus, cocoa, and cotton.
Scientifically known as Abelmoschus esculentus, people may have grown okra as long ago as 2000 B.C. in Egypt, according to the website of the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in the United Kingdom.
This vegetable-like fruit also has a role in traditional medicine.
Okra's flavor is mild, and people can eat the entire seed pod.
Okra for diabetes
People can manage diabetes with a range of therapies. Some treatments regulate levels of the hormone insulin.
Research shows that many people with prediabetes can prevent their condition from progressing to diabetes with dietary changes and exercise.
If a doctor prescribes medication, it can take time to find the right one. Some medications may cause more side effects than others.
Even with medication, lifestyle modifications involving exercise and the diet are essential for optimal blood sugar control.
The potential for a readily available vegetable to help control diabetes is exciting, but conclusive evidence is lacking. So far, researchers have only studied the effects in animals, and results in humans may differ.
Increased absorption of sugar by muscles
A 2017 study published in PLOS One investigated the effects of okra on rats with diabetes. A substance called myricetin is present in okra and some other foods, including red wine and tea.
The researchers isolated myricetin from okra, then gave it to the rats. This increased the absorption of sugar in the rats' muscles, lowering their blood glucose levels.
A 2012 Food Science and Human Wellness review points to a number of other laboratory and animal studies that have linked myricetin to lower blood sugar. The authors argue that myricetin may also reduce other risk factors for diabetes.
Reduction in blood sugar spikes after eating
People with diabetes must avoid blood glucose spikes.
Authors of a 2011 animal study published in ISRN Pharmaceutics found a link between okra and decreased spikes in blood sugar.
The researchers administered liquid sugar and purified okra to rats through feeding tubes. Compared with control groups, the rats who had consumed the okra had lower blood sugar spikes after feeding.
The study's authors believe that the okra solution had blocked the absorption of sugar in the intestines.
The study also explored interactions between okra and metformin, a drug that can reduce blood sugar in type 2 diabetes. The okra solution appeared to block the absorption of metformin, suggesting that the plant may reduce the drug's effectiveness.
Discovering how okra blocked absorption of the drug will require further research, but people who take metformin for diabetes should consult a medical professional before trying okra as a treatment.
Lower blood sugar levels
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences points to a link between okra and lower blood sugar levels.
For 14 days, the researchers maintained consistent blood sugar levels in rats with diabetes. They then gave the rats powdered okra peel extract and seed doses of up to 2,000 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.
These relatively high doses appeared to have no poisonous effects, and they resulted in reduced blood sugar levels for up to 28 days after the rats had consumed the okra. The study ended on day 28, so it is unclear whether the effects would have lasted longer.
A 2016 review published in the Iranian Journal of Medical Science concluded that the "widespread use" of okra may benefit people with diabetes. However, the authors note that more research is necessary.
Little research has shown that okra has negative side effects, though these are possible. For example, okra may make the drug metformin less effective.
Also, okra is rich in substances called oxalates, which may increase the risk of kidney stones in people prone to this issue.
The plant can contain bacteria, pesticides, and other dangerous substances. People should never consume rotten okra, frozen okra that is past its expiration date, or okra that has not been properly washed.
People who are allergic to okra should avoid it. Those with allergies to other plants in the mallow family, such as hibiscus or cotton, may also be allergic to okra.
Okra is a good source of vitamin K, but plants rich in this vitamin can affect the blood's ability to clot. People with bleeding disorders should check with their doctors about any foods that may be unsafe.
Okra will not cure diabetes, as one health blogger points out. People with the condition should follow their treatment plans and ask their doctors about any major changes that they are thinking of making, including changes to the diet.
Okra provides a number of nutritional benefits.
Other health benefits
Okra is rich in protective substances called antioxidants, including myricetin.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health in the U.S., antioxidants may reduce oxidative stress, a process that damages cells in the body.
Oxidative stress plays a role in the development of diabetes, as well as diseases such as:
- Parkinson's disease
- Alzheimer's disease
- macular degeneration
- heart and blood vessel diseases
The American Diabetes Association include okra on their list of non-starchy vegetables that are suitable for people with diabetes. However, they do not specifically recommend it for reducing blood glucose.
Growing and cooking okra
Okra thrives when the soil temperature is above 65°F, and it is heat-tolerant throughout the summer.
The Old Farmer's Almanac report that the first harvest of okra is about 2 months after planting.
The plants are tall, growing at least 2–3 feet, and they need space to grow. They may also need staking.
Okra is safe to eat raw or cooked, and many people enjoy it:
Okra is a popular ingredient in some types of gumbo.
- fried (in moderation, as fried foods are less healthful)
- roasted or grilled
- in stews or soups, such as gumbo
- in salads
- as a side dish
Some people appreciate the consistency that okra can add to soup, for example, but others do not like the viscosity.
To reduce the viscosity of okra, a person could try:
- cooking it at a high heat
- cutting the plants and leaving them to dry overnight
- marinating them in lemon or vinegar
Here are some recipe ideas:
Various okra-based products are available for purchase online, but people should check with a doctor before using them as a treatment option for diabetes or another health condition.