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Okra, also known as gumbo or ladies’ fingers, is a warm-season vegetable. It is a good source of minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. It contains a sticky juice that people use to thicken sauces.
Gumbo is popular in the southern United States, parts of Africa and the Middle East, the Caribbean, and South America.
It is an essential crop in many countries due to its high nutritional value. Also, people can use many parts of the plant, including the fresh leaves, buds, flowers, pods, stems, and seeds.
Okra has a mild taste and a unique texture, with a peach-like fuzz on the outside. Inside the pod are small, edible seeds.
This article will look at the nutritional content of okra, its possible health benefits, some recipe tips, and any possible health risks.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database, one cup of raw okra, weighing 100 grams (g) contains:
- 33 calories
- 1.9 g of protein
- 0.2 g of fat
- 7.5 g of carbohydrates
- 3.2 g of fiber
- 1.5 g of sugar
- 31.3 milligrams (mg) of vitamin K
- 299 mg of potassium
- 7 mg of sodium
- 23 mg of vitamin C
- 0.2 mg of thiamin
- 57 mg of magnesium
- 82 mg of calcium
- 0.215 mg of vitamin B6
- 60 micrograms (mcg) of folate
- 36 mcg of vitamin A
Okra also provides some iron, niacin, phosphorus, and copper.
Individual needs for nutrients vary according to age, sex, activity level, and caloric intake. To help a person find out how much of a nutrient they need, the USDA provide an interactive tool.
Scientists think that these compounds may help lower the risk of cancer.
Scientists also believe that these compounds may have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
The mucilage of okra may also help remove toxins from the body.
The nutrients in okra may make it useful for preventing several health problems, including:
Okra, beans, peanuts, and grains contain lectin, which is a type of protein.
In a 2014 study, researchers used lectin from okra in a lab test to treat human breast cancer cells. The treatment reduced cancer cell growth by 63% and killed 72% of the human cancer cells. More studies are needed to see if okra has an effect on cancer in humans.
Okra is a good source of folate. One 2016 review suggested that folate may have preventive effects against breast cancer risk.
A low folate intake may also increase a person’s risk of developing a range of cancers, including cervical, pancreatic, lung, and breast cancer.
However, there is no evidence that taking a folate supplement lowers the risk of cancer. Some scientists think that very high levels of folate may fuel the growth of cancer cells.
Consuming folate from food sources alone is unlikely to have this effect, and people should aim to obtain enough folate from foods, such as okra.
Learn more about the health benefits of folate.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Folate is also important for preventing fetal problems during pregnancy. Low folate levels can lead to pregnancy loss and problems for the child, including conditions such as spina bifida.
The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend an intake of 400 mcg of folate each day for adults. Doctors usually advise that women take more folate during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
Many women take vitamin supplements during pregnancy. Learn about prenatal vitamins and why they are important.
In 2011, researchers made a powder from the peel and seeds of okra to treat rats with diabetes. After approximately 1 month, the rats that consumed the powder had lower blood sugar and fat levels than those that did not.
More research is needed to confirm whether this treatment would work in humans.
A 2019 review looked at several rodent studies that seemed to confirm okra’s potential as an antidiabetic agent. The authors called for further studies to see if people could use it as a nutraceutical, which is a food with medicinal properties.
Find out more about foods that are good for people with diabetes.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommend eating 14 g of fiber in every 1000 calories consumed.
The guidelines also recommend that adults consume the following amount of fiber each day:
- 25.2–28 g per day for females between 19 and 50 years
- 30.8–33.6 g per day for males between 19 and 50 years
After the age of 50 years, they recommend a daily intake of:
- 22.4 g for women
- 28 g for men
Children and teenagers require different amounts of fiber, depending on their age and sex.
People can incorporate fiber into their diet by choosing fibrous foods, such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains.
Why is dietary fiber important? Find out here. /articles/146935.php
Vitamin K plays a role in bone formation and blood clotting.
Consuming foods that are good sources of vitamin K may help strengthen bones and prevent fractures.
Okra, Swiss chard, arugula, and spinach are all excellent sources of vitamin K and calcium.
Dietary fiber helps prevent constipation and maintain a healthy digestive system.
Fiber in the diet also helps reduce appetite, and it may contribute to weight loss.
In Asian medicine, people add okra extract to foods to protect against irritation and inflammatory gastric diseases. The anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial action may help protect against gastrointestinal problems.
Other health-related uses
Okra seeds can also provide oil and protein, and people have used them as a source of oil in small-scale production.
In regions where food is scarce, the seeds can offer a source of high quality protein.
In medicine, the viscous extract of okra could be useful as a tablet binder, a suspending agent, a serum albumin extender, a plasma replacement, or a blood volume expander.
Okra also has some uses in medicine. Scientists use it to bind the compounds in tablets, to make liquids for suspending compounds, as a replacement for blood plasma, and to expand the volume of blood.
Okra requires a hot climate to grow.
People can add it to salads, soups, and stews. They can eat it fresh or dried, pickled, fried, sautéed, roasted, or boiled.
Tips for cooking
Tips for choosing and using okra include:
- Picking okra that is taut and firm to the touch.
- Avoiding pods that are shriveled, soft, or dark on the ends.
- Keeping okra dry and storing in the crisper drawer in a paper or plastic bag to stop it from becoming slimy or moldy.
- Avoiding washing it until you are ready to use it.
- Using within 3–4 days.
Forms of okra
Wet okra: Cutting and cooking okra in moisture releases a slimy juice that increases the thickness of soups and stews.
Dried okra: Dried okra can also thicken a sauce. Some people use it as an egg white substitute.
Okra seeds: Some people roast and grind these to make a noncaffeinated coffee substitute.
Some people do not enjoy the gummy texture of okra. Cooking the whole pods quickly can avoid this.
Various okra products are available for purchase online.
Try these tasty and healthful okra recipes:
Eating too much okra can adversely affect some people.
Gastrointestinal problems: Okra contains fructans, which is a type of carbohydrate. Fructans can cause diarrhea, gas, cramping, and bloating in people with existing bowel problems.
Kidney stones: Okra is high in oxalates. The most common type of kidney stone consists of calcium oxalate. High oxalate foods, such as okra and spinach, may increase the risk of kidney stones in people who have had them previously.
Inflammation: Okra contains solanine, which is a toxic compound that may trigger joint pain, arthritis, and prolonged inflammation in some people. Potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, blueberries, and artichokes also contain solanine.
Blood clotting: Vitamin K helps the blood clot, and okra’s high vitamin K content may affect those who use blood-thinning drugs, such as warfarin or Coumadin. Blood thinners help prevent the formation of blood clots that can lead to a stroke or heart attack.
People who use blood thinners or who have a risk of blood clots should maintain a regular consumption of vitamin-K-rich foods.
For most people, okra, like other vegetables, is a healthful addition to the diet. As with any food or nutrient, it is best to eat it in moderation and as part of a varied, balanced diet.
However, some people should talk to a doctor before consuming okra as it may cause adverse effects.