Diet Health

Okra or okra: characteristics, uses and benefits

Do you know what okra is? Also known as ‘okra’, it is an exotic fruit that you can take advantage of in your kitchen. See how to use it.

Okra or okra: characteristics, uses and benefits

Okra or okra, also known as lady’s fingers, is a fruit that is used in gastronomy as a vegetable. Its peculiar characteristics are native to Africa and it belongs to the cotton and hibiscus family.

Despite the fact that okra cultivation is lost in the pages of history and has spread throughout Asia, America and the United States, in some European countries it is not known. This fruit is a pod that resembles the pepper, but has elongated striations. When cut it leaves a star shape.

The okra, bamia, bhendi or candi, among many other names, is very versatile in the kitchen in its raw or cooked form. However, its mucilage gives it a slimy consistency that is unattractive to some consumers. So they prefer it in stews, like the popular New Orleans gumbo, with African roots fused with French and Spanish.

Nutritional values

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture describes the nutritional composition of an 82-gram serving of okra or okra. The energy contribution is only 33 calories, since it is 90% water and only 7% carbohydrates. Soluble fiber predominates and is not digested.

It contains 21 milligrams of vitamin C, managing to cover 26% of the recommended nutritional value. Vitamin K provides 53 micrograms and 26% of the recommended value.

Vitamin C, as highlighted by Nutrients magazine, is recognized for being a powerful antioxidant and participating in immune function. While the magazine Open Heart comments on the role of vitamin K in blood clotting.

It is recommended to consume okra in its raw form to make the most of its vitamin C content, since, as the Chilean Nutrition Magazine refers, heat destroys it. Magnesium, vitamin A and B6 cover 14% of the requirement and 15% of folic acid.

Although its protein level is only 2%, it is higher than that of other fruits and vegetables. A review highlights that protein consumption participates in weight control and muscle mass synthesis.

Possible benefits of okra or okra

Okra or okra provides a series of health benefits due to the presence of antioxidant components, such as polyphenols. In addition, it has soluble fiber and lectin.

1. It is a source of antioxidants

Okra is a fruit that contains many antioxidants, described by some experts as compounds that block damage caused by free radicals.

Nutrients magazine has confirmed the antioxidant effect of polyphenols and flavonoids such as isoquercetin from okra. A review in this regard related the protective role of polyphenols against cardiovascular diseases in human intervention studies, animal models and laboratory.

Other experts have also found the positive effect of polyphenols in preventing brain aging and its consequences on cognition, learning, and memory.

Okra or okra: characteristics, uses and benefits

A diet rich in antioxidants is able to prevent cognition problems associated with memory.

2. May be beneficial for diabetes

Medical studies on managing diabetes with okra consumption are still in the early stages of research. Some of them point out that okra water can improve blood sugar levels in pregnant rats with gestational diabetes.

Moreover, science has also shown the lowering effect of roasted okra seeds on blood sugar. That is why it is part of the treatment of diabetes in Turkey.

High levels of fiber are recommended among the options for the dietary management of diabetes. Studies show that fiber intake can promote better glycemic control and increase insulin sensitivity. Okra contains 7% soluble fiber.

3. Decreases the risk of cardiovascular diseases

The Secretariat of Agroindustry of Buenos Aires published that the predominant fiber in okra or okra is of the soluble type, through the mucilages that give it that particular stickiness when raw. Thus it serves as a thickener in culinary preparations.

This mucilage can bind to cholesterol during digestion and excrete it through the stool instead of absorbing it from the intestine. This helps clean the arteries and lower the risk of heart attack or heart disease.

In a study that evaluated the ability of okra to lower blood lipids, 3 groups of mice were analyzed: one on a high-fat diet without okra and the other two on the same diet with supplements of 1% or 2% okra in dust.

The okra supplement group was found to eliminate more cholesterol in their stools. The mucilage showed strong binding to bile acids at the laboratory level. This may contribute to its potential application in the treatment of high cholesterol.

Another contribution of okra on heart disease is its high content of polyphenols. In this sense, a long-standing investigation in 1,139 people showed that those who consumed diets rich in polyphenols had inflammatory markers at lower levels.

4. Has an anti fatigue benefit

Consuming okra can lead to faster recovery after exercise. This is demonstrated by a study on the improvement of recovery times and levels of fatigue when this fruit is consumed.

5. Could have anticancer effects

Lectin is a type of protein found in some vegetables, including okra. It could inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

In this regard, a laboratory study on breast cancer cells found that the lectin in okra can prevent the growth of malignant cells by 63%. In metastatic mice, okra extract was also found to cause the death of melanoma cancer cells.

Despite these favorable results, it should be taken into account that these studies were carried out at the laboratory level without application in humans. More research is required in this regard to draw definitive conclusions.

6. It can promote the development of pregnancy

A serving of okra covers 15% of the needs for folic acid or vitamin B9. This vitamin is essential in pregnant women, helping to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. It is recommended that pregnant women consume up to 400 micrograms of folic acid per day.

Possible risks and contraindications of okra or okra

Care must be taken when consuming okra or okra during the treatment of some diseases. In diabetes, for example, a study reveals that it should not be combined with metformin, as it can interfere with its absorption. Diabetic patients should inform the doctor if they are looking for alternative treatments with this fruit.

Other precautions to take into account is that it contains high levels of oxalates, which become kidney and gallstones. When preparing it, you also have to take some precautions, because its surface has a kind of very small villi that can be aggressive for the stomach and skin.

Okra or okra: characteristics, uses and benefits

If a diabetic patient consumes metformin, they should inform their doctor about the inclusion of this fruit in their diet, as there may be interactions.

How can you use okra or okra?

The okra is very versatile in the kitchen. It can be prepared raw for salads or dehydrated to enhance the flavor.

However, as the mucilage it contains causes some suspicion in consumers, a good way to use it is in the form of stews, due to its thickening power. It is also eaten fried or battered.

In addition, it combines very well with other vegetables, such as coriander, tomato, pepper and parsley to prepare meat or fish. Pickled is an excellent alternative to replace the bitterness of the pod with a sour taste. Garlic, peas and black pepper are placed at the bottom and okra pods are placed on top, in repeated layers. Finally, sugar, salt and vinegar are added.

Okra is a food that, with fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants, benefits heart, brain and pregnancy health. So except for a few precautions to take into account, it can be part of the food list for a change towards a healthier nutritional guideline.