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7 Nutrition and Health Benefits of Okra

Health + Wellness
Purple and green okra. Liza / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD

Okra is a flowering plant known for its edible seed pods. It's cultivated in warm and tropical climates, such as those in Africa and South Asia.


Sometimes referred to as "lady's finger," okra comes in two colors — red and green. Both varieties taste the same, and the red one turns green when cooked.

Biologically classified as a fruit, okra is generally utilized like a vegetable in cooking.

It's frequently used in Southern American cuisine and a popular addition to gumbo. Yet, it can have a slimy texture, which some people find unappealing.

Though it's not one of the most common foods, okra is packed with nutrition.

Here are 7 nutrition and health benefits of okra.

1. Rich in Nutrients

Okra boasts an impressive nutrient profile.

One cup (100 grams) of raw okra contains (1):

  • Calories: 33
  • Carbs: 7 grams
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 3 grams
  • Magnesium: 14% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Folate: 15% of the DV
  • Vitamin A: 14% of the DV
  • Vitamin C: 26% of the DV
  • Vitamin K: 26% of the DV
  • Vitamin B6: 14% of the DV

Okra is an excellent source of vitamins C and K1. Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient that contributes to your overall immune function, while vitamin K1 is a fat-soluble vitamin that's known for its role in blood clotting (2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source).

Additionally, okra is low in calories and carbs and contains some protein and fiber. Many fruits and vegetables lack protein, which makes okra somewhat unique.

Eating enough protein is associated with benefits for weight management, blood sugar control, bone structure, and muscle mass (4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source).

Summary

Okra is rich in many nutrients and particularly high in vitamins C and K. This fruit is unique, as it provides protein, a nutrient that many other fruits and vegetables lack.

2. Contains Beneficial Antioxidants

Okra packs many antioxidants that benefit your health.

Antioxidants are compounds in food that fend off damage from harmful molecules called free radicals (6Trusted Source).

The main antioxidants in okra are polyphenols, including flavonoids and isoquercetin, as well as vitamins A and C (7Trusted Source).

Research shows that eating a diet high in polyphenols may improve heart health by lowering your risk of blood clots and oxidative damage (8Trusted Source).

Polyphenols may also benefit brain health due to their unique ability to enter your brain and protect against inflammation (9Trusted Source).

These defense mechanisms may help protect your brain from symptoms of aging and improve cognition, learning, and memory (9Trusted Source).

Summary

Okra is rich in antioxidants that may reduce your risk of serious diseases, prevent inflammation, and contribute to overall health. Most notably, it contains polyphenols that may contribute to heart and brain health.

3. May Lower Heart Disease Risk

High cholesterol levels are associated with a greater risk of heart disease.

Okra contains a thick gel-like substance called mucilage, which can bind to cholesterol during digestion, causing it to be excreted with stools rather than absorbed into your body.

One 8-week study randomly divided mice into 3 groups and fed them a high-fat diet containing 1% or 2% okra powder or a high-fat diet without okra powder.

The mice on the okra diet eliminated more cholesterol in their stools and had lower total blood cholesterol levels than the control group (10Trusted Source).

Another possible heart benefit of okra is its polyphenol content. One 4-year study in 1,100 people showed that those who ate a diet rich in polyphenols had lower inflammatory markers associated with heart disease (11Trusted Source).

Summary

Animal research suggests that okra may bind to cholesterol in your gut and lower blood cholesterol levels. It's also rich in polyphenols, which fight harmful inflammation and protect your heart.

4. May Have Anticancer Properties

Okra contains a type of protein called lectin, which may inhibit the growth of human cancer cells.

One test-tube study in breast cancer cells found that the lectin in okra may prevent cancer cell growth by up to 63% (12Trusted Source).

Another test-tube study in metastatic mouse melanoma cells discovered that okra extract caused cancer cell death (13Trusted Source).

Keep in mind that these studies were performed in test tubes with concentrated and extracted components of okra. More human research is needed before any conclusions can be drawn.

Summary

Okra contains a protein called lectin, which is being studied for its role in cancer prevention and treatment. More human research is needed.

5. May Lower Blood Sugar

Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is very important for your overall health. Consistently high blood sugar can lead to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

Research in mice indicates that eating okra or okra extract may help decrease blood sugar levels (14Trusted Source).

In one study, rats given liquid sugar and purified okra experienced fewer blood sugar spikesthan animals in the control group (15Trusted Source).

Researchers suggested that the okra decreased sugar absorption in the digestive tract, leading to a more stable blood sugar response (15Trusted Source).

That said, okra may interfere with metformin, a common diabetes medication. Therefore, eating okra is not recommended for those taking this drug (15Trusted Source).

Summary

Eating okra has been linked to blood sugar control. Yet, some research suggests that it may interfere with common diabetes medications.

6. Beneficial for Pregnant Women

Folate (vitamin B9) is an important nutrient for pregnant women. It helps lower the risk of a neural tube defect, which affects the brain and spine of a developing fetus (16Trusted Source).

It's recommended that all women of childbearing age consume 400 mcg of folate every day.

A review that included 12,000 healthy adult women found that most consumed just 245 mcg of folate per day, on average (17Trusted Source).

Another study that followed 6,000 non-pregnant women over 5 years discovered that 23% of participants had inadequate folate concentrations in their blood (18Trusted Source).

Okra is a good source of folate, with 1 cup (100 grams) providing 15% of a woman's daily needs for this nutrient.

Summary

Eating okra may help pregnant women meet their daily folate needs. Folate is important for preventing neural tube defects.

7. Easy to Add to Your Diet

Though okra may not be a staple in your kitchen, it's quite easy to cook.

When purchasing okra, look for smooth and tender green pods without brown spots or dried ends. Store them in the fridge for up to four days before cooking.

Usually, okra is used in soups and stews like gumbo. It contains mucilage, a thick substance that becomes gummy when heated. To avoid slimy okra, follow these simple cooking techniques:

  • Cook okra at high heat.
  • Avoid crowding your pan or skillet, as this will reduce the heat and cause sliminess.
  • Pickling okra may reduce the slime factor.
  • Cooking it in an acid-like tomato sauce reduces the gumminess.
  • Simply slice and roast okra in your oven.
  • Grill it until it's slightly charred.

Summary

Okra can become slimy when cooked. To prevent this, follow the simple cooking methods above.

The Bottom Line

Okra is a nutritious food with many health benefits.

It's rich in magnesium, folate, fiber, antioxidants, and vitamin C, K1, and A.

Okra may benefit pregnant women, heart health, and blood sugar control. It may even have anticancer properties.

Cooking okra can be simple. Add it to your grocery list to try a new ingredient with powerful health effects.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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