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When Liz Williams was little, there was one vegetable her otherwise produce-loving mother couldn’t stand: okra. "She called it slimy and disgusting," Williams says. "So I just assumed she was right."

But her Louisiana-born father loved the veggie. For a family picnic outing, he brought along a jar of pickled okra. Snacking on the crunchy spears, 7-year-old Williams just about finished the jar. "What is this?" she asked. When she heard "okra," she was shocked and thrilled. "I couldn’t wait to get home to tell my mom she was wrong about okra," Williams laughs.

From then on, she badgered her mom to make more. Persistence paid off. "What mom would turn down a child asking to eat vegetables?" Williams says.

Her mom pickled it, stewed it with tomatoes, and put it in gumbo and giardiniera (a spicy, pickled condiment or side dish).

After a while, all that okra cooking won her mom over. "She actually embraced it and grew to like it herself," says Williams, who still prepares her mom’s giardiniera. "But," she confides, "with extra okra!"

Okra's Health Benefits

Okra is part of the mallow family, which includes cotton, the kola nut, and the durian fruit. The edible pods of the okra plant contain natural chemicals that mix to make mucilage, a sticky substance that becomes gooier when heated.

Okra's sliminess makes it hard for some people to love, but it’s also what makes it so good for you. A soluble fiber much like the soluble fiber in oatmeal, okra’s mucilage helps lower blood cholesterol levels and prevent constipation.

It’s low in calories, too -- only 25 per half cup, cooked -- and rich in vitamins C and K and folates.

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