Sometimes called “lady’s finger,” okra is a flowering plant with edible seed pods. It grows best in warm climates and is often cultivated in Africa and South Asia.
Though technically a fruit, okra often gets used like a vegetable in cooking. You might be familiar with okra as an ingredient in gumbo, for example. Though not necessarily a household name in healthy foods, okra still has plenty of nutritional value.
Okra is low in calories but packed full of nutrients. The vitamin C in okra helps support healthy immune function. Okra is also rich in vitamin K, which helps your body clot blood.
Some of the other health benefits of okra include:
Antioxidants are natural compounds that help your body fight off molecules called free radicals that can damage cells. Free radicals are most well known for causing oxidation damage, which can eventually lead to cancer.
Okra contains antioxidants called polyphenols, including vitamins A and C. It also contains a protein called lectin which may inhibit cancer cell growth in humans. Studies using concentrated compounds from okra showed they inhibited the growth of breast cancer cells by up to 63%. Further research is needed for definitive proof of okra’s cancer-blocking properties.
Support Heart and Brain Health
Polyphenols decrease your risk of heart problems and stroke by preventing blood clots and reducing free radical damage. The antioxidants in okra may also benefit your brain by reducing brain inflammation.
Mucilage—a thick, gel-like substance found in okra—can bind with cholesterol during digestion so it is passed from the body. An eight-week study conducted on mice showed lower blood cholesterol levels after they were fed a high-fat diet containing okra powder.
Control Blood Sugar
Various studies have shown okra may help control blood sugar levels. Researchers believe okra may help prevent sugar from being absorbed during digestion.
In one study, rats given purified okra and liquid sugar had fewer blood sugar spikes than rats in the control group. More evidence is needed to confirm that okra helps control blood sugar levels in humans.
One cup of okra has 15% of the daily value of folate, a helpful nutrient for pregnant women. Folate helps reduce the risk of neural tube defects, which can affect the brain and spine of developing fetuses.
Okra is rich in vitamins A and C, as well as antioxidants that help reduce the risk of serious health conditions like cancer, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
Okra is also a good source of:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin B6
Nutrients per Serving
A one-cup serving of boiled okra slices contains:
- Calories: 35
- Protein: 3 grams
- Fat: 0 grams
- Carbohydrates: 7 grams
- Fiber: 4 grams
- Sugar: 4 grams
Things to Watch Out For
People with diabetes should be careful when considering adding more okra into their diets. Although okra may be able to help people better control their blood sugar, it can also interfere with metformin, a medication often used to treat Type 2 diabetes.
How to Prepare Okra
Commonly used in soups and stews, okra is found in many dishes from the American South, like gumbo, and can be added to your diet in a variety of ways.
Because of the mucilage in okra, it can get gummy or slimy when heated up. You can avoid this gummy texture by cooking okra at high heat in an uncrowded pan. You can also pickle okra to reduce the sliminess.
Here are some more ways you can add okra to your diet:
- Roast it in the oven for a healthy snack.
- Cook okra with tomato sauce and serve over pasta.
- Grill salted okra until slightly charred.
- Sauté okra with garlic.
- Add okra to a veggie stir fry.
- Make a pilaf with okra and quinoa.