It’s time to say OK to OK-ra! Okra contains beneficial antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Its disease-fighting nutrients promote heart health, blood sugar management and better digestion. Okra also boosts bone health due to its calcium and vitamin K content.
“Okra may not be at the top of most people’s grocery lists,” notes registered dietitian Sereen Zawahri Krasuna, RD, LD. “But it’s easier than you’d think to use it in the kitchen. Okra’s health benefits definitely make it worth the effort.”
What is okra?
Okra is an edible seed pod that comes in green and red varieties. People typically think of okra as a vegetable, though it’s technically a fruit. Okra is part of the mallow family of botanicals, which also includes cocoa and cotton.
Health benefits of okra
Sometimes called “lady’s finger” or “gumbo,” okra is worthy of a spot on your dinner plate. Here are five of okra’s health benefits:
1. Provides good nutrition
Okra is rich in vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting nutrients.
One-half cup of cooked okra provides:
- 18 calories.
- 4 grams of carbohydrates.
- 0 grams of cholesterol.
- 0.2 grams of fat.
- 2 grams of fiber.
- 1.5 grams of protein.
- 5 milligrams of sodium.
- 2 grams of sugar.
One-half cup of cooked okra also gives you:
- 32 micrograms of vitamin K (27% daily value or DV).
- 14 milligrams of vitamin C (22% DV).
- 0.2 milligrams of manganese (9% DV).
- 37 micrograms of folate (9% DV).
- 29 milligrams of magnesium (7% DV).
- 0.1 milligrams of thiamin (8% DV).
- 0.15 milligrams of vitamin B6 (9% DV).
- 62 milligrams of calcium (5% DV).
2. May boost heart health
Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Following a heart-healthy diet and keeping cholesterol levels in check are two good ways to lower your risk. And if your diet doesn’t already include okra, you might want to give it another look.
Two non-human studies suggest okra can have a positive impact on cholesterol. In one trial using a diet containing 1% to 2% okra and in another trial using okra extract, improvements in cholesterol were seen. These studies need to be replicated in humans before we can say for sure whether okra can have the same effect on your cholesterol, but the initial results are promising.
3. May help manage blood sugar
When your body can’t properly process glucose (sugar), you may develop Type 2 diabetes. It’s a lifelong condition that can lead to complications such as organ damage and an increased risk of heart disease.
But even if you’re not at risk for diabetes, there’s still good reason to keep your blood sugar better managed. Besides avoiding diabetes down the road, steady blood sugar gives you steadier energy — and keeps you from getting hangry.
Okra has a reputation as a traditional remedy for high blood sugar, and research may support this use. A non-human study suggests okra can keep blood sugar stable, possibly by reducing the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. But again, these results need to be replicated in humans before we can know for sure how much of an impact okra can make on managing your blood sugar levels.
“Fiber also helps with blood sugar control,” says Zawahri Krasuna. “It works by slowing down the absorption of sugar and carbs. Okra is a great high-fiber food.” One-half cup of cooked okra provides more than 2 grams of fiber — nearly 10% of what adults need in a day.
4. Benefits GI health
“Fiber may not be glamorous, but it offers lots of health benefits, and most people could use more of it in their diet,” says Zawahri Krasuna.
Okra is full of fiber, which studies have shown can decrease the risk of colorectal cancer. That’s a big deal because colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.
In addition, okra contains high amounts of a type of fiber called pectin. “Pectin is a gel-like prebiotic fiber, which means it feeds the good bacteria in your gut,” explains Zawahri Krasuna. A happy microbiome means less inflammation and bloating and, well, better poops — which is particularly good news if you tend to get constipated.
5. Strengthens bones
Fruits and vegetables aren’t usually known for boosting bone health, but okra is a rare exception.
Okra is an excellent source of calcium, which is important for strong bones. In one-half cup of cooked okra, you get about 6% of your daily calcium.
Even better, okra is also full of the less well-known vitamin K. “Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that you need for growing and maintaining bone strength,” says Zawahri Krasuna. One-half cup of cooked okra gives you 27% of the vitamin K you need each day.
Ways to eat okra
“Okra is an easy addition to stews or any other hearty vegetable dish that uses vegetables like potatoes or carrots,” says Zawahri Krasuna. “And don’t worry about removing the seeds because you can eat them.”
There are lots of ways to eat okra. You can:
- Chop it fresh and add it to salads or salsas.
- Cook it whole.
- Roast it alone or with other veggies.
- Season and dry it in a dehydrator.
- Shred the peel to add to recipes.
- Replace it for green beans in any dish.
- Cook in tomato sauce for a Mediterranean-style dish
- 5 Benefits of Eating Okra – Cleveland Clinic