Okra is a type of vegetable which can be found in different parts of the world. It’s common in the southern part of the US, in the Middle East, in Asia, and in parts of Africa where it’s believed to have originated. It’s a warm-weather crop which, when sliced, looks like a tiny start fruit.
Okra is usually green in color, has a spiky shape, and has a grooved-cucumber texture. It’s also known as lady fingers and bamia pods in some cultures. Okra pods grow on a leafy perennial plant, and these pods typically grow 2-3 inches in length. The plant produces flowers much like hibiscus, and it comes from the Malvaceae family.
These tiny but incredible vegetables must be harvested early, so they don’t become too tough, which happens quickly. In fact, the time that the plant flowers up until the best time to harvest is just a matter of days. Ideally then, one should harvest the okra pods every four days or so. After first harvesting from the plant, taking away some of the leaves located at the lower part is said to speed up the production of the pods. Although the plant thrives in hot weather, one should still water the plant at least once a week.
The fruit itself has tiny spines depending on its variety. So, it’s best to harvest the fruit while wearing gloves so as not to cause any skin irritation. While still whole, uncooked okra may be placed in freezer bags then into the freezer for storage. They can also be canned to make them last longer. In some countries in the world, the seeds of okra are well-known as one of the best-tasting alternatives to coffee.
Another thing which makes okra quite popular is that it’s a healthy vegetable. Although small, okra does have a lot of health benefits. Read on to learn more about this tiny but mighty vegetable!
It’s Helpful for Diabetics
First off, okra is effective in regulating blood sugar levels because of its beneficial insulin-like characteristic. This vegetable contains Eugenol which is a type of dietary fiber. This component is the one which helps stabilize blood sugar. It also helps slow down the intestinal tract’s sugar absorption. Studies have proven that okra is highly beneficial to those suffering from diabetes. The extract derived from okra aids in suppressing insulin resistance and oxidative stress. This leads to an improvement of blood glucose levels in the body.
Helps Detoxify the Liver
The fiber content of okra also helps detoxify the liver. Anyone who has ever tried eating okra knows that it’s quite slimy. This slimy characteristic is beneficial too. It binds cholesterol as well as bile acid to cleanse the liver. Okra contains glutathione, which is a type of protein as well as a powerful antioxidant. In fact, glutathione is also known as the “master antioxidant.” It’s also frequently used as a component in cosmetics and other beauty products. People who are looking for a natural source of glutathione would be happy to know that they can find it in okra. Other food choices which contain this antioxidant are eggs, ginger, garlic, sprouts, onions, and brassica.
Lowers Cholesterol Levels
Another type of fiber which okra contains is pectin. This is a beneficial protein because it helps reduce the bad cholesterol in the body. Pectin can alter the production of bile in the intestines. This is what helps lower the levels of bad cholesterol in the body. This also helps eliminate any cholesterol deposits as well as clots.
Beneficial for the Skin, Hair, and Bones
Okra is also beneficial for the skin, hair, and bones. The fiber content in okra is also very beneficial to the skin. The fibers in okra give it the ability to cleanse wastes from the body. The vegetable also contains vitamin C which aids in the repair of tissues and helps prevent skin pigmentation too. The vitamin content of okra also promotes healing of the skin. This helps minimize the appearance of acne and the scars resulting from it. Aside from acne, it may also reduce the risk of developing psoriasis and other skin disorders. It’s beneficial in reducing wrinkles, and it helps make the skin healthier too.
Okra has a lot of benefits to the health. Not a lot of people know this, but okra can also serve as a great hair conditioner. It moisturizes the scalp well, and it makes the hair shiny too. It eliminates dandruff and lice, and it can also help prevent itchy scalp. So, the next time one runs out of hair products but there’s okra in the kitchen, he can use it for hair care.
Now, the bones. Okra is one of those vegetables which contain vitamin K. Although this vitamin isn’t as popular as vitamin C, it’s essential for the process of blood clotting. It can help restore the density of bones to prevent the development of osteoporosis. Foods which contain a lot of vitamin K, like okra, are good for the bones. Vitamin K can also help in the bones’ absorption of calcium. Theoretically, those who get enough of this vitamin each day are more likely to have fewer fractures because they have stronger bones.
Promotes the Health of the Digestive System
Okra also has a high probiotic content, which is the best friend of the body’s gut bacteria. The community of good bacteria in the gut, or the microbiome, love okra. These probiotics also aid in the biosynthesis of vitamin B complex. These have the same function as yogurt has to the small intestines. We’ve already spoken about the fact that okra contains a lot of dietary fibers. This helps clear up wastes in the small intestines. This would lead to an improved process of digestion and help prevent constipation. The slimy stuff present in the vegetable aids in water absorption of the digestive tract. Okra also helps bulk the stool up without making it too hard or too soft to pass. The slimy stuff of okra along with the fiber content binds to the toxins while lubricating the large intestines too. This natural laxative characteristic ensures a normal bowel movement and makes the passing of bowels more effortless.
Good for Eye Health
Okra contains a lot of components which are good for eye health too. These components include lutein, carotenes, xanthein, and vitamin A. All these are beneficial for the eyes. All these potent compounds and antioxidants help eliminate free radicals in the body. These are byproducts of the metabolism of cells, and they’re harmful to the health. If one doesn’t address the issue of free radicals, they might cause aging and degradation of cells which may lead to poor vision. Fortunately, okra has vision-boosting benefits which protect against macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, and more.
Gives the Immune System a Boost
Okra contains a lot of vitamin C. On its own; it’s already a potent antioxidant. But okra also contains a lot of other antioxidants which can give the immune system a much-needed boost. These components help fight off and eliminate free radicals which may weaken the immune system. When the immune system becomes stronger, it can help promote the health of the rest of the body too.
Another component that okra contains is a lectin. This is another type of protein which can be beneficial regarding cancer prevention. Also, okra contains folate which may be beneficial for the same purpose. Studies have shown that people who don’t consume enough are at a higher risk for different kinds of cancer. These include cervical, breast, lung, pancreatic, and other types of cancer. One link between the occurrence of cancer and inadequate folate intake may be dues to the changes in DNA which trigger the production of genes which promote cancer. Although more research is needed, it’s certainly worth considering.
It’s Beneficial for Pregnant Women
Also, because of the folate content, okra is very beneficial for pregnant women. Folate is essential for the healthy brain development in the fetus in the mother’s womb. Aside from this, the component is also beneficial in the formation of the fetus’ neural tube. It even protects these tubes to prevent the development of defects. Folate can also help prevent miscarriage. It’s essential for the prevention of fetal problems during the woman’s pregnancy. Low levels of folate may lead to problems for the child later in his life. These low levels of folate are also associated with spina bifida and other dangerous conditions. Because of this, it would be highly beneficial for pregnant (and even breastfeeding) women to consume a lot of okra to get the benefits of the high folate content.
Promotes Heart Health
Okra can also promote the health of the heart. According to studies, eating foods which are rich in fiber can help reduce the harmful cholesterol levels in the blood. This, in turn, can lead to a lowered risk of obesity, diabetes, stroke, and different heart diseases. Fiber can even reduce the effects of heart disease for people who are already suffering from it.
Obesity is a type of metabolic disorder much like diabetes. In fact, these 2 conditions usually occur alongside each other. Obese people usually have a lot of belly fat which has a negative effect on their health. Consuming okra along with other healthy foods can help prevent excess weight gain which may lead to obesity. Okra has a very minimal caloric content although it contains a lot of vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. The fiber makes one feel fuller without overeating. So, pairing this super veggie will put one on his way to preventing obesity.
Using Okra in Traditional Medicine
The gelatinous mucilage in okra, especially when it’s already cooked, is one of its greatest benefits. Nutritionists have always recommended the vegetable in traditional medicine applications. It’s especially beneficial for people who suffer from constipation as the slimy mucilage helps move the food eaten through the gut. Let’s go through the common applications of okra once again which is why it’s been used in traditional medicine for years:
- Okra is also a great source of fiber, which also helps maintain the health of the digestive system. It’s also rich in magnesium, iron, calcium, and more.
- Other essential components it contains are manganese and vitamin C which are beneficial regarding fighting infections.
- Okra contains vitamin K which is important for the health of bones and is also a co-factor for enzymes which help in blood clotting.
- It contains folate which is essential for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. The same component is also important to reduce the risk of different types of cancer, though more research is needed on this.
- The vitamin A content in okra is also great in promoting the health of one’s vision. Also, the vegetable contains flavonoid antioxidants along with other components which can help maintain excellent vision.
These are the traditional uses of okra which are still applicable until now. The compounds in okra can also help maintain healthy mucous membranes and skin. Okra is an ancient crop which has been used for food since the ancient times. Therefore okra is known as a medicinal vegetable. They’ve used the leaves for urinary problems and relief from pain. People in the Congo have used okra as a remedy to help ascertain the safe delivery for pregnant women. People in Malaya have used the root as part of the treatment of syphilis.
Some traditional practitioners have even used the mucilage as a plasma replacement and used it topically as an effective moisturizer. Okra can be cooked down then added to water. This can be used for people who are suffering from depression or fatigue.
Back then and until now, it’s still being used to treat a sore throat and lung inflammation. It can help add bulk to stool, therefore, serving as a natural laxative. It helps eliminate liver toxins along with other conditions. These include atherosclerosis, multiple sclerosis or MS, acid reflux, colorectal cancer, and more.
Culinary Uses of Okra
A lot of people compare okra’s taste to the flavor of okra. However, its texture is different, and this is what makes the vegetable unique. When cooked, okra develops a slimy quality which makes it a great component of soups.
One of the best things about okra is that the whole fruit can be utilized. It can be used raw, pickled, curried, and more. The culinary uses of okra are truly plentiful. People in the Caribbean usually serve the vegetable in soup with fish. They cook the leaves like beet or dandelion greens or even use them in salads.
People in the Middle East typically use okra in a dish called barniya along with lamb or beef. In India, they combine the vegetable with other spices and sauté them with butter for a delicious and healthy dish. Okra can be chopped, sliced, diced, and more. One can add it to burritos, stir-fry it with other vegetables or even serve it with other side dishes. This versatile vegetable is not only delicious; it’s healthy too!