Okra turns out to be one of those not-so-sweet fruits masquerading as a vegetable in our recipes, but there’s no fooling about the nutrients it packs and how it can boost your overall health.
A common ingredient in the cuisine of the American South, India and many other regions of the world, it’s a low-calorie, fat-free (unless it’s fried) food that benefits your health by:
- Reducing heart disease risk — Okra is a great source of mucilage, a gel-like substance that gives it a sometimes unappetizing texture but is valued as a thickener for soups and for its ability to bind with cholesterol, among other substances. This allows it to draw cholesterol molecules through the digestive system before they can cause plaque to build up in your arteries and restrict blood flow.
- Fighting free radicals — Okra comes bearing several antioxidants including vitamins A and C, flavonoids and isoquercetin. The latter two are polyphenols, which are believed to reduce oxidative stress that breaks down cell walls and damages DNA. They have also shown a unique ability to enter the brain and protect against inflammation, which has been linked to dementia and brain aging.
- Lowering blood sugar — Diabetic rats fed large amounts of powdered okra peel and seeds showed reduced blood sugar levels for up to 28 days after consumption in one study, while those in another saw reduced spikes in blood sugar after being fed purified okra. It’s believed to have a hypoglycemic effect by reducing absorption of sugar by the intestines, but it has also been shown to interfere with metformin, a common anti-diabetes medication.
- Preventing birth defects — Okra is rich in folate, a mineral important for everyone in red blood cell formation and overall cell health. It’s particularly crucial for pregnant women, as it is known to be important in forming neural tubes in fetuses involved in forming the brain and spine. One cup of okra supplies up to 15% of the recommended daily intake for women of childbearing age, and closer to 10% for those who are pregnant.