Okra goes by a few names, including ladies fingers and bamia. Whatever you call it, though, there’s no denying that this is a very interesting plant. So is okra good for you?
Perhaps what makes okra stand out the most is the mucilage on the inner part of the okra pod. This has a distinct slimy texture, one that doesn’t go away when the vegetable is cooked. Thankfully, if you don’t enjoy the texture, there are ways of masking it or even making okra less slimy.
We’ll get to the sliminess later. The main focus, though, is the health implications. In particular, we’re asking – is okra good for you?
Okra hasn’t been studied extensively in the way that fruits like blueberries and tart cherries have. Instead, most of what we know about the benefits and risks come from taking a close look at the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other compounds present.
Don’t worry though. There’s still enough information to give us a clear picture of where okra shines and what its limits are.
Is Okra Good For You?
- What Is Okra?
- Okra Nutrition
- Benefits Of Okra
- How Okra Could Be Harmful
- Ways To Use Okra
- How Do You Make Okra Less Slimy?
- Is Okra Water Healthy?
- Final Thoughts
What Is Okra?
Okra is a flowering plant that grows in warm climates. The seed pods are edible and we typically harvest and use these before they have fully matured. Okra pods are green and filled with soft white seeds, which can be eaten too.
Interestingly, okra pods are technically a type of fruit, but we use them like a vegetable and tend to refer to them as such. This isn’t unusual though. We do something similar with tomatoes and plenty of other foods.
Okra doesn’t have much fame as a health food. Instead, it’s mostly famous for its slimy texture. Despite this, okra can be delicious when prepared well and contains some important nutrients.
The first step for any food is to look at the nutritional profile. For a half cup serving of sliced cooked okra, the balance of nutrients looks like this:
- Calories: 17.6
- Carbs: 3.9 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Sugar: 1.9 grams
- Vitamin K: 40% of your daily requirements
- Vitamin C: 22% of your daily requirements
- Manganese: 12% of your daily requirements
- Folate: 9% of your daily requirements
- Magnesium: 7% of your daily requirements
The vitamin K and vitamin C content is particularly impressive. Getting more than 40% of your daily vitamin K intake from less than 20 calories? That’s pretty amazing.
Benefits Of Okra
Can Work On A Keto Diet
Okra can be a useful ingredient for keto dieters, as it is naturally low in carbs and contains a decent amount of fiber. It’s low in fat too, which isn’t ideal for keto, but you can get fat in plenty of other places, so that doesn’t matter at all.
Also, despite the appearance of okra pods, okra isn’t a legume. This is useful, as some keto dieters choose to avoid legumes, even those that are low in carbs.
The low carb content isn’t just relevant for keto either.
There are plenty of other reasons for cutting down your carb intake. After all, we’re starting to recognize that high carb diets can cause many problems, like increasing blood sugar fluctuations, impacting your insulin levels, and increasing inflammation. Such patterns might also increase your risk of some diseases, like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Swapping some of your high carb ingredients out for low carb options like okra is a simple way to protect your health.
An Excellent Source Of Antioxidants
As you might expect, okra provides you with plenty of antioxidants. Vitamins A and C are particularly significant, although there are other antioxidants present as well.
The benefits of antioxidants are well-known at this point. They’re famously linked to many health benefits, like improving brain health, decreasing inflammation, and preventing damage from free radicals. This combination of effects may help to decrease disease risk and even help you live longer.
While there’s still much to understand about antioxidants, it’s clear that antioxidant rich diets promote health in a variety of ways. Besides, most foods that are rich in antioxidants also contain many important nutrients, so they’re powerful in that sense as well.
Can Help With Blood Sugar Levels
Okra may be relevant for your blood sugar as well, helping to keep your blood sugar levels stable. This mostly happens because okra can slow down the absorption of sugar, mostly because of the fiber.
Okra also contains a substance called myricetin, which may have additional effects on blood sugar levels. This is excellent news for diabetics, making okra a safe vegetable to use regularly. There’s even the chance that eating okra regularly could help to decrease your risk of diabetes.
Provides Fiber And Digestive Benefits
With around 2 grams of fiber in a half cup serving, okra is also an easy way to boost your fiber intake. The benefit of this is easy to see. After all, fiber is a critical feature for your digestion. It helps to keep your blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels in check as well.
That’s not all. Getting insufficient fiber in your diet can lead to fatigue, constipation, a higher risk of heart disease, and increased hunger after meals.
Despite the importance of fiber and how many fiber rich foods there are – many of us simply don’t get enough fiber in our diets. This pattern makes foods like okra incredibly important
Important For Your Heart Health
Let’s talk about heart health for a minute. Heart disease remains one of the leading causes of death in the United States, which is frustrating as there are many ways to decrease your risk of heart disease.
Okra can help, as some of the compounds present can help to decrease blood cholesterol levels. This is an important effect, given that high blood cholesterol is a significant heart disease risk factor.
Besides, there’s little doubt that vegetable rich diets can protect your health and decrease heart disease risk.
Works Well For Many Diets
Another cool thing about okra is simply that it’s so versatile. The vegetable works well on many different diets, including vegetarian, vegan, keto, low calorie, and low fat diets. Okra is even an easy fit on a paleo diet, as it isn’t a legume.
Okra may even be a low FODMAP vegetable, as long as you stick to a serving size of around 60 grams. Higher than that will give you too many fructans, which could lead to side effects.
That said, testing for okra has shown mixed results, with some sites saying that okra is high FODMAP and others saying that it’s low FODMAP instead. This means that you might need to experiment for yourself. See whether small servings of okra work well for you or whether they lead to any side effects.
How Okra Could Be Harmful
High In Oxalates
While okra is a good choice for most people, it is a high oxalate food. The oxalate content won’t be a problem for most people, but it can increase the risk of kidney stones.
For people who are at risk or have had kidney stones in the past, high oxalate foods may be a very bad idea.
Too Much Can Lead To Digestive Side Effects
Okra comes with another serious issue too, it is high in FODMAPs. Specifically, okra contains a decent amount of fructans, which is a type of fermentable carb.
The fructans are most significant for anyone with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or related digestive challenges. For such people, the digestion process of fructans can make IBD symptoms much worse, leading to stomach cramps, diarrhea, and bloating.
Not much fun right?
That’s not all. Okra also contains a decent amount of fiber, with roughly 3 grams of fiber in a 100 gram serving. While this fiber is generally a good thing, it can give you digestive side effects too.
Thankfully, fiber-related side effects aren’t too difficult to avoid. Keeping your fiber intake relatively consistent can help, along with drinking plenty of water. If you do need to increase your fiber intake, do so slowly. This way your body has the chance to adjust to the extra fiber.
Can Interact With Some Medications
While the vitamin K in okra is important, it can also be a problem for anyone taking blood thinners. In particular, vitamin K makes your blood thinner less effective, so it mightn’t protect you against strokes in the way that it is meant to.
This effect doesn’t mean that you should avoid vitamin K. Instead, it’s important that your blood thinner dose is balanced against your vitamin K intake. This generally involves keeping your vitamin K levels relatively consistent and talking to your doctor before making significant changes.
Because okra hasn’t been studied much at all, there could be other medication interactions that we don’t know about. For example, the blood sugar effect of okra means that it could interact with medications like metformin, which helps treat type 2 diabetes.
The risk of this interaction doesn’t mean that you need to avoid okra. However, diabetics may need to keep a close eye on their blood sugar levels to make sure their blood sugar doesn’t drop too low.
Ways To Use Okra
Despite the sliminess of okra, the vegetable is surprisingly versatile and can be used in many different ways. Gumbo is the most obvious example, as this dish has made okra famous in the United States.
Okra can be fried too. Frying slices of okra quickly in the pan is an easy way to enjoy the vegetable without too much sliminess. You can even deep fry okra – a technique that is delicious but isn’t all that good for you.
You can even try pickled okra, which works surprisingly well in a bloody Mary. There are plenty of ethnic okra recipes to experiment with, like Bhindi Masala.
How Do You Make Okra Less Slimy?
The sliminess of okra is strongly influenced by how you cook it. If the pods remain intact and are only briefly cooked, like in a stir fry, then there’s barely any sliminess at all.
If this isn’t enough, try slicing the okra into thin strips and frying these. The approach means that more of the okra is hitting the dry heat of the pan, giving you a crispier and much less slimy treat.
Is Okra Water Healthy?
Okra water is surprisingly popular as a way to get some benefits from okra. The idea is simple – you’re soaking okra pods in water overnight, then removing the pods and drinking the water.
The overnight soak should mean that some of the healthy compounds from okra leach into your water, which may then lead to health benefits. For example, there’s the chance that okra water improves blood sugar levels.
Making okra water is best if you can’t stand the taste or texture of okra. Still. it only ever gives you a fraction of the compounds from okra and misses out on many important ones, including fiber. As such, you’ll always get more benefits from eating okra than from drinking okra water.
The sliminess of okra makes it seem like a strange food, but in practice, the benefits and risks of okra are similar to most other non-starchy vegetables. You’re still getting a low calorie vegetable that offers plenty of nutrients and fiber.
There aren’t many serious issues to think about either. The most significant ones are the oxalate content of the vegetable and how it might interact with some medications. However, those effects won’t be relevant to most people.
Even if you are sensitive to okra, you may still be able to enjoy the vegetable regularly if you keep your portion sizes small.