Okra can get a bad rap as a tasteless, slimy vegetable. If you an okra skeptic or novice, you may be wondering if it is worth venturing cooking with okra.
Whether you love it or are unsure of okra, discover the surprising okra benefits and nutritional information. Also, find ways you can enjoy okra - without being slimy!
What Is Okra?
Okra, originally from Ethiopia, is traditionally used in African, Middle Eastern, Southern, Caribbean, and Indian cuisines. Similar to avocado, okra is actually a fruit but is used in savory dishes.
Okra has a mild grass-like flavor and can have a smooth, possibly slimy consistency thanks to okra containing mucilage. This acts as a thickening agent when cooked, according to The Spruce Eats.
The okra plant grows in hot climates or in the summer months. However, it can be widely found in most grocery stores year-round either fresh or frozen.
Okra has the nickname "lady's fingers," as the slender, edible, green okra seed pods can look somewhat like long fingers. The whole pod can be eaten and cooked whole or cut up.
Okra Nutrition Facts
Okra may not be as widely popular or receive much attention as a nutrition superfood. However, okra certainly warrants the spotlight for how many nutrients it provides while being low in calories.
According to the USDA, a cup of okra provides:
• 33 calories
• 0% daily value (DV) for fat, cholesterol, and sodium
• 3% DV protein
• 2% DV for carbohydrates
• 12% DV for fiber
In addition, okra provides the following amounts of vitamins and minerals:
• 8% DV for potassium
• 38% DV for vitamin C
• 3% DV for iron
• 10% DV for vitamin B6
• 14% DV for magnesium
• 8% DV for calcium
5 Surprising Okra Health Benefits
Since okra provides so many nutrients, it makes sense it provides many - and some surprising - health benefits.
The same component that gives okra the gel-like consistency, mucilage, also provides the benefit of pulling out extra cholesterol build-up in the blood vessels. On top of this, the soluble fiber in okra also aids in lowering cholesterol.
2. Provides Bone Strengthening Nutrients
When it comes to eating a diet for building strong bones, okra may not come to mind. However, okra provides many bone-building nutrients including calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, and vitamin K.
Calcium of course is the main component of bones, and according to American Bone Health, magnesium is needed to regulate calcium and vitamin D levels. Vitamin C is needed for collagen formation which is the main component of bone structure.
Like other green vegetables, okra provides a source of vitamin K. Low levels of blood vitamin K can be associated with low bone density.
3. Helps Regulate Blood Sugar
The soluble fiber from okra slows the release of sugar into the bloodstream after eating. Eating a high-fiber diet can help lower the rise and fall of blood sugar, in turn decreasing the risk for type 2 diabetes.
4. May Help Protect Against Kidney Damage
According to a 2014 review on okra health benefits, some research has shown consuming okra every day may help lower the risk for kidney damage. This may be an especially important consideration for those who live with diabetes, as close to half of the kidney disease cases are related to diabetes.
Even though okra has blood sugar-regulating and kidney health benefits, WebMD warrants caution for those with type 2 diabetes or taking metformin and eating okra. Okra may interfere with metformin, so consult your doctor before eating okra if on medication.
5. Provides Nutrients Needed During Pregnancy
Folate is an important nutrient for expecting mothers, as folate is an important nutrient needed to make new cells. Not getting adequate folic acid or folate during pregnancy increases the risk for birth defects. On the other hand, getting enough helps reduce the risk of and prevent neural tube defects.
Taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid is recommended, but eating foods high in folate, like okra, is also encouraged by health professionals.
Delicious Ways to Use Okra
Okra can be sauteed, fried, pickled, and added to stews. In order to limit the sliminess of okra, it is recommended to minimize chopping it and to soak in vinegar before cooking. Note if you choose to soak in vinegar, make sure to thoroughly pat dry before cooking so your dish does not taste like vinegar.
High heat cooking like grilling or sauteing can also help minimize the potential for slimy okra.
Okra is at peak freshness in the summer months making it a great time to add fresh okra to summer soups. However, even if you cannot get fresh okra, frozen okra can be easily added to soups.
Besides adding to soups or stews, okra can be roasted in the oven as a healthier alternative to deep-fried okra. Also sautee in a pan with olive oil, onion, and garlic for a quick and easy way to enjoy fresh okra.
Okra Benefits Recap
Okra is a global ingredient but still may be unfamiliar or intimidating to many. Enjoy okra fresh or frozen and add to stews, soups, and so much more! It can also be simply roasted or sauteed with minimal other ingredients.
Okra is a good source of fiber and many bone-building vitamins and minerals. It also contains mucilage, which acts as a thickener when cooked and may help lower cholesterol.
The fiber in okra makes it ideal for helping to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, and some studies have shown okra may have kidney-protecting properties. Because it is a good source of folate, okra can also be considered an ideal food during pregnancy.
American Bone Health. Nutrients for Bone Health. American Bone Health. Published June 11, 2020. https://americanbonehealth.org/nutrition/nutrientsforbonehealth/.
Gemede HF, Ratta N, Haki GD, Beyene AZWF. Nutritional quality and health benefits of okra. Global Journal of Medical Research: K Interdisciplinary. Published 2014. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/310503444_Nutritional_Quality_and_Health_Benefits_of_Okra_Abelmoschus_Esculentus_A_Review.
Nelson C. Learn how to avoid slimy okra. The Spruce Eats. Published July 29, 2021. https://www.thespruceeats.com/using-okra-2138096.
Okra: Health benefits, nutrients per serving, preparation information, and more. WebMD. Published September 17, 2020. https://www.webmd.com/diet/health-benefits-okra.