The beginning of September signals that fall is on its way, along with leaves, and… okra? The exotic medicinal and culinary vegetable (available year-round), is best to get in early fall when crops in Southern states reach their peak. Typically, okra is used as a thickening agent in soups like gumbo because of its ooey-gooey texture, but it can double as a nutritional powerhouse filled with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that provide an array of health benefits from treating diabetes to preventing kidney disease.
A single cup of raw okra has a little over 30 calories, about 3 grams of dietary fiber, 2 grams of protein, 7.6 grams carbohydrates, 0.1 grams of fat, 21 milligrams of vitamin C, around 88 micrograms of folate, and 57 milligrams of magnesium. This makes okra a nutrition hero and a very available food when it comes to our health.
Whether you consume okra stewed, boiled, fried, or even in pickled form, you can reap the health benefits of this little green vegetable any time of the year. Here’s how:
Consuming even small amounts of fruits or vegetables rich in vitamin C, like okra (21 milligrams per cup), can alleviate asthma symptoms. A 2000 study published in the journal Thorax found the intake of citrus or kiwi fruits conferred a highly protective effect against wheezing symptoms in childhood. The protective effect was seen even among children who ate fruit only one to two times per week. The researchers found this to be especially true among already susceptible patients.
Okra not only promotes good digestive health, but also good cholesterol levels due to its high fiber content. Soluble fiber can be dissolved in water, which means that it breaks down in the digestive tract. There, it also binds to cholesterol in other foods so that it can be excreted along with other wastes. In turn, total cholesterol levels plummet, according to the Harvard Health Publications. Okra also helps to lower cholesterol by replacing all the foods you eat with high fat and cholesterol levels — okra contains no cholesterol and very little fat.
Soluble fiber can help diabetics because of its ability to keep blood glucose levels stable — it affects how sugar is absorbed in the intestines. In a 2011 study published in the journal ISRN Pharmaceutics, researchers soaked sliced okra pods in water and then gave rats the solution through a gastric feeding tube — a control group wasn’t fed this solution. The researchers found okra helped reduce the absorption rate of glucose and in turn reduced blood sugar levels in the treated rats.
Boosts Immune System
Okra’s rich vitamin C content and antioxidant components also double as decent immune boosters against unsafe free radicals, while also supporting the immune system. Vitamin C stimulates the immune system to create more white blood cells, which can help battle other foreign pathogens and materials in the body.
Prevents Kidney Disease
Regularly eating okra can be helpful for preventing kidney disease. A 2005 study published in the Jilin Medical Journal found patients who ate okra daily reduced clinical signs of kidney damage more than those who were on a diabetic diet. This is helpful since nearly half of kidney disease cases develop from diabetes.
Promotes Healthy Pregnancy
Okra’s high levels of vitamin A, B vitamins (B1, B2, B6), and vitamin C, and traces of zinc and calcium, make it an ideal vegetable to eat during pregnancy. Okra also serves as a supplement for fiber and folic acid. This helps prevent birth defects like spina bifida and can even stop constipation during pregnancy.