Though most of us here in the United States associated okra as being a southern food, this edible plant actually originated in parts of Africa and south Asia. For hundreds of years, okra has been a large ingredient in many traditional dishes in several regions, and is enjoyed no matter how you’re preparing it. The seed pods can be boiled, fried, eaten raw, you name it, there’s really no way that people haven’t tried okra.
As long as you’re not frying it, you’re getting quite a bit of nutrition out of okra, which brings about some fantastic health benefits. If you’ve never had okra, many people say that it tastes similar to eggplant, with a combination of other vegetables thrown in such as corn. So what happens when you eat this traditional food as part of a well-balanced diet? Here is the nutritional breakdown of okra, and the health benefits that it brings.
Nutrition of Okra
In a 100 gram serving of okra (which is right around 3.5 ounces), you won’t be getting many calories at all with just 22. Okra has a surprising two grams of protein in each serving, and 10 percent of the daily recommendation for dietary fiber. There are a lot of vitamins in those 22 calories, as well, as you’ll be getting half of your recommended vitamin K intake and a quarter of your needed vitamin C.
Other vitamins that come in around 10 percent of your daily value include vitamin A, thiamin and vitamin B6 with some other helpful vitamins in smaller amounts. In terms of minerals, there’s 15 percent of your daily manganese suggestion, and around 10 percent of your recommended calcium and magnesium. At around five percent, you’ll find phosphorus, potassium, zinc and copper. With no cholesterol, fewer than five carbs and only 0.2 grams of fat, okra packs quite the punch for being so low in calories.
One of those vitamins that doesn’t get talked about very often, but has a ton of benefits, is vitamin K. Since each serving of okra has half of your recommended vitamin K intake, you’re doing a huge favor to yourself, especially in the bone department. Vitamin K helps to blend together important nutrients such as calcium together and fill in any gaps where your bones might be lacking strength or density.
According to years of research, there’s a direct link between getting more vitamin K in your diet, and a reduction in osteoporosis. In fact, fractures related to osteoporosis are 60 to 80 percent less likely when getting enough vitamin K. This can also help you prevent arthritis, another age-related bone issue. There are more benefits from vitamin K, too, which we’ll get to momentarily.
Okra isn’t really considered a weight loss food by many people because they’re so used to seeing the vegetable in a heavily fried form. When you eat it like that, you’re adding hundreds of calories and other junk into an otherwise healthy food. Eating boiled okra without salt will help you prevent that problem, while also helping you to lose weight in the process. Since there are only about 22 calories in each serving, it makes for the perfect snack to fit into your daily calorie budget.
While 22 calories might not seem very filling, there is plenty of fiber in okra that will have you feeling satisfied. Another big part of losing weight is being able to exercise, but not everyone has the energy to get to the gym everyday. No worries, as okra provides antioxidants that will produce glycogen, giving you an energy boost. For those that have symptoms of depression, this is an added bonus.
Good For the Heart
Earlier we mentioned just how good vitamin K is for the bones, but it’s also very beneficial for your heart. Studies have shown that people who get the recommended amount of vitamin K in their diet can cut their chances of heart disease in half over a decade-long span. Even just adding a little bit (10mcg) per day can reduce your chances by up to 10 percent. The good news doesn’t stop there, either.
Okra is also a good source of other helpful nutrients such as potassium that help to balance the fluids in your body, including sodium. With a more balanced sodium level, you’re less likely to be stricken with heart disease, heart attack or stroke. People who eat okra typically have better cholesterol levels and blood pressure numbers, ensuring that they avoid problems down the road.
As we get older, our vision starts to get worse and we can even experience some problems that can put your vision in serious jeopardy. It’s an unfortunate thing, and most of us don’t give it much thought until it’s too late to do anything about it. You can act on preserving your vision now by getting more foods like okra into your diet, as there’s a healthy amount of vitamin A in each serving.
Vitamin A can help you prevent damage to your eyes that are caused by the sun and free radicals, allowing you to avoid problems such as macular degeneration or cataracts. There are other beneficial antioxidants in okra such as lutein and beta carotenes that give your vision health an even bigger boost so you won’t have to worry about losing your vision as you get older.
Speaking of free radicals, they not only attack your eyes, but all parts of your body. They affect the DNA of your cells, and can cause a range of illnesses that include cancer. By fighting off these free radicals, you reduce your chance of cancer tremendously. One of the more common forms of cancer is breast cancer, and the lectin found in okra has been shown to reduce your chances of breast cancer by more than 60 percent. Between preventing tumor formation and slowing down cells, okra is a great asset in the fight against cancer.
Summing it Up
Okra might seem like it’s too good to be true with such a low calorie count and a wide array of health benefits, so is there anything wrong with eating more okra in your diet? One thing that you’ll have to watch out for when eating okra is its effect on the kidneys. If you have a history of kidney stones or have had kidney failure, you might want to stay away from okra as it contains a small amount of oxalates.
Though okra isn’t too high in this category, it’s better to play it safe and consult a doctor about a diet that prevents kidney problems. As long as you’re not frying okra and adding unnecessary calories, fat and cholesterol, there isn’t really anything negative that can be said for okra. Just make sure that you’re cooking okra in containers that contain no brass, copper or iron and you’ll be all set. That’s good news for those of us that love okra, so go ahead and add it to your diet today and start getting those fantastic health benefits!