Long, green, and drips a smooth, silky and oddly saliva-like fluid when bitten into, okra is a once-popular vegetable that has fallen out of favor in recent decades. And while it has made resurgence among soul-food enthusiasts and veggie-conscious cooks of late, most folks still overlook this magical green at the dinner table—either because they don’t know how to prepare it or because they don’t realize the advantages of eating this seemingly nondescript vegetable.
But, don’t judge this veggie on its outward appearance! Okra is tasty when prepared in a variety of ways and also packs a huge nutritional punch! So, whether you are a food enthusiast who loves trying new things are or you are simply tired of rotating the same old boring vegetables in and out of your weekly menu, here are a few reasons to add these “lady fingers” into your diet.
1. It’s rich in vitamins and antioxidants.
While most produce is high in cancer-fighting antioxidants, okra has an even higher concentration of these compounds than most. Much like the kiwi fruit (which okra shares many traits with), okra is known to be high in vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamins B1, B2, and folate.
These vitamins, as well as other present antioxidants like quercetin, inhibit the ability of free radicals to damage DNA and cellular tissue. It is also proven that antioxidants may help prevent neurological disorders, like Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease.
2. It’s high in fiber.
Okra is a great source of dietary fiber. Fiber is essential in our daily diet as it provides a feeling of satiety, which helps stave off hunger between meals as well as binge eating. Fiber also assists in cleaning the digestive tract and helps control the absorption of sugar. Amazingly, it also slows down the release of insulin, which makes the vegetable a smart choice for diabetics, pre-diabetics, and anyone with insulin sensitivity.
3. It aids in weight loss.
Eyes here, weight watchers! One of the many benefits okra has is aiding in weight loss. Okra is low in calories (a one and a half cup serving yields only about 18 calories), yet it has an uncanny ability to fill you up and curb hunger. It’s also very good at detoxification, as it collects bile and other toxins on its way through your digestive system.
4. It lowers cholesterol.
According to a recent study, people who ate okra every day had lower cholesterol levels in the body compared to a control group. This could be because okra contains a high amount of pectin—a fiber that interferes with bile absorption in the intestines. This interference forces the liver to use circulating cholesterol in the bloodstream to make more bile.
5. It’s versatile.
Though there are a lot of obvious health benefits, okra is still low on the vegetable popularity scale. Perhaps the gummy consistency of the plant is off-putting to people who aren’t sure how to prepare it. In fact, okra is extremely easy to use in a number of different ways. In southern American cuisine, for example, okra is commonly used in traditional Cajun dishes like Gumbo and Jambalaya (and let’s not forget the infamous staple of southern ladies—fried okra).
Across the Pacific, it’s also a great addition to the Cebuano staple called Utan Bisaya, a clear vegetable stew made with coconut milk. It is also steamed and served with a variety of yummy sauces for dipping.
So, while this odd little vegetable may be a little outside your comfort zone, don’t be afraid to give it a try. Its nutritional benefits and versatility make it a delicious and healthy treat your body is bound to thank you for.