Okra

Okra

Okra plant is a flowering plant that belongs in the family of mallows. It is highly known for its edible green seed pods.


It is also known as “ladies’ fingers (in English Speaking countries), gumbo (in French), guigambo (in Spanish), or bamia (in Middle East) [1]. Scientifically, it is named as Abelmoschus esculentus.

Usually, okras are harvested when they are at the immature stage and when the pods are tender and green. Also, they are cultivated in tropical regions which have warm temperature [2].

Okra fruit and its pods inside picture
Picture 1: Okra fruit and its pods inside
Source: gardening.answers.com

This species of perennial/annual plant grows up to 2 meters tall. It is actually related to the species of cocoa, hibiscus, and cotton. The leaves of okra plant are 10-20 cm in length and width, palmately lobed with 5 to 7 lobes. Its flowers are white or yellow in color, often the petals come with purplish or reddish spots at the base. The diameter of the okra flowers are 4 to 8 cm, and usually have five petals. As for the fruit of the plant, it appears like a capsule which measures up to 18 cm long and has plenty seeds. [1]j

Growing Okra

Okra seeds must be planted in warm soil. This is due to the fact that the seeds of this plant do not germinate effectively in cool soils. So, the planting of okra must be done in the spring, probably 7 to 10 days after the date when the last frost occurred in the area where it is to be planted.

Okra plant image
Picture 2: Okra plant
Source: guiadejardineria.com

When sowing seeds, the seeds must be placed 1 inch deep in the soil and 12 to 24 inches apart from each other. Wait for the seedlings to become 3 inches in height. Then, thin all seedlings except the strongest one per hill. To accelerate the process of germination, the seeds may be soaked in water or wrapped in moist paper towel overnight.

The harvesting of okra pods should be done while they are immature and tender (2 to 3 inches long). The picking must be done often, at least every other day. When doing this, wear long sleeves and gloves to avoid skin irritation due to the short hairs of okra plants. Also, utilize pruning shears to make clean cuts and to prevent harming the rest of the plant. When having difficulties in cutting the stem, the pod may be too old to be used. Take notice of the large pods as well.  These become woody and tough.

Okra plants can grow and bear fruits until frost. Remember that okra only survives tropical and warm climate. When frost comes, the okra plants blacken and die. Thus, you should do the harvesting prior to frost. [3]

Okra : Nutrition and Health Benefits

Okra is packed with nutrients and minerals which can provide us lots of advantages for health. This makes it beneficial in avoiding or decreasing risks for several serious medical problems. Whether it is boiled, fried, pickled, or stewed, okra is still a good source of fat-free, low-calorie, and nutrient-dense addition for a healthy diet. [4]

Carbohydrate/Calorie

Cooked okra, when served in a ½ cup, provides 3.6 grams of carbohydrates and 18 calories. This means that it contains less carbohydrate compared to the other non-starchy vegetables, which usually have 5 grams per ½ cup, and to the starchy foods, which have 15 grams carbohydrate.

According to the American Diabetes Association, non-starchy vegetables like okra have low glycemic index. This indicates that okra cause little changes in the blood sugar levels. [5]

Dietary Fiber

Okra is also known to supply the body with dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber aids in the prevention of high blood cholesterol and diabetes. On the other hand, insoluble fiber helps in the maintenance of digestive system functions.

A ½ cup serving of cooked okra contains 2 grams of dietary fiber. According to the US Department of Agriculture, this provides approximately 10% of the recommended daily allowance of fiber for healthy men and women using a 2,000-calorie diet. [4]

Vitamins

Okra provides several vitamins such as Vitamin C, A, and B complex. Vitamin C neutralizes the damage done by free radicals and strengthens the immune system. As for vitamin A, it is essential for maintaining healthy eyes and respiratory tract.

Meanwhile, the B complex vitamins are all important in body’s energy production and protein metabolism. A cup of okra contains 26.2 mg of vitamin C, .211 mg of vitamin B1 (thiamine), .088 mg of vitamin B2 (riboflavin), .299 mg of vitamin B6 or pyridoxine, and 453 IU of vitamin A. It also has an additional 272 mcg of beta-carotene, a significant plant pigment which is converted to vitamin A in the body. [6]

Minerals

Okra is also packed with different minerals. First is calcium, a mineral vital for bone and teeth health maintenance. Also, potassium can be found in this plant. Potassium plays an important role in regulating the heart rate and blood pressure. Iron, needed for hemoglobin production, is contained in okra as well. Essential trace minerals such as zinc, for wound healing, can be obtained from okra. Also copper, responsible for red blood cell production, and manganese, vital for producing antioxidants.

In a one cup serving of okra, there are 123 mg of calcium, 216 mg of potassium, .45 mg of iron, .69 mg of zinc, .136 mg of copper, and .470 mg of manganese. [6]

Antioxidants

Based on the studies published in the Nutrition Journal (2010) and the African Journal of Biotechnology (2011), okra contains a higher antioxidant compounds concentration compared to the other high-antioxidant vegetables and fruits. Antioxidants are responsible for preventing the damage to the DNA and cellular tissues caused by the free radicals.

Also, according to Dr. Donald Hensrud, a diet which incorporates high levels of antioxidants provides a huge help in prevention of cancer, heart disease, and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. [4]

Okra Water

Over the recent years, there have been studies focusing on the blood glucose lowering effect of okra. In a study published in the Journal of Pharmacy and BioAllied Sciences (2011), researchers have found out that there is a gradual deduction of blood glucose after feeding diabetic mice with okra extract for ten days.

However, there have been no established research yet which proves that okra water can lower blood sugar levels. Though this is the case, many people with diabetes reported that there has been a significant lowering of their blood glucose levels after they drank water with soaked cut-up okra pieces.

Okra soaked in water photo
Picture 3: Okra soaked in water
Source: ladyfaceblog.blogspot.com

Here are the steps on how to prepare okra water:

  • Get two pieces of fresh okra. Cut both of the ends of the okra. Then, chop them at the middle.
  • Put the cut up pieces of okra in a glass of water. Just cover it and leave it at room temperature overnight. There is no need to store it inside the refrigerator.
  • Extract the soaked okras. Drink it before having your breakfast. It is also advised to drink it on an empty stomach. [8]

Okra Recipes

Okra Chips

Okra Chips picture
Picture 4: Okra Chips
Source: foodspotting.com

Ingredients:

  • 20 pieces of okra without stems
  • 2 tbsp of kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil
  • Pepper

Steps:

  • Set the oven to preheat at 450F.
  • Mix the olive oil and okras using your hand. Then, place them on the baking dish and make sure they don’t touch.
  • Add the pepper and salt to your liking.
  • Bake them for 15 minutes.
  • You may also add sauce or mayo to enjoy the okra chips more. [9]

 

Grilled okra

Grilled Okra image
Picture 5: Grilled Okra
Source: localglobalkitchen.com

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb okra
  • Salt
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil or grapeseed
  • Lemon juice

Steps:

  • For high heat, prepare a charcoal grill or a gas grill.
  • Remove the stems off the okra pods.
  • Coat the okra with oil thoroughly. Place the okra on the grill and cook for 4-5 minutes. Make sure to look for the okra’s color, charred edges, or grill marks that will signal you to turn it on the other side.
  • Turn the okra and cook for 5 more minutes until it is tender.
  • Put off the okra from the grill.
  • Garnish the okra with lemon juice and salt for more flavoring.
  • Serve at room temperature or while it is still hot. [10]

References:

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okra
  2. http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/okra.html
  3. http://urbanext.illinois.edu/veggies/okra.cfm
  4. http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/advantages-okra-4093.html
  5. http://www.livestrong.com/article/511591-okra-and-blood-sugar/
  6. http://beforeitsnews.com/health/2013/04/the-amazing-health-benefits-of-okra-2479144.html
  7. http://www.diabetes.co.uk/natural-therapies/okra.html
  8. http://thealqueen.blogspot.com/2012/04/water-with-okra-for-diabetes-treatment.html
  9. http://www.quericavida.com/en/recipes/okra-chips/#
  10. http://localfoods.about.com/od/grilledsidedishes/r/Grilled-Okra.htm

Published by under Nutrition and Diet.
Article was last reviewed on April 9th, 2017.

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