Okra Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits
Okra, also called Okro, is a flowering plant in the mallow family with edible green seed pods. This nutritious green vegetable was an important part of the colonial diet. Okra has been a staple of traditional Southern cooking. Pods are cooked, pickled, eaten raw, or included in salads. Young okra leaves may be cooked in a similar way to the greens of beets or dandelions, or in salads. Okra seeds were even used to brew a coffee substitute that was consumed by Southern Americans during the Civil War when they couldn’t obtain coffee beans.
Nutritional Value of Okra
Raw okra is 90% water, 2% protein, 7% carbohydrates, and contains negligible fat. In a 100 gram reference amount, raw okra provides 33 calories, 7.45 g carbohydrate, 1.93 g protein, 0.19 g fat, 3.2 g dietary fiber, 716 IU vitamin A, 23 mg vitamin C, 31.3 mg vitamin K, 57 mg magnesium, 7 mg sodium, 61 mg phosphorus, 82 mg calcium, 0.62 mg iron, 299 mg potassium, and 0.58 mg zinc.
Okra is one of the low-fat foods with unique nutrients and phytochemical profiles and is rich in dietary fiber, potassium, magnesium, manganese, vitamin C, folate, B1, B6, and vitamin K as well as bioactive components, such as flavonoids, especially quercetin and phytosterols. In fact, okra is one of the richest dietary sources of quercetin and phytosterols (β-sitosterol, sitosterol esters).
Okra seeds contain a 10 times higher concentration of flavonols and almost a 15 times higher concentration of catechins compared to the skins. Okra seeds contain 40% oil, which is high in oleic acid and linoleic acid and therefore could be an alternative source of edible oil. Some pretreatments of okra seeds have been shown to reduce some nutrients and increase others.
Raw Okra Nutrition Facts Label
Health Benefits of Okra
Okra contains many vital nutrients. These nutrients may confer a number of health advantages, including a decreased risk of the development of chronic noncommunicable diseases, such as obesity, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, coronary heart diseases, and gastrointestinal (GI) disorders.
Okra is rich in vitamin C. One cup of okra contains almost 26% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, which plays significant functions in the human body, boosting immunity and scavenging free radicals. Vitamin C is needed for collagen synthesis, the protein that serves so many connective functions in the body. The framework of bone, gums, and binding materials in skin muscle or scar tissue is among the body’s collagen-containing materials and structures. Studies indicate that diets with high vitamin C content, such as okra, have been associated with a lower cancer risk, especially for cancers of the oral cavity, esophagus, stomach, colon, and lung.
Okra can be considered to be a rich source of vitamin K ( 26 % of the Daily Value). Vitamin K functions as a coenzyme for biological reactions involved in blood coagulation and bone metabolism. Vitamin K helps to increase the amount of a specific protein essential to maintain bone calcium, decreasing the risk of osteoporosis. There is increasing evidence that vitamin K improves bone health and decreases the risk of bone fractures, particularly in postmenopausal women who are at risk for osteoporosis. (Note: Vitamin K1 is formed in plants and important sources in our diet are green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, iceberg lettuce, and okra. )
Okra is a good source of thiamine ( 17% of the DV). Thiamine (or thiamin) is one of the water-soluble B vitamins, commonly known as vitamin B1. Thiamin is naturally present in some foods, is added to some food products, and is available as a dietary supplement. Thiamin pyrophosphate, the active form of thiamin, is involved in several enzyme functions associated with the metabolism of carbohydrates, branched chain amino acids, and fatty acids and, therefore, in the growth, development, and function of cells. Adequate intakes of vitamin B1 may reduce the risk of the development of cataracts and diabetes complications, as well as aid in the management of congestive failure and cancer.
Okra is a fiber-rich food. Okra contains both soluble and insoluble fibers. Dietary fiber provides a multitude of health benefits and has been recommended by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the American Heart Association (AHA) as an essential component of a healthy diet. Fibers can help reduce constipation by adding bulk to the stool, preventing and inhibiting colorectal cancer. This causes slow gastric emptying and decreases the rate of glucose absorption in the small intestine, which reduces cholesterol. Okra also contains pectin, which helps lower blood cholesterol levels.
In traditional medicine, okra has been used as an alternative treatment for diabetes. It is assumed that this effect of okra is due to the presence of a large amount of soluble dietary fibers which retard glucose absorption from the GI tract. Similar to lowering cholesterol levels, soluble or viscous dietary fiber also decreases the absorption of glucose and can lower the glycemic impact of foods, thereby causing a lower rise in blood glucose levels. A study showed that the ability of okra fruit to control glycemia is due to its ability to decrease the activity of -glucosidase. The viscous characteristics of okra, due to its excellent water-holding and gelforming capabilities, have been proposed as an important mechanistic factor in delaying gastric emptying and preventing the absorption of glucose in the GI tract.
Okra seeds are not only rich in proteins but also contain substantial amounts of polyphenols, including quercetin derivatives. Okra was found to have one of the higher concentrations of quercetin. Okra seeds had more than ten times higher concentrations of flavonols and almost 15 times higher concentrations of catechins compared to skins, but skins were the only part of the vegetable containing hydroxcinnamic acid. A methanolic extract of okra seeds was shown to have antioxidant activity, and roasting of okra seed flour can increase antioxidant activity.
Okra also contains magnesium(16% of the DV), calcium( 6% of the DV), and potassium( 6% of the DV). Calcium is well known for its function in maintaining bone and tooth health, but it is also critical to cell signaling, blood clotting, muscle contraction, and nerve function.
Potassium is extremely beneficial for healthy blood pressure levels because it acts as a vasodilator, which means it helps to relax blood vessels, reduces the strain on the cardiovascular system, and encourages circulation and oxygenation to vital parts of the body. According to research, potassium-induced blood pressure reduction reduces the risk of stroke, cerebrovascular accident (CVA), coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction, and other cardiovascular events.
Okra is a good source of magnesium, with each 100 g serving providing 57 mg. Magnesium is an essential mineral that is critical for many metabolic functions in the body. Magnesium is primarily found in many unprocessed foods, such as whole grains, green leafy vegetables, including okra, as well as legumes and nuts. In addition, magnesium plays a role in the stability of all polyphosphate compounds in the cells, including those associated with the synthesis of DNA and RNA.