Is Okra Good for You? The Side Effects and Health Benefits
Have you tried Okra? Mostly used in the South, this green pod vegetable is a staple in soulful Southern dishes such as gumbo or fried okra. It’s also known as “lady fingers” and originally comes from Africa. This unique plant can survive extreme heat and also drought. In fact, the okra plant has even been known to survive heat above 100F.
Some may not appreciate its rarified mouthfeel; when cooked the pods become gooey or slimy. Okra is known to be “mucilaginous”. This slime is actually very healthy and contains soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is a unique form of fiber that can actually be metabolized by the flora in our lower intestine, and helps to keep our arteries clean and healthy. In this way, Okra is potentially good for heart and brain health. There are also rumors online that, due to its mucilage, drinking Okra broth everyday will help menopausal women maintain a more youthful sexual life.
This superfood is packed with powerful antioxidants as well as vitamins. Some of its many nutritional benefits are as follows.
1. High in fiber and low in calories. Okra contains only 30 calories per 100g serving. In fact, they may make an excellent addition to a weight maintenance program due to their high fiber and low calorie content. Dietary fiber is known to aid in promoting satisfaction as well as reducing overall calorie absorption.
2. High in minerals. For a small vegetable, okra contains a lot of calcium! In fact, it contains 4% of your daily recommended intake. It also contains iron, manganese, and magnesium.
3. High in Vitamin A, C and K. Vitamin A is important for immune function, skin health and of course eye health. Vitamin K plays an important role in platelet formation and appropriate blood clotting. Lastly, okra contains 36% of the daily recommended intake of Vitamin C. Eating foods rich in Vitamin C has been linked to fewer asthma attacks for those who suffer with asthma.
4. High in antioxidants. Okra is one of the vegetables containing the highest concentrations of certain antioxidants. These antioxidants are flavonoid anti-oxidants such as beta-carotene, xanthin, and lutein. Alongside vitamin A, these antioxidants have been shown to protect vision.
5. High in folate and other B Vitamins such as niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin, and pantothenic acid. Folate is essential for fetal development. In general, B-complex vitamins aid in energy levels and healthy hair.
6. Soothes peristalsis of food in the gut (helps constipation). Due to its mucilage, okra can encourage proper bowel function and it even can prevent peptic ulcers by making it harder for H Pylori bacteria to attach in the stomach.
7. High in soluble fiber. Soluble fiber aids in maintaining stable insulin levels and also absorbs cholesterol from the digestive tract.
8. Certain studies have indicated that consuming okra may be nephroprotective and could even improve kidney function over time.
You may be thinking, “what an amazing vegetable!” You’re correct! Okra is truly a gift from nature to us all. However, what are the side effects of okra? Read below.
Side Effects and Precautions
1. Mild stomach upset is a side effect of okra, but typically only for those who aren’t used to consuming fiber. This can be alleviated by consuming smaller amounts as your body gets used to digesting more fiber.
2. Okra is high in Vitamin K, an important nutrient. Vitamin K is contraindicated for those taking Coumadin (a specific blood thinner). Talk to your doctor.
3. Okra contains fructans, which some people have trouble digesting. Garlic, asparagus, onions, and many other vegetables also contain fructans. In those with fructan sensitivity, okra may cause side effects such as diarrhea, flatus, cramping, and bloating.
4. Okra contains a toxic compound called solanine that may be contradicted for those who have arthritis. Potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, blueberries, and artichokes also contain solanine. If you’re sensitive to these fruits and vegetables, you should also steer clear of okra.
5. Okra may increase your likelihood of having a second kidney stone. Just like spinach, okra contains high levels of oxalates. Consuming oxalates may increase the chances of having a kidney stone if you’ve already had one previously.
As you can see, okra is completely safe and very healthy for most people to consume on a regular basis. However, those with certain sensitivities or medical conditions should talk to their doctor before enjoying okra as it may cause side effects.
Now that we know the health benefits and side effects of okra, let’s see how it can be cooked! Okra is a pretty unique and powerful vegetable. It’s also extremely easy to cook and versatile. You can even use it to thicken soups! If you’re not a fan of the mouthfeel, try adding an acid such as lemon or tomato while cooking. Lately I have been making roasted okra as a healthy snack of side dish for dinner. I’ll share my recipe below and please comment with your own favorite okra dish.
Roasted Okra Recipe
Serves 4; about a cup per serving
1 pound fresh okra (or a large bag of frozen sliced okra)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon paprika
- If using fresh okra, clean the vegetables and dice into one inch slices. For a different style, you may also keep them whole or slice in half the long-way. If using frozen, no need to defrost.
- Place the okra on a large baking sheet or you may use a large casserole dish. To save yourself on clean-up, you may optionally line the pan with parchment paper.
- Drizzle the oil over the okra and mix it around a bit for a more even distribution.
- Sprinkle on the salt and paprika
- Broil on low for 10-15 minutes, turning once. You can also bake at 425F. If you prefer it crispier or softer, adjust the time accordingly. Also, if baking from frozen or may take a few minutes longer.
- Enjoy while warm! Great alone, or pair with an aioli for dipping.
per serving; about one cup or 100g
Carbs: 7 grams
Protein: 2 grams
Fat: 3.5 grams
Fiber: 3 grams
Magnesium: 14% of the Daily Value (DV)
Folate: 15% of the DV
Vitamin A: 14% of the DV
Vitamin C: 36% of the DV
Vitamin K: 26% of the DV
Vitamin B6: 14% of the DV
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