When it comes to okra, many people are unaware that this often-fried southern vegetable contains a hefty amount of nutrition. Cultures in Africa have employed okra for a number of maladies, including diabetes and liver disease. Research has shown that many okra health benefits are attributed to the veggie’s polysaccharide and lecithin content, and its bioavailable antioxidant content also contributes greatly to its proven health effects.
5 Surprising Okra Health Benefits
Okra offers benefits far beyond thickening gumbo. In fact, only recently has research into okra health benefits surged in medical and nutritional literature, consistently reporting its effectiveness for managing blood sugar, fighting cancer, and lowering the risk of heart disease. Check out these okra health benefits today, and start incorporating the vegetable into you meal plan tomorrow!
Recent research has found that okra contains a hefty amount of polyphenol (antioxidant) content and immunomodulatory compounds, both of which may help fight against cancer. Not only is okra a good source of vitamin C, a potent vitamin necessary for maintaining the health of the immune system, this hot-loving summer crop contains powerful components responsible for fighting tumor growth in the human body. Studies have consistently shown that certain polysaccharides within okra may initiate macrophage activity in cancer cells, reducing their overall size, activity, and presence. Lecithins in okra are also responsible for the vegetable’s effects on inducing cancer cell death (apoptosis).
Gastritis, or the inflammation of the stomach lining, is more common than you may think. In fact, many people may experience some form of intestinal and stomach inflammation thanks to the bombardment of gluten and sugar (both highly inflammatory) in the modern diet. Gastritis is a painful and sometimes debilitating condition that, if not addressed immediately, can result in permanent damage. Traditional African medicine would use okra as a natural remedy against gastritis, and a recent study at the beginning of this year is confirming this ancient use. Polysacchrides in okra appear to inhibit the adhesion of Helicobacter pylori, an inflammatory bacteria known to cause gastritis, to the stomach.
One of the many reasons I started this website was to share what I knew about controlling blood sugar. Why? High blood sugar levels induced by a high-grain, high-carb diet is one of the leading causes of inflammation, which is also the leading contributor to cancer, dementia, diabetes, and aging. Managing blood sugar is crucial for maintaining a long, healthy life, even if you aren’t a diabetic. The only way I know how to do this is to reduce grains, avoid refined sugar (and use healthier options like coconut palm sugar and stevia), exercise, get plenty of sunlight, and get plenty of sleep.
It turns out that you can also add something to your diet to control your blood sugar:
okra! This tasty vegetable has been used for centuries as an adjucvant against type II diabetes, and research is just beginning to show that this vegetable can greatly decrease the sharp rise in blood sugar and insulin levels following a meal. Not only does the mucilaginous quality of fibrous content of the okra help to reduce the impact of carbohydrates on blood sugar, the vegetable also contains isoquercetin, a chemical compound that acts as a potent alpha-glucoside inhibitor. Most diabetic drugs designed to lower blood sugar contain synthetic alpha-glucoside inhibitors, positioning okra as a possible natural alternative for generally healthy individuals.
Lowers Cholesterol and Triglycerides
While cholesterol does play a minor role in the development of heart disease, it is by no means the whole picture. There has been a major marketing ploy in the United States designed to brainwash people into believing that cholesterol is the devil. In reality, it is a necessary nutrient needed by the human body to produce and regulate 100s of biological and metabolic processes in the body. That being said, knowing your cholesterol levels means diddly squat unless you also know your triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are literally fats in the blood and are a more powerful indicator for heart disease risk.
Okra seems to decrease cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels naturally, making it just one of the heart disease-fighting foods you should include in your diet as much as possible. The vegetable seems to promote the metabolism and degradation of cholesterol while inhibiting lipid lipogenesis (the production of fats) in the body. Generally speaking, most vegetables tend to show hypolipidemic effects; however, okra seems to display many active, fast-acting compounds geared toward regulating cholesterol and triglyceride homeostasis.
Protects the Liver
The liver is our main detoxifying and organ, and keeping it healthy helps us to reduce the levels of toxic buildup that occurs as a result to those that we encounter in the environment. Keeping our liver healthy is crucial for maintaining the healthy of our entire body, and it turns out that okra may help immensely. The antioxidants found in okra have been found to be protective against liver damage, something which can occur from environmental toxin exposure.
How To Enjoy Okra
Okra is a popular food in the South, usually fried using a batter of cornmeal, egg, and various spices. Cornmeal isn’t always the best choice as most of it is genetically modified (unless certified organic) and is high on the glycemic index. This nutritious vegetable is also an excellent ingredient for thickening stews and gumbos thanks to its mucilaginous texture.
Personally, I enjoy eating okra raw straight from the plant. I’m growing twelve okra plants this year, and I can’t wait to see how productive the yields will be. Two years ago I grew just two plants and had plenty to make a large gumbo every week. I also use my fresh, organic okra in refrigerator pickled okra, something that I’ve enjoyed for years. If you live in a warm climate, I highly recommend looking into growing this amazing, versatile, and nutrient-dense vegetable!