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Okra Health Benefits, Nutritional Value and Uses

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What is Okra?

Okra  is one of the popular nutritious vegetables of North-East African origin. It is also known as “lady’s finger”, or “bamia”. The pods usually gathered while they are green, tender, and at immature stage. The plant is cultivated throughout the tropical and warm temperate regions around the world for their fibrous fruits or “pods.” Bamia grows best in well-drained and manure rich soil.

Botanically, okra is a perennial flowering plant belongs to the Malvaceae (mallows) family, and named scientifically as Abelmoschus esculentus.

Health Benefits of Okra

  • The pods compose healthy amounts of vitamin A, and flavonoid anti-oxidants such as beta-carotene, xanthin and lutein. It is one of the vegetables with highest levels of these anti-oxidants. These compounds are known to have antioxidant properties and are essential for vision. Vitamin A is also required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin. Consumption of natural vegetables and fruits rich in flavonoids helps to protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
  • The bamia pods are among the very low calorie vegetables. They provide just 30 calories per 100 g besides containing no saturated fats or cholesterol. Nonetheless, they are rich sources of dietary fiber, minerals, and vitamins; often recommended by nutritionists in cholesterol controlling and weight reduction programs.
  • They are rich in B-complex group of vitamins like niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin and pantothenic acid. The pods also contain good amounts of vitamin K. Vitamin K is a co-factor for blood clotting enzymes and is required for strengthening of bones.
  • The pods are also good source of many important minerals such as iron, calcium, manganese and magnesium.
  • The pods are one of the rich sources of mucilage substance that help in smooth peristalsis of digested food through the gut and ease constipation condition.
  • Fresh pods are the good source of folates; provide about 22% of RDA per 100 g. Consumption of foods rich in folates, especially during the pre-conception period helps decrease the incidence of neural tube defects in the offspring.
  • The gumbo pods are also an excellent source of anti-oxidant vitamin, vitamin-C, providing about 36% of daily-recommended levels. Research suggests that consumption of foods rich in vitamin-C helps human body develop immunity against infectious agents, reduce episodes of cold and cough and protect it from harmful free radicals.
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Uses of Okra

Okra pods are one of the widely used vegetables in tropical countries. Chopped, or sliced, they can be stewed or fried (fritters) under low heat oil in order to soften their mucilaginous texture. They then, can be mixed with other vegetables, rice, or meat.

  • Tender okra leaves may be cooked in a similar manner as the greens of beets or dandelions. The leaves are also be eaten raw in salads.
  • Thick stew of lamb or beef and okra (bamiya) is a popular dish in Egypt and other middle eastern regions.
  • In the Caribbean islands, okra is cooked and enjoyed in soup, often with fish.
  • The pods can be pickled and preserved like in other vegetables.
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Nutritional value of Okra

Okra is an excellent fiber source to maintain a healthy digestive system and also contains good amounts of calcium, iron and magnesium. It also provides 43 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of manganese and 36 percent of the RDA of infection-fighting vitamin C.

One cup of raw okra (100 grams) contains 33 calories and includes a whopping 44 percent of the bone-strengthening vitamin K you need for one day, which is important as a co-factor for blood-clotting enzymes.

References to the gelatinous mucilage in okra, especially when cooked, are parallel to applications noted by nutritionists who recommend it for people suffering from constipation, as it does help move food through your gut.