Okra, also known as “lady’s finger”, or “bamia” is one of the popular nutritious vegetables of North-East African origin. 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.
The okra plant bears numerous dark green colored pods measuring about 5-15 cm in length. It takes about 45-60 days to get ready-to-harvest fruits. Internally, the pods feature small, round, mucilaginous white colored seeds arranged in vertical rows. The pods are handpicked while just short of reaching maturity and eaten as a vegetable.
Here are the top 10 health benefits of okra.
1. Reduces Blood Sugar Levels
Okra contains insulin-like properties that help reduce blood sugar levels. It also has a low glycemic index of about 20, making it a good choice for people with diabetes.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Pharmacy & BioAllied Sciences confirmed the antidiabetic and antihyperlipidemic potential of abelmoschus esculentus (okra) peel and seed powder in diabetic rats.
Another study published in the same year in ISRN Pharmaceutics found that okra helps reduce the absorption of glucose, which in turn lowers blood sugar levels.
- Cut off the ends of 4 or 5 okras and prick the body using a fork. Instead of pricking, you can also slit halfway.
- Soak the pricked okras in a glass of water overnight.
- The next morning, remove the okras and drink the water on an empty stomach.
- Do this daily to maintain a healthy blood sugar level.
2. Lowers Bad Cholesterol
Okra may also help lower cholesterol levels. A 2014 study published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology found that the hypolipidemic activity of okra skin extract provides cholesterol-lowering benefits.
It inhibits pancreatic cholesterol esterase activity, reduces the efficacy of cholesterol micellization and binds to bile acids, which in turn delays cholesterol absorption and increases its excretion.
In addition, it contains no saturated fats or cholesterol and helps prevent heart disease and other health problems caused by cholesterol in the blood.
Include okra in your diet to lower your bad cholesterol level. You can even take okra extract, after consulting your doctor.
3. Treats Leukorrhea
According to folkloric practice, fresh tender okra pods are beneficial in treating leukorrhea, which causes whitish or yellowish vaginal discharge between menstruations.
Its mucilaginous property helps remove mucous from your system, which in turn reduces vaginal discharge. In addition, it boosts your immune system to help fight the problem.
- Wash 1 cup of fresh okras and cut them into small pieces.
- Boil the pieces in 2 cups of water for about 15 minutes or until the water is reduced by half.
- Strain, divide it into 3 parts and add drink it 3 times a day until you notice improvement in your condition.
4. Promotes a Healthy Pregnancy
Okra is highly recommended for pregnant women. The important B vitamins in it help ensure healthy growth of the baby in the womb and prevent birth defects like spinal bifida.
In addition, it is rich in folic acid that aids in producing and maintaining new cells, which is essential for a healthy pregnancy. Folate also prevents miscarriage. The vitamin C in okra also plays a key role in fetal development.
Include okra in your diet during pregnancy, especially during the 4th and 12th weeks when the neural tube develops in the fetus.
5. Prevents Liver Disease
Okra helps cleanse the liver and prevent liver disease. It contains substances that bind bile acid and cholesterol to detoxify the liver. It even prevents the accumulation of fats in the liver.
In a 2012 study published in the Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal, researchers concluded that the potent antioxidant property of okra extract has the ability to protect against chemically induced liver damage.
To improve your liver health and prevent disease, include okra in your diet or take an okra supplement after consulting your doctor.
6. Makes Your Hair Soft and Shiny
The antioxidants and vitamins in okra can help you enjoy well-conditioned, shiny and bouncy hair. It also contains other useful nutrients like copper, zinc, potassium, folate and thiamine that are good for your hair.
In addition, the transparent mucilage in okra works as a natural conditioner and adds life to dull hair.
- Put 8 to 10 okras (cut horizontally) in a pot with 1 cup of water.
- Allow it to simmer on low heat until you get a sticky texture.
- Remove it from the heat, add a few drops of lavender or mint oil and allow the concoction to cool.
- Filter the mixture using a muslin cloth and store the filtered content in a bottle.
- After washing your hair, apply this homemade conditioner.
- Wait 5 minutes, then rinse your hair thoroughly with water.
7. Improves Eye Health
Okra is a vision booster. It contains vitamin A as well as antioxidant components like beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin that are good for the eyes.
Vitamin A provides protection to the cornea, lutein protects the eyes from harmful ultraviolet (UV) light and zeaxanthin aids visual development.
Being a powerful antioxidant, okra also destroys or neutralizes free radicals, the dangerous byproducts of cellular metabolism. Free radicals cause the degradation of cells in the body, including those responsible for vision.
To protect your eyes and reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration and cataracts, include okra in your diet.
8. Promotes Healthy Skin
Several nutrients in okra can help keep your skin looking young and vibrant. The vitamin C aids the growth and repair of damaged tissues, which affects collagen formation and skin pigmentation. It also prevents acne, psoriasis and other skin conditions.
Being a rich source of dietary fiber, it also promotes smooth digestion, which is another important factor for healthy skin.
- Boil 2 cups of chopped okra in about 2 cups of water for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat and allow it to steep for 10 minutes.
- Remove the okra pods and mash them with a little jojoba oil or any carrier oil to make a paste.
- Apply it to your face and neck.
- Allow it to sit for 15 minutes, then rinse it off with water.
- Use this face mask once or twice a week.
9. Improves Digestion
Okra is a good source of dietary fiber, which is good for your digestive and colon health. Fiber facilitates proper absorption of water to ensure easier elimination of waste products from the body.
This, in turn, ensures regular bowel movements, which help prevent constipation as well as bloating, cramping and gas.
In addition, the vitamin A content in okra helps the digestive tract function properly.
To improve your digestive health, eat 1 to 2 cups of okra daily. You can use it to make soup or stir-fry dishes.
10. Boosts Immunity
Regular intake of okra can give a boost to your immunity. The high vitamin C content helps the white blood cells function properly and develop immunity against infectious agents, reducing episodes of the common cold and protecting your body from harmful free radicals.
Its powerful antioxidant nature also helps strengthen your immunity and reduce episodes of illness. It also helps prevent heart disease, cancer and premature aging.