10 Health Benefits of Okra

Okra, also known as lady’s finger or gumbo, is a vegetable of African origin often served fried, boiled or pickled in Southern U.S. cuisine. The tender dark green pods are gaining a reputation as a health food due to their soluble fiber and phytonutrients which can reduce your risk for many common disorders. Here are ten ways okra can improve your overall health.

1. Prevent or treat diabetes

Polyphenolic compounds in okra could help to keep blood sugar levels stable and ward off diabetes. Studies have shown that okra extract lowers blood sugar in diabetic rats. It works in the same way as a class of diabetes drugs called alpha-glucosidase inhibitors. Flavonol glucosides in okra inhibit the action of the alpha-glucosidase enzyme that helps in carbohydrate digestion. This slows down the absorption of sugary and starchy foods, reducing the rise in blood sugar following a meal.

2. Lower cholesterol

The soluble fiber in okra binds to cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract. Since fiber reduces the amount of cholesterol absorbed by the gut, the body must remove cholesterol from the bloodstream in order to produce the bile necessary for digestion. Eating five grams or more of soluble fiber a day can help to lower your total and LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol. Okra has 3.2 grams of fiber in 100 grams.

3. Prevent or treat constipation

Okra is higher in mucilage than most other vegetables. This dense, gelatinous substance lubricates the intestines and provides bulk and softness to the stool, helping it to move quickly through the bowels. Mucilage also coats the digestive tract and can help to soothe pain and irritation associated with IBS or other gastrointestinal complaints.

4. Reduce the risk of stroke

Okra, like many green vegetables, is a good source of folate. It has 22% of the RDA in 100 grams. A review published in The Lancet looked at eight studies and concluded that supplementation with folic acid can reduce your stroke risk by 18%. A Chinese study involving 21,700 adults with hypertension found that folic acid supplementation reduced the risk of stroke by 21%. By getting plenty of folate in your diet, you can cut your stroke risk without the need for supplements.

5. Prevent or treat breast cancer

Okra seeds contain a lectin (carbohydrate-binding protein) that has antitumor effects. In one laboratory study, the okra lectin was shown to kill up to 72% of human breast cancer cells, mainly by inducing apoptosis (programmed cell death). It also inhibited the growth of breast cancer cells by 63%. The researchers conclude that okra may represent a potential therapeutic to combat human breast cancer.

6. Maintain healthy skin

Okra is an excellent source of the trace mineral manganese with 43% of the RDA in 100 grams. Manganese is necessary for the production of collagen, the structural component of skin. It also functions as an antioxidant in skins cells and helps protect them against damage from ultraviolet light. A lack of dietary manganese can cause skin rashes to develop.

7. Prevent or treat ulcers

Most peptic ulcers are caused by bacteria called Helicobacter pylori. This bacteria penetrates the stomach’s protective mucous lining, which makes it more susceptible to damage from acids. Laboratory studies have shown that okra extract can kill H. pylori and that polysaccharides in okra inhibit the adhesion of the bacteria to stomach tissue. The mucilage in okra also coats the digestive lining and helps to shield it from stomach acid.

8. Maintain healthy bones

Okra is an excellent source of vitamin K with 44% of the RDA in 100 grams. Vitamin K plays an active role in bone mineralization and a deficiency of it is associated with the bone thinning and lack of density that can lead to osteoporosis.

A seven year study involving 800 elderly people found that those who consumed the most vitamin K had a 65% lower chance of having a hip fracture than those who consumed the least.

9. Protect your liver

Phytochemicals in okra may protect your liver from damage caused by toxins. In one study rats were divided into several experimental groups. Some were given different dosages of okra extract in their water. After ten days the animals were administered with carbon tetrachloride, a potent liver toxin. The rats that were pretreated with okra showed significantly less elevation of enzymes that act as markers for liver damage. The ability of okra extract to protect against chemically induced liver damage may be due to flavonoids and other antioxidants.

10. Prevent or treat skin cancer

Okra pectin contains a recently discovered cancer-fighting substance called rhamnogalacturonan. In a laboratory study, the pectin compound inhibited the proliferation of highly metastatic mouse melanoma cells by 75% after 48 hours of treatment. It also considerably increased the rate of cell death by apoptosis. The researchers note that these interactions might open the way to new melanoma therapies.

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