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Okra: Health Benefits & Side Effects of Okro

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Okra, which is also known as Okro, lady’s finger, gumbo, or bhindi, is a flowering plant that produces edible green pods. It is extensively grown in warm and tropical regions, such as Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Okro is a versatile vegetable that can be consumed either raw or cooked. It has a slimy texture and a mild flavour that can complement various dishes. 

Apart from being delicious, Okro is also highly nutritious. It is low in calories but rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It has been associated with numerous health benefits, such as aiding in weight loss, reducing cholesterol levels, controlling blood sugar, improving digestion, promoting healthy skin and hair, supporting pregnancy, and helping in baby development. However, Okro may also have some side effects, such as causing stomach problems, joint pain, kidney stones, interfering with diabetes medication, causing blood clotting issues, and triggering allergic reactions. 

This article explores the nutritional facts, health benefits, and side effects of Okra. So, if you’re interested in learning about the health benefits and side effects of Okro, keep reading!

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Okra: Health Benefits & Side Effects of Okro

What is Okra?

Okra is a tall vegetable plant that can grow up to 6 feet tall also known as Okro or Lady’s Finger. It has yellow flowers and green seed pods. The part of the plant that people eat is the green pods, which are picked when they are young and tender, around 2 to 4 inches long. 

Inside the Okro pods, there is a slimy and sticky substance that, when cooked, makes Okro Soup thick and slimy. Okro is a versatile vegetable that is easy to incorporate into many dishes, whether it is served raw or cooked. 

The young and tender Okro pods are not only delicious but also provide essential nutrients. Eating Okro is a great way to enjoy a tasty and healthy vegetable.

History and Origin of Okro

Okro is believed to have originated in Ethiopia or West Africa. The vegetable was first cultivated by ancient Egyptians as early as 2000 BC. Afterward, it spread to other parts of Africa, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, India, and the Caribbean through trade and migration. 

During the transatlantic slave trade in the 17th century, enslaved Africans introduced Okro to North America. It quickly became a staple food for the African American population in the southern United States. Other ethnic groups, such as Cajuns and Creoles in Louisiana, also adopted it. 

In recent times, okro has been grown and consumed in many countries worldwide. India, Nigeria, Sudan, Ghana, and Pakistan were the top producers of okro in 2018, with India being the largest producer with 6.4 million tonnes, followed by Nigeria which produced 2.1 million tonnes.

Nutritional Facts about Okro

Okra: Health Benefits & Side Effects of Okro

Okro is a low-calorie vegetable that provides a good amount of dietary fiber and antioxidants. It also contains various vitamins and minerals that are essential for human health.

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According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database, One cup (100 grams) of raw Okro contains:

  • 33 calories
  • 1.9 grams of protein – Provides building blocks for growth and development
  • 0.2 grams fat – Low in unhealthy saturated fat
  • 7.5 grams carbs – Rich source of energy
  • 3.2 grams fiber – Promotes digestion and heart health
  • 1.5 grams sugar – Naturally occurring sugars; not added
  • 31.3 milligrams of vitamin K – Supports bone health
  • 299 milligrams potassium – Important for muscle and nerve function
  • 23 milligrams of vitamin C – Boosts immune system and iron absorption
  • 0.215 milligrams of vitamin B6 – Helps convert food into energy
  • 60 mcg folate – Crucial for pregnancy and DNA synthesis

Okro is mainly composed of water (90%) and carbs (7%). The carbs in okra are mostly sugars (glucose and fructose) and fiber (pectin and gums).

Okro also provides a moderate amount of protein (2 grams per cup). It is very low in fat (0 grams per cup). It does not contain any saturated or trans fats, which are harmful to the heart and blood vessels. 

Health Benefits of Okra

Okro has been used for centuries as a traditional medicine for various ailments, such as ulcers, diarrhea, asthma, and sore throat. Modern research has also confirmed some of the health benefits of okra, such as:

Okro for Weight Loss

Okro may help with weight loss by increasing satiety, reducing appetite, and preventing fat accumulation. The fiber in okro can slow down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, which can lower the glycemic index and insulin response of a meal. 

This can help regulate blood sugar levels and prevent spikes and crashes that can trigger hunger and cravings. The fibre in okro can also bind to bile acids in the intestine and excrete them out of the body. This can lower cholesterol levels and force the liver to use more cholesterol to make new bile acids, which reduces the amount of fat in the body.

Additionally, okro contains some compounds that may stop the activity of enzymes that are involved in fat synthesis, such as lipoprotein lipase and pancreatic lipase. This can reduce the amount of fat that is absorbed and stored in the body.

Okro for Cholesterol

Okro has been found to reduce cholesterol levels in the body by decreasing its absorption and production. Okro’s fiber content binds to bile acids and removes them from the body, which reduces the amount of cholesterol that is recycled and reused by the liver. 

Okro contains antioxidants that can help protect the blood vessels from oxidative damage and inflammation caused by high cholesterol levels.

Okro for Diabetes

Okro is a vegetable that may have a positive effect on blood sugar levels and can help prevent or manage diabetes. It achieves this by enhancing insulin sensitivity, improving glucose uptake, and inhibiting glucose production. Okro’s fibre content can slow down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, reducing the blood sugar response after a meal. Additionally, the fiber in okro can promote the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) in the colon, which can boost insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake by muscle cells. 

Moreover, okro contains natural compounds that can inhibit alpha-glucosidase and alpha-amylase. These two enzymes break down complex carbohydrates into simple sugars in the digestive tract. By suppressing the action of these enzymes, okro can decrease the amount of glucose that enters the bloodstream.

Okra for Constipation

Okro may help relieve constipation by increasing stool bulk, softening stool consistency, and stimulating bowel movements. The fibre in okro can absorb water and swell in the intestine, which can increase stool volume and weight. This can create mechanical pressure on the intestinal wall and trigger peristalsis, which is the wave-like contraction of muscles that moves food along the digestive tract. The fibre can also act as a lubricant and soften stool texture, which can make it easier to pass.

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Additionally, okro contains some mucilage, which is a sticky substance that coats and soothes the intestinal lining and reduces friction and irritation. Mucilage can also bind to toxins and bacteria in the gut and help eliminate them from the body.

Okra for Skin and Hair

Okro is a great natural aid to improve skin and hair health as it offers hydration, nourishment, and protection. The high water content in okro can hydrate skin and hair cells, prevent dryness and flakiness. The vitamins and minerals present in okro can nourish the skin and hair cells, support their growth and repair. Moreover, the antioxidants in okro can protect the skin and hair cells from oxidative stress and environmental damage. 

Lady’s Finger is a natural beauty product suitable for both skin and hair. It can be applied topically as a moisturiser, cleanser, toner, mask, or scrub for the skin. Okro can also be used as a conditioner, gel, or serum for the hair. It helps to moisturise, soften, smooth, brighten, tighten, exfoliate, and heal the skin. In addition, okro can help detangle, define, curl, strengthen, and add shine to the hair.

Okra for Pregnancy

Okro is a highly beneficial food for pregnant women as it contains essential nutrients that can help support pregnancy. The folate in okro is particularly important for proper foetal development of the neural tube, which forms the brain and spinal cord of the baby. Neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly can result from a deficiency in folate, which can have serious complications. 

Okro also contains a range of other nutrients that are crucial for a healthy pregnancy, including vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin B6, magnesium, calcium, iron, and potassium. These nutrients can help support both the mother and baby’s immune systems, blood clotting, vision, nerve function, muscle function, bone health, oxygen transport, fluid balance, and blood pressure. 

Moreover, okro can also help alleviate some common pregnancy symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, anaemia, edoema, and gestational diabetes. The fibre in okro can aid digestion and bowel movements, which can prevent constipation and haemorrhoids.

Okro for Babies

Introducing okro to your baby’s diet can be beneficial for their growth and development. Okro is rich in essential nutrients, antioxidants, and minerals that enhance the immunity, growth, and repair of the baby’s cells, tissues, and organs. Additionally, okro’s high fibre content can prevent constipation and diarrhoea, improving bowel movements. The mucilage in okro can also help soothe the baby’s stomach and throat by reducing inflammation and coating the digestive tract. 

As one of the first solid foods for babies, okro is an excellent choice due to its mild taste, soft texture, and easy-to-digest nature. Okro can be cooked with vegetables to provide your baby with a variety of nutritious options.

Side Effects of Eating Okra

Okro is generally considered safe to eat for most people, as it does not contain any toxic or harmful substances. However, some people may experience side effects from consuming okra, such as: 

  1. Kidney stones: Okro may cause kidney stones for those who are prone to them. This is due to the oxalic acid content in okro, which can combine with calcium or magnesium and form stones in the kidneys. Drinking enough water, reducing the intake of oxalic acid-rich foods, and increasing the intake of citrate-rich foods like lemons, oranges, grapefruits, and pineapples may help prevent this problem. 
  2. Interference with diabetes medication: Okro can help lower blood sugar levels by improving insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake, which may be beneficial for some people with diabetes. However, it may also interfere with diabetes medication and cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) for those who are taking it. Monitoring blood sugar levels regularly, adjusting the dosage of diabetes medication accordingly, and eating okro with other carbohydrate-rich foods can help fix this problem. 
  3. Blood clotting issues: Okro contains vitamin K, which helps with blood clotting. While this can be beneficial for those with low levels of vitamin K, it may cause excessive bleeding or bruising for those with high levels of vitamin K or who are taking blood thinners. Monitoring blood clotting factors regularly, adjusting the dosage of blood thinners accordingly, and consuming okra in moderation can help avoid or reduce this problem. 
  4. Allergic reaction: Some people may experience an allergic reaction to okro or other plants in the same family, such as cotton, hibiscus, and cacao. Symptoms may include itching, rash, swelling, sneezing, coughing, or other allergic reactions. Stop eating Okro if you find yourself having allergies after eating Okro, and consult a physician or doctor immediately for treatment.
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Frequently Asked Questions

Which One Is Correct Okro or Okra?

Both are correct and interchangeable. They are different spellings for the same Lady’s Finger vegetable plant. Although Okro is more widely used in Nigeria and some West African countries.

How to Store Okro?

Okro should be stored in a paper bag or a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator. It should only be washed once it is ready to use. It should be used within 3 to 4 days.

What Are the Benefits of Drinking Okro Water?

Okro water is a drink made by soaking Okro in water overnight or for several hours. It is said to have many health benefits, such as detoxifying the body, boosting metabolism, hydrating the skin, and enhancing sexual performance. However, there is not enough scientific evidence to support these claims. Okro water may also have some side effects, such as stomach upset, diarrhoea, or kidney stones. Therefore, it is advisable to consult a doctor before drinking okro water.

Is Okro Keto-Friendly?

Okro is a great vegetable choice for those following a keto diet. It has a low carb content and is high in fiber. A cup (100 grams) of raw okro contains 7 grams of carbs and 3 grams of fiber. This means that the net carbs in okro are only 4 grams per cup. 

Net carbs are the total carbs minus the fiber. If you’re following a keto diet, it’s recommended to consume 20 to 50 grams of net carbs per day. Therefore, incorporating okro into your keto diet is a great way to stay within your carb limit.

Is Okra Water Good for the Kidneys?

Yes, Okro is a nutritious food for people with kidney disease due to its high levels of antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins.

Conclusion

Okra is a nutritious and tasty vegetable that offers numerous health benefits. These include weight loss, reduction of cholesterol levels, control of blood sugar, improvement of digestion, support during pregnancy, healthy hair and skin, and development of the baby. 

However, some people may experience side effects such as stomach problems, joint pain, kidney stones, interference with diabetes medication, blood clotting issues, and allergic reactions. To avoid or reduce these side effects, it is recommended to consume okra in moderation, drink plenty of water, chew it well, monitor blood levels, adjust medication dosage, and avoid allergens. 

Okra is a versatile vegetable that can be eaten raw or cooked. It can also be used as a natural beauty product for the skin and hair. Adding okra to your diet can greatly enhance your overall health and well-being.