Okra: Health Benefits and Nutritional Values

Vegetables are one of the most commonly used food variety in the world. Several vegetable variants are consumed by people in many countries. Root vegetables, leafy vegetables, plant stalks and cruciferous vegetables are the popular variety of vegetables used. The pods of certain flowering plants are also used as edible vegetable. Okra is one of the widely used edible vegetable pods in different parts of the world that is known by different names. It is commonly known as ladies finger. In India it is known as Bhindi and gumbo in African continent. The origin okra is still as favorite subject of dispute by several historians. Some strongly vocate that it originated in South and West African region and others strongly support that it originated in South Asia. Historical evidences show that it was used during the 12th and 13h centuries in Egypt and in other parts of the African continent.  It was also used during the 16th century in Brazil and during the 18th century it was introduced in the North American region. Today is cultivated in many parts of the world in commercial basis. It is classified in the genus Abelmoschus in the plant family of Malvaceae. The okra species is termed as esculentus.

 This green colored edible pod has amazing health benefits and is used in several cuisines in different parts of the world. It is mainly used to make spicy dishes. Apart from that it is used as soup, broth, fried snacks and also used as thickening agent in many dishes.  India it is used with several spices as side dish along with rice. Particularly in South India deep fried okra added with masala or spices is an all season favorite.  Normally it is not combined with fish and poultry other than a garnish in certain baked culinary preparation combining meat and fish. In certain West African regions it is cooked along with red meat and in Brazil it is combined with chicken. In Japan it is used with tofu or soy products.  In ancient times it was also used as home remedy for strengthening immune system during the climatic changes. The okra soup used in summer seasons act as a cooling agent. In many countries tender okra pods are consumed in raw form.

Okra has numerous health benefits that are important for the proper body functions. The nutrient data base of USDA enlists the nutritional level of okra. According to USDA it contains 33 kilocalories per 100g. It has water content of 90.17 g. carbo hydrates, sugars, protein and dietary fiber also abundantly present in this vegetable. It has low fat content. The vitamin B complex compounds including thiamine or vitamin B1, riboflavin or vitamin B2 and niacin or vitamin B3 is present okra. Vitamin A, C, E, and K are also found. Five main minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc are also abundantly found in okra. Okra oil is extracted from the green edible seeds of okra that is enriched with oleic acid and linoleic acid. Okra oil is mainly used as biofuel.

Okra is widely used as diuretic that relieves urinary tract problems and infections. The rich dietary fiber content maintains proper digestion and reduces the constipation. It also increases the intestinal health. The vitamin A, beta carotene and antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin help to promote eye health by improving good vision. Vitamin A also helps in maintaining mucus membrane and skin. Vitamin C and E improves the skin and hair health. Several skin care and hair care products contain okra extracts that act as good conditioning agent. Vitamin C also prevents minor infections. The foliate content is good for pregnant women that protect the fetus from any nuero defects. Vitamin K and calcium promotes bone health and blood clotting enzymes. Iron also improves the red blood cell count. The regular use of okra provides all essential health benefits that extremely beneficial for the good health.