Eating okra on a regular basis is obviously doing your gut a big favor. The green vegetable not only proves itself as a wonderful ingredient in the kitchen but also unfolds its health-promoting powers as a valued medicinal plant. What’s the truth behind this miracle vegetable?
Okra supports intestinal health
The ancient physician Hippocrates was already convinced that the root of health is in the intestines. In fact, 80 percent of our immune system is in the gut. As the body’s largest defense bastion, it tries to defend the human organism against harmful influences (especially malnutrition, environmental toxins, tooth poisons, medication, and psychological stress).
The intestine with its sensitive mucous membranes is accordingly susceptible to a wide variety of diseases. If the digestive tract is overloaded and the intestinal flora is out of balance, there is a risk of dysbacteria and symptoms such as intestinal inflammation, constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, or even serious intestinal diseases such as celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and intestinal cancer. But diseases such as ADHD can also be traced back to a diseased intestine.
Regular intestinal cleansing and intestinal rehabilitation in combination with targeted development of the intestinal flora with probiotics can bring the intestinal environment back into balance. However, a diet that is as natural as possible and rich in fiber is essential for long-term intestinal health. Many southern countries swear by okra. The vegetable has been prized for its gut-friendly properties for thousands of years. In the USA there is already talk of “anti-cancer vegetables” and okra is also becoming more and more popular in Europe.
Okra: An ancient vegetable is taking over the world
Okra (botanically Hibiscus esculentus, Abelmoschus esculentus) is an integral part of the diet in many southern countries. In Southeast Asia, the vegetable is called Ladies’ Fingers because of its shape, in Brazil Quiabo, in Cuba Quimbombó, and in the Mediterranean Bamya. The okra came to Germany at the latest with the Turkish and Greek guest workers and is also common here under the name vegetable marshmallow.
Originally, however, the fruit vegetable comes from the Ethiopian highlands. As one of the oldest known vegetables, it was cultivated by the Egyptians on the banks of the Nile more than 3,000 years ago and is valued for its healing properties. In keeping with its botanical roots, okra still thrives best in tropical regions. The main growing areas are Nigeria, India, and Pakistan.
Okra is an annual plant and, like hibiscus, belongs to the mallow family. The shrubs, which are up to 2.50 m tall, have large yellow flowers with a violet core, which are also beautiful to look at, from which the green, finger-like capsule fruits develop. The 10 to 20-cm long okra pods are harvested shortly after flowering. Inside are small, soft seeds. Their mild, slightly tart, and slightly sour taste is reminiscent of beans.
However, okra is not only versatile in the kitchen, but also provides a variety of important nutrients.
Okra – High in nutrients and low in calories
Okra pods are real slimmers. Just 19 kilocalories and 0.2 g of fat are recorded in 100 g of this vegetable. More important for health, however, is their wealth of essential nutrients, flavonoids, and antioxidants.
Vitamin C, which strengthens the immune system and has an antioxidant effect, is particularly well represented and, at 36 mg per 100 g, covers more than half of the average daily requirement for an adult. As a precursor to vitamin A, the all-rounder beta-carotene strengthens eyesight and strengthens bones, teeth, gums, skin, and hair. Also present are vitamins K and E as well as B1, B2, and B3. Okra is also not stingy with minerals and trace elements: the vegetable provides calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, and folic acid. The okra seed oil also supplies the body with healthy unsaturated fats.
Chlorophyll is also playing an increasingly important role in cancer prevention. The antioxidant gives the okra its green color and supports the human organism in building new blood cells. Both the chlorophyll and the roughage contained in okra should also help with regular bowel movements and counteract conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Fiber cleans the colon
Okra is very high in fiber. At around 4.9g per 100g of vegetables, these plant fibers sweep through the human digestive tract, ridding it of polluting substances we ingest from unhealthy foods and environmental toxins. In the intestine, they bind cholesterol, toxins, fats, bacteria, and microorganisms.
With the elimination of these harmful substances and the increased stool volume, the roughage contained in okra can regulate our digestion, normalize our feeling of satiety, counteract obesity and diabetes mellitus and actively protect against infections and prevent colon cancer.
In addition, okra has a laxative effect that cleanses the intestines and prevents constipation. The dietary fibers supplied help to keep the blood sugar level constant. Another positive effect on intestinal health is attributed to the mucilage in okra.
Plant-based mucilage in okra regenerates the intestinal flora
Like most types of mallow, okra also has plant-based mucilage. The healing effect of this acidic wall mucus, which is produced when the vegetables are cooked, was already known in ancient times and can be used specifically for stomach and intestinal problems such as gastritis, which was confirmed by a German study at the University of Münster.
According to an international study from 2021, okra optimizes the breeding ground for beneficial microorganisms in the intestinal tract and can thus contribute to intact flora in the small and large intestines.
The vitamin A contained in okra also strengthens the mucous membranes of the digestive organs. Only healthy mucous membranes can fulfill their task of digestion and help to eliminate waste products. With every bite of this vegetable, we are not only opting for a delicious meal, but also for the natural healing power of okra for our intestines!
Gentle preparation for maximum health benefits
Whether raw in a salad, cooked in soups and stews, or tossed in good oil with spices – okra is an easily digestible, versatile vegetable. In order to preserve the valuable nutrients and to make the health-promoting effect of okra usable for the body, the careful preparation of the vegetables is extremely important.
The pods should at most be steamed over low heat. In the process, their mucilage unfolds, which not only has a healing effect but also gives the dishes a creamy effect. Dried okra is also used to thicken sauces. Roasted okra seeds are used instead of coffee beans in some parts of Africa.