From the United States to Ethiopia, there aren’t many places that you won’t find people eating okra, or “ladies’ fingers.”
The small, green pods are found in cultural dishes across the globe, used to serve up as side dishes and accent pastas and casseroles. They can be grilled, fried, sautéed, or baked. They can be breaded, seasoned, ground into a curry, or simply consumed raw.
Despite a starkly different texture, okra tastes quite a bit like eggplant—which make it a fairly mild and non-offensive fruit that everyone from kids to adults can enjoy eating.
It’s not just the taste that makes okra a great addition to your shopping list, though. The fruit comes loaded with nutrients, and it has an impressive variety of nutritional benefits that can make it a health-enhancing food to consume.
Whether you’re looking to stay a little spryer or manage a health condition, these are five of the biggest benefits that you can get from adding okra to your diet when you can.
1. Helps Manage Diabetes
Diabetes is one of the riskiest conditions in the world to develop; whether you’re born with it or develop it later in life, it can pose long-term health risks and absolutely devastate your body.
The scientific community is still searching for a cure for diabetes, but they have found increasing instances of certain foods and diets helping to assist with the management of the varying types of diabetes—and okra is one of those.
According to a study conducted in 2015, okra water can have a therapeutic effect on women suffering from gestational diabetes, improving the blood sugar in a study conducted on pregnant rats. Another study, conducted in 2013, took a look at why the Turkish community has long preached the benefits of okra consumption—and found promising evidence that it can lower blood sugar as well.
Part of the benefit may be simply from eating a healthier diet when you consume okra, but the studies have shown that the fruit itself may be more beneficial than just a healthy mealtime.
2. Lower Fatigue
For people who let their sweet tooth guide their culinary endeavors, it may seem surprising to consider that okra will help lower their fatigue levels. The thought of picking up a sweet treat instead of an eggplant-flavored green fruit may seem like the way to go if you’re looking for a pick-me-up.
In actuality, though, okra seeds possess certain chemical properties that can help both reduce fatigue and improve cardiovascular health, which can both keep you alert for longer during the day and help you benefit from an exercise routine more often.
The reasoning? Okra has been shown in studies to decrease the amount of lactic acid in the bloodstream, which is a key factor in muscle soreness and fatigue. By eliminating the lactic acid build-up, okra re-energizes your body faster and helps you feel refreshed without having to worry about the fatigue compounding over time.
It also helps improve your cardiovascular health due to the presence of flavonoids or flavanols, which work to help your blood vessels stay health and improve your circulation.
3. Aids Weight Loss
One of the most frustrating experiences for adults looking to lose weight is when they find themselves unable to shed pounds even with daily trips to the gym or intense workout classes.
As countless studies have shown, though, diet is just as crucial for positive weight management as exercise—and individuals who eat foods rich in certain properties find themselves in a position to watch the weight drop off just a little faster.
According to the Global Journal of Medicinal Research, the mucilage of okra binds cholesterol and bile acid collecting toxins from the liver, which then carries the toxins and the cholesterol out of the body. It’s also a food that’s high in fiber, which both helps to maintain a healthy, regular digestive system and can be shown to reduce appetite.
It’s important to get a well-balanced diet, so okra alone won’t be the difference between your starting weight and a diet-related finish line. But for those who are looking to make dietary changes in order to see results, okra is a fantastic addition to their new menu.
4. Helps With Asthma
The World Health Organization has given us some pretty dire statistics in the last few years. Nine out of 10 people are estimated to breathe polluted air, which contributes to everything from lung cancer to asthma and lowered immune systems.
One in 13 people, as a result, are now believed to have asthma, a condition that causes a narrowing of airways and results in severe difficulty breathing. This can be deadly—but even for those that just suffer from mild cases, the condition can be frustrating and lead to problems getting enough exercise.
As a food rich in vitamin C, though, okra can directly lead to the alleviation of asthma symptoms. In studies dating back as early as the 1990s, researchers have monitored the effects of vitamin C on breathing ability—and the correlation is promising. Those who get enough vitamin C in their diet report better pulmonary function, lowered aversions to histamines, and a decrease in respiratory infections—and as a result are less likely to need assistance breathing.
There are ways to promote cleaner air around you to help with this as well, but eating foods rich in vitamin C like okra can also make a huge difference.
5. Improves Your Skin
The healthier your diet, the more likely you are to clear up skin conditions—that’s a fact. Switching in any fruits and vegetables for things like potato chips and candy will regulate hormones and unclog pores, leading to the alleviation of things like acne and dry skin.
Some foods are better at helping your skin out than others, though, and okra sits near the top of that list. It contains vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate, also known as Vitamin B9, which are all fantastic for improving your skin.
Vitamin B9, or folate, is one of the most important vitamins for a healthy pregnancy—which is what many people tend to associate it with. But it’s not just fetal development that you can get from consuming a food rich in B9, like okra; the cell and tissue growth that it promotes are good for your body, too. It can help a fetus develop properly, but can also keep your skin growing and reproducing in a way that keeps it strong and healthy—so even if you aren’t expecting a little one, you can benefit from the fruit, too.
Vitamin K and vitamin C aren’t going to be quite as beneficial as the folate, but they provide their own special boosts for your skin, too. Vitamin K is crucial to blood clotting and wound healing, which improves the appearance of everything from bruises to stretch marks, while vitamin C is one of nature’s best anti-aging nutrients. Combined, this trio of okra nutrients will give you an extra skincare boost without all the expensive face washes and creams.