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Okra’s Nutritional Benefits

Karen Alexander, Licensed Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

September 15, 2020

Okra is a popular vegetable in the Southern United States. It originated in Ethiopia and quickly spread to the world. Although okra may have a reputation for having an unappealing texture, it is crunchy and delicious when cooked correctly. Okra’s mild flavor makes it a versatile, healthy addition to recipes such as salads, soups, and stews. One cup of okra has 20 calories, 4 grams of fiber, 7 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of protein, no fats, and is an excellent source of vitamins K, C, B1, B6, folate, magnesium, and copper. Okra has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties due to its high levels of vitamin C, phenols, and flavonoids, among other nutrients. 

Key nutrients in okra
-Vitamin K: One cup of okra has almost 70% of your daily target of vitamin K. Vitamin K plays a role in bone health and clotting, and may prevent excessive bleeding. Please note that if you are taking Coumadin or any other blood thinner, you might want to ask your doctor before increasing the amount of okra in your diet.

– Vitamin C: One cup of okra also provides about 40% of your daily target of vitamin C. Vitamin C plays an important role in wound healing, formation of collagen, absorption of iron, and the maintenance of cartilage, bones, and teeth. It also has a positive impact on the immune system.

– Fiber: Okra is a great source of both soluble and insoluble fibers. Soluble fiber helps to slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream, preventing a dangerous blood-sugar spike. Soluble fiber also supports the elimination of cholesterol from the diet and provides a feeling of fullness to help with weight loss efforts. Insoluble fiber “scrubs” the inside of the intestine as it passes through the digestive tract and helps to promote bowel health and regularity.

How to choose
– Brightly colored – green pods that are blemish-free

– Crisp, tender, but firm pods

– Small pods that are 2 – 3 inches long

What to avoid
– Pods that are too large or hard (they will be tough and fibrous)

– Pods that are too soft or overripe (discard pods that are turning brown)

– Pods that are dry or have a dull appearance

How to store

– Fresh okra should be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for no more than 2 to 3 days. Keep the pods unwashed and completely dry, so they do not absorb any moisture, and if the pods become too soft or begin to turn brown, discard them. Wash okra with cold water right before cooking.

– If you want to freeze fresh okra, make sure to blanch it first. Unblanched okra will lose nutrients, flavor, and color when frozen. 

5 Fun facts about okra
– French colonists in Louisiana began to use okra in their regional dishes in the early 1700s.

– Okra is known as “gumbo” or “lady’s finger” in various parts of the world.

– Okra’s polysaccharides may inhibit the adhesion of Helicobacter pylori, a stomach bacterium that can lead to gastritis and gastric ulcers.

– Okra seeds have been used as a source of protein and oil, mostly linoleic acid.

– Okra seeds can also be used as a non-caffeinated substitute for coffee.

 The Recipe of the week is a family recipe shared by April Menck:

Alexander Gumbo
Yield 6-8

1 cup of all-purpose flour

1/2 cup of vegetable oil

1 large onion (chopped)

1 green bell pepper (chopped)

3 garlic cloves (chopped)

6 cups of chicken stock

2 links of sausage (more if desired)

2 bay leaves

1 Tbsp. of thyme

1 Tbsp. of smoked hot paprika

3/4 pound of fresh or thawed okra

1 Rotisserie chicken (deboned)

1 Tsp. of black pepper

1 Tsp. of salt

In a large cast-iron pot, whisk the flour with a 1/2 cup of oil until smooth. Cook the roux over moderately low heat, whisking often, until it is a deep brown color (much like Mississippi mud).

In separate gumbo pot, add the chopped onion, celery, bell peppers, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook over moderately low heat with 2 tablespoons of butter, stirring until the onion is medium brown, then add the sausage and cook for about 10 minutes.

Gradually add the stock to the gumbo pot, whisking until smooth. Next, add the bay leaves, thyme and paprika, bringing it to a simmer. Once it has reached a simmer, add the roux into gumbo pot slowly. Cook over low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Lastly, add your deboned rotisserie chicken and okra into the pot and cook for an additional 25 minutes or until okra is tender.

Serve over rice.

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