Okra is a popular vegetable in the Southern regions of the United States, but it may be less well-known in other areas in the world.
Okra contains numerous potential health benefits for people with diabetes, so you may want to make some room on your plate for this unique vegetable!
What is okra?
Okra, whose scientific name is Abelmoschus esculentus, is an edible flowering plant.
Its green seed pods are the edible portion of the vegetable which grows in the warm seasons, or summer through early fall in the United States.
Okra was brought to the United States from Africa, making it a popular food in the Southern region of the United States.
One of the things okra is most notorious for is its slimy texture called mucilage, which results from sugar residue and contains some of its beneficial soluble fiber.
Okra’s slimy texture may be off-putting for many, but it’s useful for thickening soups and stews such as gumbo, a popular dish in New Orleans in the United States.
Some tips and tricks to reduce the mucilage in okra are to cut it into larger pieces (cutting it into smaller pieces can release the mucilage even more) and soak it in vinegar for 30 minutes before using or cooking it at high heat.
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Seven benefits of okra for diabetes
1) Rich in fiber
Like all plant foods, okra is a good source of dietary fiber. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate, but the digestive tract cannot absorb it. High-fiber foods have less of an impact on blood sugar levels, and they are also lower in calories since fiber isn’t absorbed.
People with diabetes can benefit from high-fiber foods like okra because it can help promote satiety and may help promote weight loss. Losing 5-7% of your initial body weight can significantly improve blood sugar and even prevent diabetes in those with a condition called prediabetes.
Fiber, especially soluble fiber, can also help promote healthy cholesterol levels. People with diabetes are more likely to have high levels of bad cholesterol and low levels of good cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart disease.
In an animal study, mice fed okra powder along with a diet to promote high cholesterol had lower cholesterol than rats fed just the hyperlipidemic diet.
The improvement in cholesterol was dose-dependent, meaning the mice fed more okra powder had the greatest improvement in cholesterol and triglycerides, a type of blood fat.
One cup of okra provides a little over 3 grams of fiber, around 12% of the recommended daily value for adults.
2) It may help lower blood sugar
In animal studies, rats fed okra powder had significant reductions in fasting blood sugar levels, improved insulin resistance, and reduced pancreatic damage.
Carbohydrates (carbs) are one of the primary nutrients in the human diet. They get a lot of attention when it comes to diabetes because they break down into glucose or sugar after they’re digested.
Carbohydrates have the most significant impact on blood sugar levels than the other main nutrients, protein, and fat.
Okra is low in carbohydrates, with only 4 grams of net carbs per cub. Net carbohydrates are the number of carbs that can impact blood sugar levels and are calculated by subtracting the grams of fiber from the total carbohydrates.
Therefore, higher fiber foods have lower net carbohydrate counts.
3) May help fight stress
Managing diabetes can cause stress and worsen health outcomes in those affected by high-stress levels and other mood disorders. Stress hormones can worsen blood sugar in people with diabetes by promoting insulin resistance.
Okra contains polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that may have anti-stress properties.
Animal studies have found okra to manage adaptogenic (anti-stress) properties; researchers recommend okra for its potential benefits in stress-related disorders and dementia.
While we can’t directly apply these study results to humans, it does show promise for people with diabetes.
4) Low in calories
People with diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes, tend to be overweight. In fact, it’s estimated that around 85% of people with diabetes are considered overweight or obese. Being overweight can worsen insulin resistance, which raises blood sugar levels.
Like most vegetables, okra is low in calories, which can promote weight loss in combination with other dietary choices and lifestyle habits. It’s well understood and proven by research that a diet rich in vegetables is inversely related to weight gain. Hence, another benefit of okra for diabetes is that it may also help slim your waistline.
5) Rich in antioxidants
Another benefit of okra for diabetes is that it’s a great source of vitamin C, an antioxidant. Antioxidants help prevent cell damage by free radicals.
This can contribute to the natural aging process and contribute to the development of cancer. Antioxidants also help fight inflammation which is associated with diabetes.
6) Rich in nutrients
Okra is a good source of several vitamins and nutrients such as calcium, vitamin A, vitamin B6, and magnesium. Vitamin A is especially beneficial for eye health, which high blood sugar levels can impact.
Okra is also a source of folate, a vitamin necessary to prevent congenital disabilities in early pregnancy.
Women with diabetes who are trying to get pregnant should consume adequate amounts of folate while they are trying to conceive and throughout their pregnancy.
Folate is so important in preventing congenital disabilities that it’s added flour and other popular food ingredients in the form of folic acid.
7) High in protein
Vegetables don’t usually provide much protein, but okra is an exception. One cup provides almost 2 grams of protein, which is high for a vegetable.
Eating protein-rich foods can help promote satiety and help balance blood sugar levels since protein doesn’t impact blood sugar.
Forms of okra
Okra pods are readily available in complete form, whether fresh or frozen. This is the most convenient form of okra for diabetes if you wish to include it in meals and the most accessible.
It might be more challenging to remove the mucilage from frozen okra compared to fresh, so the form you choose depends on your preferences regarding okra’s unique texture.
A new method of consuming okra is drinking okra water, which is made from soaking okra pods in water overnight. Okra water is a good choice for people who don’t like the texture of okra but want to obtain some of its health benefits.
Made from dried okra leaves and okra peels, okra powder is another way to obtain some health benefits in a more convenient form. You can add okra powder to dishes similar to other herbs and spices.
Made from okra pods, okra extract provides a concentrated form of the okra plant. Okra extract can be taken as a dietary supplement.
How to get okra in your diet
To get some of the benefits of okra for diabetes, you can choose to include it in any of the forms most convenient to you, whether in whole, powdered, or liquid.
To add okra to your plate, try cooking it at high heat to reduce the okra slime. You can also roast it in the oven or cook it in tomato-based soups and stews to improve the texture.
You can also dehydrate okra with a bit of salt to enjoy a crunchy, healthy snack.
The okra slime acts as a thickening agent, making it a great addition to soups, stews, and sauces.
Meal plan ideas
- Slice and roast okra in the oven with a bit of olive oil and black pepper. Add it as a side dish and protein and starch for a well-balanced plate, similar to the Plate Method of diabetes meal planning.
- Sautee okra with garlic for a flavorful addition to your meals.
- Make pickled okra to snack on year-round, not just when okra is in season.
- Combine okra with tomato-based products, which help reduce the gelatinous texture okra can have.
There are very few safety concerns when eating okra. This, therefore, is good news for people with diabetes wanting to include it in their diabetic diet. A couple of things to take into consideration, though:
High in fructans
Fructans are a type of carbohydrate. Fructans aren’t digested well by some people, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Signs of fructan intolerance include gas, bloating, diarrhea, and cramping in those with existing gastrointestinal disorders.
May reduce the absorption of metformin
Animal studies found that okra reduced the absorption of metformin, a popular drug for diabetes. These results can’t be directly correlated to humans.
And we would need studies on humans to determine if there is a significant risk of okra reducing metformin absorption. Researchers conclude that it might be advisable for people taking metformin not to eat large amounts of okra.
Learn 6 other foods to avoid while taking metformin.
Okra is a flowering plant consumed as a vegetable. There are numerous benefits of okra for diabetes. This includes its potential to improve cholesterol, lower blood sugar and improve stress tolerance.
Okra is also rich in vitamins and nutrients such as folate, vitamin C, magnesium, and fiber. And it is also a source of polyphenols (antioxidants). Okra is also low in carbohydrates, so it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels significantly.
You can consume okra in the whole form when cooking. Or in the form of okra powder, okra extract, or okra water. With very minimal safety concerns, okra is a great choice for people with diabetes who want to improve their blood sugar and promote their overall health.