The vivid green lady’s finger or okra is indeed a ubiquitous bounty in Indian kitchens, being cooked and eaten in a variety of dishes and being a staple ingredient of Indian cuisine. A popular green vegetable consumed extensively by people not only in India but also many other warm countries in Africa, Asia, incorporated into their main diet in soups, dal, sambar, curries and stir-fries, okra is undoubtedly loaded with good health and nutrition.
Imbued with dietary fibres, antioxidants, vitamins A, B, C, K, folate, besides vital minerals of calcium, potassium, magnesium and being low on calories, fat, sodium, okra, also called bhindi, gumbo and lady’s finger, confers umpteen merits for overall wellbeing. These include strengthening bones and joints, enhancing digestion, alleviating symptoms of diabetes, elevating brainpower, accelerating weight loss, bolstering immunity and promoting optimal eyesight.
The Okra Plant:
Okra is believed to have originated near Ethiopia, where it was frequently cultivated by the Egyptians during the 12th century, and thereafter spread throughout the Middle East, Southern Asia and North Africa. Okra is an annual shrub that is cultivated mostly within tropical and subtropical regions across the globe and represents a popular garden crop, as well as a farm crop. It is a widely cultivated food crop and thanks to its mild taste and soft texture, can be incorporated in numerous dishes easily and boiled, fried or pickled.
Designated by the scientific name Abelmoschus esculentus, okra is a flowering plant that develops thick, medium-length edible seed pods having an outer green covering with a slimy mucilaginous inner flesh containing seeds. These okra seed pods are widely eaten as part of the regular diet in India and many tropical countries in Southern Asia, West Africa.
Okra/Lady’s Finger Nutrition:
The nutrition content of 100 g serving of okra as per the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database, is as follows:
Water 89.6 g
Carbohydrates 7.46 g
Dietary fibre 3.3 g
Fat 0.19 g
Protein 1.9 g
Vitamin A 36 μg
Thiamine (B1) 0.2 mg
Riboflavin (B2) 0.06 mg
Niacin (B3) 1 mg
Folate (Vitamin B9) 60 μg
Vitamin C 23 mg
Vitamin E 0.27 mg
Vitamin K 31.3 μg
Calcium 82 mg
Iron 0.62 mg
Magnesium 57 mg
Phosphorus 61 mg
Potassium 299 mg
Zinc 0.58 mg
Okra/Lady’s Finger Health Benefits:
Bolsters Immune Function
Okra is rich in vitamin C, which enhances white blood cells production and also assists in immune functioning. As vitamin C is an antioxidant, it eliminates the oxidative damage and enhances the smooth functioning. Vitamin C effectively boosts the immune system to counteract the colds.
Reduced Risk Of Stroke
The negligible amounts of sodium and cholesterol in okra lowers the chances of stroke and health ailments such as inflammation, oxidative damage, cardiac health, atherosclerosis, blood pressure and endothelial health. The development of plaque in the body results in the stroke or heart attack which is also reduced with okra, as it is high in vitamin C and antioxidants.
Blessed with laxative properties, vitamin C, okra effectively resolves constipation by cleansing the intestinal tract and aiding in unhindered bowel movements. Okra abounds in insoluble fibres, vitamin K, which help add bulk to stool and assist in the smooth excretion of body wastes from the gut.
Uplifts Nervous System Functions
Okra is brimming with vitamin B6, choline, which significantly improve brain capacity and enrich memory, concentration, intelligence. Furthermore, the wealth of polyphenol antioxidants in okra scavenge harmful free radicals from the nervous system, to prevent neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Fosters Sturdy Bones
Including okra as part of daily meals confers superb merits for fortified bones, flexible joints and averting debilitating illnesses of osteoporosis, arthritis. Okra is a powerhouse of key minerals – calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, which reinforce bone density and support tough joints.
Okra For Healthy Pregnancy
Okra contains essential minerals and vitamins such as vitamin B9/folate, vitamin A and iron, that are crucial for pregnant women due to their increased nutrient needs and to deal with symptoms of discomfort. Also, this green veggie possesses analgesic activity and helps to relieve pain and soreness in a woman post childbirth.
Augments Eye Health
Okra is bestowed with vitamin A, which enhances eyesight and lowers the risk of acquiring vision-related illnesses of AMD, glaucoma, cataracts. It also possesses a treasure trove of carotenoid antioxidants – lutein, zeaxanthin, which protect optic cells, tissues in the system from oxidative damage.
Okra For Diabetes:
Okra besides being eaten as a boiled or fried veggie, is also taken in the form of okra water. This is a simple, relatively bland concoction, that is widely regarded as a proven wellness trend and a revitalising drink, especially for regulating blood glucose levels in diabetics.How To Make Okra Water:
Cut 5 – 7 okra pieces slightly at the edges and chop each pod into two.
Pierce small holes on the external skin of all the sliced okra pieces.
Put these okra pieces in a large container filled with water.
Let it soak for at least 8 hours or keep it covered with a lid, at room temperature, overnight.
Squash the pods until all the remaining fluid oozes out.
Toss the pods, filter the water and consume it on an empty stomach or before meals.
The beneficial components present in the exterior green peel, inner white pulp and okra seed pods are assimilated in the liquid potion, which is known as okra water, to supply a plethora of essential nutrients and improve overall wellness.
Controls Blood Sugar Levels
Okra water is an excellent natural remedy for mitigating uneasy signs of chronic diabetes. The richness of dietary fibres in okra combined with myricetin flavonoid antioxidants boosts energy metabolism and increases the absorption of sugar by muscles, to considerably decrease high blood glucose levels.
Okra/Lady’s Finger Uses For Skin And Hair:
Natural Anti-Ageing Solution
An adequate amount of Vitamin A and C could be obtained from the okra pods, which helps to prevent the damage from the oxidative stress caused from the poor diet, stress and pollution. It also reduces the dryness of the skin and reduces the wrinkles.
Clears Suntans and Dark Spots
The phenolic content in okra pods comprises useful skin-whitening agents. These plant extracts used to minimise sun tans, not only for their antioxidant properties but also for their UVB-blocking ability.
Enhances Healthy Thick Hair Growth
Okra gel extracts obtained by boiling okra and filtering the slimy residue not only benefits skin but also promotes hair growth and thickness. The vitamin C and antioxidant content inherent in okra help to strengthen the roots of hair known as follicles, to stimulate the proliferation of long and robust locks of hair. It assures the complete removal of harmful free radicals that cause weak and brittle hair and incessant hair loss, thereby guaranteeing the renewal of healthy hair growth.
Tasty And Healthy Indian Recipes With Okra/Lady’s Finger:
A traditional dish prepared for lunch and dinner in the state of Tamil Nadu in South India, Vendakkai Sambar is made with vendakkai (lady’s finger in Tamil), toor dal blended with spices in a tangy tamarind base and encompasses a wealth of nutrition, besides an absolutely delicious flavour and is eaten mixed with warm white rice and ghee.
½ cup toor dal
3 cups water
1 tbsp tamarind pulp
12 medium-sized vendakkai i.e. okra/lady’s finger
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 – 3 green chillies
1 tsp sambar powder
¼ tsp turmeric powder
A pinch of asafoetida
Salt, as needed
A fistful of curry leaves
2 tsp ghee
1 tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
Firstly, soak the tamarind pulp in hot water.
Pressure cook dal in 1 ½ cups water for 4 whistles.
Cut the lady’s fingers into slightly lengthy pieces horizontally and slice the onion, tomato and slit green chillies.
Heat sesame oil in a kadai and fry the cut lady’s fingers until it turns dark and the slimy texture fades away, then set it aside.
Now, heat ghee, add the mustard seeds and once they sputter, put in the fenugreek seeds, asafoetida, curry leaves and temper.
Transfer the onions, fry till they turn transparent and the strong smell fades, then put in the green chillies, tomatoes and fry for 2 minutes.
In a vessel, pour in the tamarind extract, add 2 cups of water, cooked vegetables, boil for 3 minutes, then put in the fried lady’s fingers.
Season with sambar powder, turmeric powder, asafoetida and salt.
Mash the cooked toor dal, add it to the sambar mixture and cook for 2 more minutes.
Top it off with fresh curry leaves and serve the wholesome, tantalising vendakkai sambar hot with warm rice, ghee, a vegetable of your choice and crispy appalam.
Vendakkai i.e. lady’s finger is a storehouse of dietary fibres to enhance digestion and metabolism. Packed with essential amino acids, toor dal is an excellent plant-based source of protein for strong muscles, growth and development. Tomatoes are blessed with vitamin C and lycopene antioxidants to boost immunity and prevent chronic ailments like diabetes, cancer, heart disease.
Bhindi Aloo Posto
Posto is a customary dish from the state of West Bengal in East India, and is a yummy side dish prepared with different vegetables. A popular choice is a blend of two veggies - bhindi i.e. lady’s finger and aloo i.e. potato, as they are called in Hindi and Bengali. A subtly spicy recipe prepped in a appetising poppy seed and mustard oil base, Bhindi Aloo Posto is savoured along with warm white rice, ghee for lunch and dinner.
9 – 11 large bhindi i.e. lady’s finger/okra
2 – 3 medium-sized potatoes
1 tsp kalonji seeds
2 tbsp poppy seeds
3 whole green chillies
2 tbsp mustard oil
½ cup water
Cut the okras into long pieces and boil, peel and slice the potatoes into cubes.
Soak the poppy seeds in water for 15 minutes.
Blend the soaked poppy seeds along with salt and green chillies in a mixer to attain a smooth paste
Heat mustard oil in a pan, put in the kalonji seeds and fry for 1 minute.
Now, transfer the bhindi and fry till they become a bit mushy.
Add about ½ cup of water once they are slightly fried, cover the pan with a lid and cook for 2 minutes, adjusting for salt as per taste.
Once the vegetables become soft, add the poppy seeds paste, mix well so all the flavours are absorbed and simmer.
Enjoy the enticing and nourishing bhindi aloo posto hot with warm rice, papad and achaar/pickle of your choice.
Bhindi i.e. lady’s finger is bestowed with vitamin A for uplifting eye health and vitamin K for regulating blood clotting and wound healing processes in the body. Packed with carbohydrates and B vitamins, potatoes supply instant energy and preserve internal cellular mechanisms for overall health and immunity. Rich in the phytonutrient capsaicin, green chillies offer valuable antioxidant properties, protect bodily cells, tissues from free radical damage and remove toxins from the system.
Side Effects Of Okra/Lady’s Finger:
Lady’s finger or okra is a nutrient-dense vegetable that uplifts overall wellbeing when eaten in moderate portions as part of the daily diet. However, okra triggers certain unfavourable health consequences when consumed in excess amounts regularly.
Too much okra in the diet causes gastrointestinal problems of diarrhoea, bloating, gas/flatulence, owing to their high fructan content, which is a type of carbohydrate or simple sugar. As okra also has vast reserves of oxalates, it gives rise to kidney stones when eaten in surplus quantities.
Care should also be taken before buying and eating okra as part of the regular diet. Make sure to pick only fresh, firm lady’s finger produce and steer clear of purchasing spoilt or soiled vegetables.
Lady’s finger or okra is undoubtedly a superfood, being a wholesome green vegetable rich in an array of essential nutrients and providing tonnes of health benefits. Laden with dietary fibres, proteins, vitamin A, B, C, K, as well as calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, besides polyphenol antioxidants and plant-based bioactive compounds, okra supplies anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects that serve as a great advantage for optimal heart, digestive and bone health.
Add okra in moderate amounts as part of the routine diet to steer clear of any side-effects and reap its outstanding wellness incentives for overall health.