Okra, also known as “lady finger” or “gumbo,” is a highly nutritious green edible pod vegetable. Botanically, this perennial flowering plant belongs to the mallow family and named scientifically as Abelmoschus esculentus.
The plant is cultivated throughout the tropical and warm temperate regions around the world for its fibrous fruits or “pods.” It grows best in well-drained and manure rich soil. The plant bears numerous dark green colored pods measuring about 5-15 cm in length. It takes about 45-60 days to get ready-to-harvest fruits.
- The pods are among the very low calorie vegetables. They provide just 30 calories per 100 g besides containing no saturated fats or cholesterol. Nonetheless, they are rich sources of dietary fiber, minerals, and vitamins; often recommended by nutritionists in cholesterol controlling and weight reduction programs.
- The rich fiber and mucilaginous content in okra pods help in smooth peristalsis of digested food particles and relieve constipation condition.
- The pods contain healthy amounts of vitamin A, and flavonoid anti-oxidants such as beta carotenes, xanthin and lutein. It is one of the green vegetables with highest levels of these anti-oxidants. These compounds are known to have antioxidant properties and are essential for vision. Vitamin A is also required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin. Consumption of natural vegetables and fruits rich in flavonoids helps to protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
- Fresh pods are the good source of folates; provide about 22% of RDA per 100 g. Consumption of foods rich in folates, especially during the pre-conception period helps decrease the incidence of neural tube defects in the offspring.
- The gumbo pods are also an excellent source of anti-oxidant vitamin, vitamin-C, providing about 36% of daily-recommended levels. Research suggests that consumption of foods rich in vitamin-C helps the body develop immunity against infectious agents, reduce episodes of cold and cough and protect the body from harmful free radicals.
- The veggies are rich in B-complex group of vitamins like niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin and pantothenic acid. The pods also contain good amounts of vitamin K. Vitamin K is a co-factor for blood clotting enzymes and is required for strengthening of bones.
- The pods are an also good source of many important minerals such as iron, calcium, manganese and magnesium.