Nutrition and Health Benefits From Okra
Eat Cha Gumbo
By: Dan Gerhardt, D.C.
Okra is one big, bad, voodoo daddy of a plant. Not only will this schizophrenic swamp mallow huff and puff and blow your house down (and out of the marsh), but the okra plant will mercilessly prickle you like a pin cushion, except for the one's from Clemson. This hyper-active, hyper-perceptive bad boy can readily bend reality into an alternate playground, somehow stretching it out and stringing it along without ever completely strapping it down. Speaking of which, you might want to hold on tight because this is a dangerous game, and we are about to take this spooky phantom, zombie cucumber out of the frying pan and into the fire. "Roll the bones and let the chicken, boil the blood with fingers thicken, lick the toad and stop the livin', hear the moans of crows a twitchin', leaving home on sails we're stitchin'." Shiver me freaking timbers, I don't think that we're in Kansas anymore, much less New Orleans. My senses, disoriented as they may be, tell me that we are going south, deep south...and east, far east, backtracking through time and space, coursing over the blue green waters of the Caribbean, passing the island of Haiti, and all the way around the horn of Africa, where we will then follow the hypnotic rythm of the beating drums to the ancient land of barefoot warriors, shrunken heads, and wooden-masked witch-doctors, where we will find ourselves as strangers in a strange land, where we will bravely struggle to balance the terror of being alive with the wonder of being alive.
I hope that you retained enough presence of mind to remember to bring your lucky rabbit's foot for our journey over the river and through the woods, from here on out there's no going back, it's anchors ahoy, turning hard to starboard, all the way to the edge of the world. "We don't really know where we're goin', mon, 'cause we can't tell where we been. How can we tell where we been, when we don't even know where we're goin', cha? Take a good look around cha, mon, the night sky...it be black as coal, and the fog, filled with spirits of the dead that been churnin' somethin' up from the bottomless sea, and the admiral's wheel, mon, it just spinnin' around and 'round, but we without a compass, without a commander, and without a crew- yeah, mon. Go ahead now and eat cha gumbo stew, sip up on cha hot chickory brew steeped in jimson weed bitters, but watch cha back, mon, watch cha back real close now, it be almost midnight, and the skeleton crew, it be comin' aound...comin' around real soon." Black cats and bad juju aside, if you just so happen to make it all the way through the night to daybreak, you can thank your lucky stars and celebrate the firey glory of the morning with some sun-kissed Santeria sangria - we got a special remedy just for you.
Okra in History
Okra, also known as Ladies Fingers, Gombo, Bendi or Gumbo, appears to have originated from West Africa, probably somewhere around Ethiopia, and was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians as far back as the 12th century B.C., eventually spreading throughout North Africa and the Middle East. Okra was brought across the Atlamtic ocean to the Caribbean and the U.S. in the 1700s by slaves from West Africa, and was introduced to Western Europe soon after. In Louisiana, the Creoles learned from slaves the use of okra (gumbo) to thicken soups, currently making it an essential ingredient in Creole Gumbo. The seed pods can also be toasted, ground, and used as a coffe substitute. Okra is a member of the Mallow family, related to cotton, hibiscus, rose of Sharon, and hollyhock. Fried flour-coated okra and other okra dishes are much-loved among specific population groups in many countries, especially in America. Gumbo is a popular Louisianan Creole stew that uses the gelatinous okra for thickness.
Nutritional and Health Benefits From Okra
To retain most of okra's nutrients, it should be cooked or steamed as little as possible, under low heat. Okra can also be eaten raw or pickled. According to research, okra is full of valuable nutrients, nearly half of which is soluble fiber in the form of gums and pectins. Soluble fiber helps to lower serum cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease. The other half is insoluble fiber which helps to keep the intestinal tract healthy, decreasing the risk of some forms of cancer, especially colon cancer. Colon Cancer is the third most common form of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the Western world. The superior fiber found in okra helps to prevent diabetes and constipation. Okra is a rich source of many nutrients, including vitamins A, B6, C, folic acid, iron and calcium.
Okra can be stewed, steamed, boiled, curried, sauteed and pickled. Avoid cooking okra in brass, iron or copper pans as they tend to blacken the fruit. Okra seeds also give edible oil that is as nutritious as most vegetable oils. The fruit's abundant dietary fiber and mucilage have important health implications. The fiber helps stabilise blood sugar levels by delaying sugar absorption from the gut. It also nourishes the good bacteria in the intestines in much the same way as yogurt and fermented foods. Apart from preventing constipation, the slimy mucilage binds and inhibits the absorption of cholesterol, toxins and bile acids. Mixing well with proteolytic digestive enzymes, such as pepsin, okra can really help to cleanse the digestive tract of gunky, undigested debri. Eating okra on a regular basis may help to:
- Stabilize blood sugar
- Promote healthy intestinal tract
- Promote healthy cholesterol levils
- Sooth intestinal ulcers
- Cleanse the intestines and colon
- Protect from colo-rectal cancer
- Helps complexion
- Reduce risk of cataracts
Until next time, don't forget to grow and eat your okra!
Dan Gerhardt, D.C.
Other Articles by Dr. Dan
SEE: An Introduction to Vegetable & Fruit Nutrition