A drive past a roadside produce stand on Memorial Day weekend reminded me of some the often overlooked great summer vegetables and fruits I’ve enjoyed since childhood. When most people think about summer crops in Texas, their mind’s eye tends to visualize cantaloupe, peaches and tomatoes. One that is not at the top of most thoughts — but should be — is okra. I want to challenge you to think about this super food differently by the end of this post.
Okra traveled a very long way to get to the U.S. Where it first originated is not exactly known, but it is believed to have been cultivated in Africa in the regions of Egypt and Sudan. Its earliest journey from Africa introduced this new edible to the Middle East and India as well as Europe. Europeans are responsible for okra’s arrival in the U.S., Caribbean and South America, however, colonists from France are believed to have brought it to Louisiana in the early 1700s.
Okra is considered to be a superior ‘vitamin vegetable’ as its multiple, unique abilities make it a stand out on many fronts:
- With a higher protein content relative to many other green vegetables, okra helps to fuel the renewal of more than 10,000 different, essential proteins found in muscle, hair, skin, tissue and other body parts.
- Loaded with an abundance of vitamin A, this food helps the body maintain good eyesight and the power to fight off infection.
- Recently researchers have made a connection between adequate levels of vitamin K and bone health and of course the already known abilities of this important nutrient in blood clotting make it a worthy element and it’s one that can be found in robust form in okra.
- Its high fiber content works to reduce cholesterol levels and stabilize blood sugar by delaying sugar absorption in the intestines and fiber is known to lower the risk of diabetes, heart disease, diverticulosis and constipation.
- Being naturally high in folic acid, this hearty produce promotes fetal development making it an excellent prenatal vitamin choice for expectant mothers.
- And the icing on the okra (‘scuse the pun) is that it is ideal for healthy, sustainable weight loss.
Don’t be deterred by okra’s tendency to develop a slimy texture when cooked. This odd sensation is the main reason many people shy away from trying it outside of the familiar deep fried dish which negates many of the health benefits by ringing up a whopping 175 calories per serving – with most of the calories from fat.
With a sense of adventure and a little extra effort in attempting other cooking styles, you can be rewarded with a new side or main course to serve that is full of bold flavor and is downright healthier eats.
I hope you will meet another challenge and give okra a try this month and I’ll make it easy by sharing three different ways you can prepare this mighty vegetable as a tasty, healthful dish for your family and friends.
Lastly, the produce lady’s Youtube video gives more tips on the use of okra.
If you’ve got a different ‘tried and true’ way to cook okra, please pass it along to me. As always your comments are welcomed.
To your good health,
Dr. Joel Steelman