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Often known as “lady fingers” in the Southern states, okra is a star-shaped vegetable that has a unique texture and taste. The outside feels firm and crisp; however, one bite of the vegetable brings a sensation of chewiness and goo. In fact, it is often used in soups as a thickening agent. However, it’s known for more than just a culinary addition.

Okra can have various health benefits.

Image Source: Bloomberg 

Although we may know of okra primarily because of its use in gumbo, the use of this tropical plant dates back 3500 years ago. It was used in the past for both food and medicinal purposes. It has high amounts of vitamin C, K, and folate content. Some of its medicinal uses include preventing diabetes, promoting pregnancy health, and maintaining healthy skin.

In one 2005 study, scientists administered myricetin, a compound isolated from okra, to diabetic rats. The rats injected with myricetin demonstrated a larger use of glucose in the body. Because glucose was actively utilized, the plasma levels of glucose were shown to be significantly lower.

A slice of okra.

Image Source: Yuji Sakai

An experiment conducted in 2011 further supported the claim that okra helps in the presentation of diabetes. In the study, diabetes-induced rats were given a sugar solution along with okra. These rats were compared to controls, who were not administered any solution. The researchers discovered that the fasting rats given the okra and sugar solution had a reduced spike in blood sugar levels after consumption. The researchers believed that some aspect of okra helped block the absorption of sugar. Another aspect of the study examined how okra interacted with a metaformin hyrochloride, a drug used to treat diabetes by lowering absorption of glucose by the gastrointestinal tract and the production of glucose by the liver. Although the consumption of okra may reduce absorption of glucose in the intestines, it counteracts metaformin by blocking the absorption of the drug. Therefore, patients taking medication should be careful to avoid consuming okra along with metaformin.

These studies all indicate the positive benefits of okra consumption for those with diabetes. Although diet is an important component of health, it is still crucial to keep in mind that okra should not replace prescription medications. In some cases, okra can prevent certain drugs from carrying out their normal mechanisms. These diet changes can perhaps improve conditions, but they are not proven to be effective in curing diseases.

Feature Image Source: Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble

 

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