Okra is a hallmark of Southern cooking and widely used in Caribbean, Creole, Cajun and Indian cuisines, thrives in hot weather and is quick to take the lead in gumbo and soup because of its natural viscosity that helps create a thick base.

These buoyant tasty pods, known for their superior fiber content and antioxidant properties, are punching their way to more notoriety for two of their disease-fighting flavonoids that may aid in the dietary treatment of type 2 diabetes and the improvement of obesity and insulin resistance, according to a study from the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.

Chinese researchers analyzed the effects of okra and its major flavonoids on metabolic disorders in two groups of obese mice. Fresh okra pods were minced and compounds extracted with 75% ethanol. Then the extract was filtered and concentrated. Large amounts of extract were added to the drinking water of one group of obese mice for two weeks, while the control group received drinking water without the okra extract. The results? The okra extract significantly lowered blood glucose and insulin levels, improved glucose tolerance, and decreased serum triglycerides in the high-fat diet induced obese mice. In addition, okra extract also prevented lipid accumulation in liver and reversed the development of hepatic steatosis, a process that is responsible for fatty liver formation, in the obese mice that were fed a high-fat diet. Two of the polyphenolic compounds that are present in okra, isoquercitrin and quercetin 3-O-gentiobioside, were also tested to see if they were at least partly responsible for the observed effects. And they both had similar effects on lowering blood glucose and triglycerides as well as preventing liver fat accumulation.

While the study pointed out that the dosage of okra was comparable to a person eating beyond three pounds of okra in a day, the results shed light on the importance of okra lending a hand in lowering blood glucose and serum lipids, and reducing the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, stroke, cancers, and hyperlipidemia.

Previous research has found that okra extract alleviated symptoms of depression and epilepsy as well as possibly minimizing melanoma risk. What’s more? Okra is low in calories and rich in vitamins and minerals. One cup of raw okra provides 50% of your daily manganese needs, and boasts 70% of daily vitamin K, 35% vitamin C and 20% folate.

Not fond of the gooey texture that comes with okra when cooked? Mix it with acidic ingredients such as citrus or vinegar or add tomatoes as in gumbo.

Published October 1, 2014