Can Okra Work Well in a Low-Carb Diet?

Learn more about the nutritional value of okra

Okra
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Okra is a highly nutritious green vegetable which is the edible pod of the okra plant. You probably know it best for its soluble fiber, which creates what is sometimes described as a slimy goo. The gooeyness can be minimized by stir-frying at high heat or cooking in a soup or stew such as gumbo, where the fiber disperses and provides a thickening agent. If you cook okra with an acidic food, such as lemon juice, vinegar or even tomatoes, it helps to cut down on the slime factor.

Interesting Okra History

Okra was originally brought to the Americas by Africans during the slave trade.  It is said that the word okra in Swahili is "gumbo," which would explain the origins of that classic Louisiana dish.  In some places, okra is still called gumbo. Okra is also sometimes referred to as "lady's fingers."

Carbohydrate and Fiber Counts for Okra

Along the full spectrum of vegetables, okra is not starchy and among the healthiest lower-carb vegetables you can eat.

Okra PreparationCarbs, fiber and calorie counts
1/2 cup of fresh okra (raw or cooked)2 grams of net carbs, 2 of grams fiber, 16 calories
1/2 cup of frozen okra, cooked2 grams of net carbs, 3 grams of fiber, 26 calories
1/4 lb (4 oz.) of raw okra4 grams of net carbs,  4 grams of fiber, 35 calories

Glycemic Index for Okra

The glycemic index of a food is an indicator of how much and how fast a food raises your blood sugar. As with most non-starchy vegetables, there is no scientific study of the glycemic index of okra.

Glycemic Load of Okra

The glycemic load of a food is related to the glycemic index but takes serving size into account. A glycemic load of one is the equivalent of eating 1 gram of glucose. Since there is very little information on the glycemic index of okra, the glycemic load has been estimated.

Estimated glycemic load of okra
½ cup of okra: 1
¼ lb (4 oz.) of okra: 3

Health Benefits of Okra

Okra is a good source of fiber, including soluble fiber, which can have many health benefits, including for colon health, blood sugar, and cardiovascular benefits. It is an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin K, and manganese, a very good source of folate, as well as a good source of magnesium, potassium, vitamin B6, and thiamin.

Okra Selection and Storage

For tender, tasty okra choose pods that are not too large—no more than 4 inches long, but preferably 2 to 3 inches, as the large ones are more likely to be over-mature and tough. Store the pods dry, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag.  If they are moist they will mold quickly and then will become slimy. Do not wash them until you are ready to cook them.

If you are not going to eat your okra within a few days, it is best to freeze it.  Blanch it in boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes, immerse in an ice bath for 5 minutes, and then freeze in freezer bags, removing as much of the air as possible.

Other Food Groups 

Some choices are wiser than others in terms of selecting low-carb food options. Leafy vegetables and nuts and seeds seem to have the lowest carbs and the highest nutritional benefits. Most fruitsgrains and some legumes and milk and dairy products have higher carb counts, but their nutritional benefits might warrant incorporating them in your diet moderately.

Sources:

Leroux, MarcusFoster-Powell, Kaye, Holt, Susanna and Brand-Miller, Janette. "International table of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2002." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Vol. 76, No. 1, 5-56, (2002).

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28.

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