Amy Reeder is a Certified Diabetes Educator with a master’s degree in nutrition from the University of Utah. She has worked in the diabetes field since 2005 and has been a Certified Diabetes Educator since 2007.
I live in the West, and okra has never been a staple in the diets of the patients I have counseled for diabetes like it might be in the South or other areas of the United States.
But there has been talk about how okra can lower blood sugar or be a so-called "cure" for type 2 diabetes. No matter what you hear or read about okra, know that it definitely cannot make anyone’s diabetes go away. But okra can be a healthy addition to anyone’s diet.
Okra is a green vegetable that contains edible seed pods. It is a good source of fiber and also contains a substantial amount of antioxidants called flavonoids. Some claim that boiling okra to make “okra water” to drink has a blood glucose-lowering effect. Others suggest that eating raw okra is the trick to lowering blood sugar.
2 reasons Okra may have a blood sugar-lowering effect
1. Okra is a good source of viscous fiber. This type of fiber absorbs water in the digestive tract and swells to form a thick jelly-like mass. This thick substance slows the rate at which food is broken down and glucose (sugar) is absorbed in the bloodstream. If you want to visualize this type of substance, mix a fiber supplement (such as Metamucil) with a half glass of water and let it sit on the counter. After a few minutes, the fiber supplement and water will visibly be thick and jelly-like.
2. Okra is a good source of flavonoids such as quercitin and isoquercitin. These flavonoids are plant chemicals that have beneficial antioxidant capacity in the body. Research studies done with diabetic mice have shown a benefit to blood glucose and cholesterol levels when those mice consumed foods with isoquercitin.
A study in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism (2011) used tartary buckwheat bran as the flavonoid source, whereas a study in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry (2014) used okra as the flavonoid source for the mice. In the latter study, the amount given to the mice was equivalent to greater than three pounds of what a human would need to eat per day to see the blood sugar- and cholesterol-lowering benefits of okra. Now that’s a lot of okra!
More research is necessary to determine if okra really is that “miracle vegetable” for people with diabetes. But with its known antioxidant properties and fiber content, there’s no harm in including it in your diet. Fresh okra contains more flavonoids than frozen or canned okra, but if you can’t find fresh, frozen okra is your next best bet. Just don’t rely on it for diabetes treatment or the management of blood sugar.
Here is a delicious and nutritious okra stew recipe courtesy of American Dietetic Association’s website www.eatright.org:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 14½-ounce can stewed tomatoes *
1 1/4 pounds fresh okra cut in 2-inch pieces, or 1 16-ounce package frozen cut okra thawed**
1. Heat the oil in a medium-size saucepan over low heat. Cook the onion and the garlic 3 minutes or until soft.
2. Add the tomatoes; bring to a boil. Add the okra and cook, covered, 10 minutes.
3. Uncover and simmer for 20 minutes or until the okra is tender.
Substitution option: reduce sodium stewed tomatoes.
* If using frozen okra, reduce simmering time to 15 minutes.
Total carbohydrate: 5 grams