Saturday, October 8, 2016

one-minute superfood: okra

If you don't like okra, read this post anyway, because there is a way to eat okra without even knowing you're eating okra.

By the way, I'm ending up Day 2 of my fast.

Allow me to digress from our discussion on okra to catch you up. If you read my dandelion post, my house is still empty of people and most foods. I managed to avoid making the chicken spaghetti and the dandelion salad and beets was in fact my last supper. So my fast is underway. Two days or 48 hours into it, I'm feeling ambitious. I'm aiming for 60 days on water only and then 10 days of juicing, which will put me eating again some time before Christmas. I'm not going to be exercising during the fast, but when I start juicing I will start exercising and building my metabolism up to prepare for food intake again. When I start eating, I plan to incorporate some strength training to rev my metabolism further as I take in food again.

I've never done a water fast longer than 35 days but I have friends who have gone 70 days and there are cases in the medical literature where extremely obese people have fasted over 300 days with no ill effect.


I don't recommend fasting unless you're working with a doctor and an experienced fasting guide. I am a very experienced fast-er but what I'm doing is very dangerous. I know it and I choose to do it anyway. But I'm not telling you to do it. Almost everything else I do, I encourage you to do, but not fasting. It can change your life, but you could die if you do it wrong and with the wrong medications. It can even be dangerous coming off a fast if you don't know how to do it. There is a science to fasting. If you want to seek out how to do it with supervision, email me and I'll send you various links, but always keep your personal physician involved.

Back to okra. It's like small fish in my last post, even if you hate it, eat it anyway. Here's a way to eat okra and not even have to look at it:

It's simple. USE IT AS THICKENING. (Read more below about this)

Okra is the ultimate thickening agent for soups and stews and you can puree it (raw or boiled) and add the okra puree into soups or stews. You won't see it or taste it and you'll avoid having to use white flour or other starchy, unhealthy thickening agents.

That's the HOW (for people who hate okra) but read on for the WHY. Okra is IMPORTANT for those of us trying to reverse unhealthy disease states and for those of us trying to lose weight.

We've talked about our gut bacteria balance and its role in weight loss and health (especially immune health). It's all the rage to do the potato starch hack to wind up with indigestible fiber that passes through your small intestine undigested and then into your large intestine to feed the chlostridia butyricum and other healthy bacteria so that butyrate is created. People are taking cold raw potato starch and putting 4 tbsp in a glass of water and chugging it down. When it's put in a stew for thickening, potato starch is fattening and does nothing good for you, but when you drink it cold and raw in water, it is not digestible, has no calories, and ends up sitting in your large intestine where the healthy bacteria feed on it and create butyrate. Butyrate is a short chain fatty acid that not only feeds our immune system but it causes weight loss, among other helpful attributes.

The ideal way to maximize butyrate production in your gut (and a healthy immune system and healthy weight) is to eat certain types of fibrous foods with lots of soluble and insoluble fiber. Ever heard the phrase: "Eat your vegetables." But certain types of fibrous foods maximize butyrate production. Onions and garlic (you've heard me talk about them ad nauseum) do it if eaten in large amounts, green bananas and asparagus do it, inulin from chicory is one, but one of the best (with a host of additional advantages) is okra. I like to cook okra together with onions to get a one-two punch of mucilage for weight loss, immune-building and gut health.

Okra is in the family of mucilaginous foods like chia, flax, kelp, plantain, cassava, figs, seaweed and others. They also all can be helpful with gut health. Okra, especially, tends to "scrape" your guts clean, with its mucilage sticking to and dragging with it all the undigested sludge, bile and toxins hanging onto the lining of your intestines.

Remember the old wives tale that you could soak okra in water every night then drink the water every morning, you could cure diabetes? Even says there's a grain of truth in that. They write that the gel in okra: "slows down the absorption of food from the gut, evening out the peaks in blood glucose that occur after meals. Soluble fiber also draws in bile acids that contribute to raised cholesterol," concluding that okra can help with diabetes and high cholesterol.

I told you I like to cook my okra with onions, but the classic dish also has tomatoes. Many traditional dishes mix certain foods together not just because it tastes good but because it's good for you--like our forefathers knew the secrets modern food science is telling us. Okra and tomatoes have that kind of relationship.

With only 18 calories in a half-cup of cooked okra, what do you get?

(1) You get all that soluble and insoluble fiber that helps with detoxing and digestion (read constipation), butyrate production, immune-boosting and diabetes-slowing power.

(2) You reap its great nutritional profile high in Vitamin C, Vitamin K, B vitamins, calcium, magnesium and manganese (a profile also helpful for lowering blood pressure)

(3) The calcium, magnesium and vitamin K all work together to prevent osteoporosis.

(4) Low in calories, but high in nutrients and fiber means it helps you to stay full longer with few calories, so it's the perfect weight loss food.

(5) It helps to prevent colon cancer.

I think I said this in an earlier post, but when I feel the need to binge coming on, I eat 2-3 family size bags of cut okra cooked up with a whole onion and some cherry tomatoes and I am stuffed to the gills and satisfied and yet my stomach is flat the next day and I've gained no weight. Without the okra, I might have binged on half a brisket or a whole chocolate cake to my eventual dismay.

Okra is a lifesaver.  Literally.

Stew it with tomatoes and onions and your favorite spices (all ethnic traditions have a variation on okra + tomatoes. Just google okra + tomatoes + recipes and try them all.) Stir-fry it in avocado oil or butter/ghee like I do in the photos. Or if you can't stand the sight of it, puree it raw or cooked and then add it early on into any stew you are cooking and it will disappear. Try to throw okra into your diet at least a few times a week. Preferably every day. I keep trying to work it into my every day routines and I now throw it into every stew I cook, eat it raw occasionally when I'm not cooking anything, boil it then add apple cider vinegar, fry it, or stirfry it with my onions and tomatoes. You'll come to love it--or at least love the way it makes you feel and look!

You'll end up saying: Okra is O-K by me.

Now here is more about using okra as a thickener (pulled from my earlier post if you want to read it all:

How do you thicken your stews--do you make a roux or add white flour to your meat as it fries, or maybe you add canned cream of mushroom soup, or maybe you use something else equally processed and unhealthy. If you don't--if you have discovered a healthy way to thicken stews--please share it with us. Because it took me forever to come up with a way to make a thick beef/deer stew without adding something unhealthy.

I mean, there are thickeners out there. You can use cornstarch, but most cornstarches are made from GMO corn and corn to begin with is probably something we really don't need to indulge in. And dammit, if I'm going to ingest those corn carbs, it's going to be real corn I'm dredging up with my spoon, not cornstarch. There are other things like arrowroot or tapioca or potato flakes, but the bottom line is, they all have problems and they all are starches (translate empty carbs/calories). And we didn't work on the farm today, did we?

So what's a stew-loving girl like me supposed to do?

Well, fortunately I was raised Cajun, and I learned early on that (the dreaded word) OKRA is a natural thickener. Don't howl with dismay. Okra is your friend. It is a superfood of the highest order. I'm not going to give you all the advantages of this nutritional powerhouse (google it yourself), but I am going to give you a painless way to ingest this superfood on the regular. You would never know my stew has okra in it, but it adds a certain rich complexity to my sauce.

You can puree okra and use it to thicken any dark savory dish you make, including a hearty stew like this one. But it takes a bit of time to cook down okra until you can't tell it's there. I love okra, so I don't mind it, but maybe your kids will say Ewwww and won't eat it if they see a trace of something that looks like it might once have been okra.

Have no fear, there are other options for thickening hearty stews. Simply take the concept of using a vegetable for thickening and expand upon that idea. My stew doesn't only contain okra. I pureed onions and celery into an almost clear liquid and added it to my stew when I first put it on the stove to boil. I also had chopped onions, celery, bell pepper, and garlic. But those chopped bits just got soft and wilted. The pureed onion and celery boiled down into the thick stew you see before you in the photograph. Okay, so far we've got pureed okra, onions and celery as our thickening agents. We all have a hard time getting our veggies into a meal, don't we? See how niftily I slipped three invisible vegetables into that stew. Your three-year-old will wolf it down, I promise.

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