Artichokes make my Healthy Foods Shopping List for many reasons: their strong tie to preventing serious conditions, such as heart disease and cancer, their nourishing effect on the liver and digestive tract, ability to reduce dangerous bodywide inflammation, and of course their great taste and versatility in recipes too.
While artichoke hearts are often the most widely available and consumed part of the artichoke, don’t go discarding the artichoke leafs quite so quickly — the leaves are actually where many of the most powerful nutrients in the artichoke are stored.
In fact, artichoke extract supplements, which have become more popular over recent years due to their various heart health-promoting benefits, are largely derived from antioxidants and phytonutrients found in the leaves of the vegetable.
7 Health Benefits of Artichokes
1. Artichokes Have Antioxidant Power that May Help Prevent Cancer
Artichokes are absolutely packed with a number of vital antioxidants and phytonutrients, such as quercetin, rutin, gallic acid and cynarin. Artichokes make my list for the top 10 antioxidant foods due to their high ORAC score (oxygen radical absorption capacity), which tests the power of a plant to absorb and eliminate free radicals.
Artichokes are ranked No. 15 on my list in terms of having a high ORAC score and therefore a powerful ability to fight oxidative stress in the body.
One of the most crucial benefits of a food containing a high amount of antioxidants is its ability to ward off various types of cancer, since cancer cells can grow partially due to oxidation and “free radical” buildup within the body when the’are left uncontrolled.
Antioxidants are exactly what our bodies require in order to combat free radicals and to slow the onset on diseases that are often seen in aging populations. Antioxidants present in artichokes — specificially rutin, quercetin and gallic acid — have been shown in studies to reduce the growth of cancerous cells and therefore to prevent cancerous tumors from proliferating.
Artichokes have displayed their cancer-fighting food abilities on two cancers in particular, breast cancer and hepatocellular carcinoma. Research published in both the Journal of Cellular Physiology and Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity found that polyphenolic extracts from the edible parts of artichokes “induce apoptosis and decrease the invasive potential of the human breast cancer cell line MDA-MB231.” (1, 2)
Another study conducted by the National Research Centre’s Medicinal Chemistry Department in Dokki Giza, Egypt, looked at the protective effects of fish oil and artichokes on hepatocellular carcinoma in rats. The researchers concluded after dividing the rats into eight groups that “the results pointed that 10% fish oil and 1 g% leaves of artichoke succeeded to protect from hepatocellular carcinoma to a certain degree. In addition, they may be considered as protective foods against angiogenesis.” (3)
2. Fight Cardiovascular Disease
Consuming artichokes and artichoke extract has been correlated with reducing unhealthy cholesterol levels, calming inflammation in the body and improving blood flow.
People with higher levels of cholesterol are more at risk for developing heart disease and experiencing cardiac arrest or stroke, but luckily the powerful substance cynarin found in artichokes is one of the best natural remedies for bringing cholesterol back to a healthy level. (4) The lipidic and glycemic-reducing action of artichokes also help them prevent coronary heart disease and metabolic disorders. (5)
3. Detox the Liver and Digestive System
Because of their ability to boost the production of digestive bile and to detox the body, artichokes are included on the GAPS diet, which is a diet that was specifically created to nourish the digestive tract and restore proper gut health.
Eating GAPS diet-approved foods like artichokes is correlated with improving gut flora, reducing symptoms related to digestive disease and boosting immunity as well — since much of the immune system is actually held within the gut. Artichokes contain a powerful antioxidant flavonoid silymarin, which is an effective liver protectant.
A specific substance in artichokes called cynarin has been shown to positively stimulate the production of bile, which is produced by the liver and ultimately responsible for enabling digestion and helping with the absorption of nutrients. Without proper bile production, a good diet cannot be used to foster health because many of the essential nutrients and fatty acids are not properly absorbed. (5)
Studies have also shown that artichoke leaf extract can be very helpful in relieving symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), one of the leading digestive disorders in the world. IBS is a condition that often causes painful symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating, an upset stomach and more. (6)
It’s believed that the artichoke benefits IBS and other digestive disorders because of its high fiber content, ability to reduce inflammation, and artichoke’s nourishing effect on the gut lining and liver.
4. Excellent Source of Fiber, which Can Help with Weight Loss
Artichokes are very high in fiber, which is crucial for numerous functions in the body. Fiber keeps the digestive system running smoothly and relieves conditions like constipation and diarrhea.
It has the important role of helping the body to detox itself of waste, extra cholesterol, sugar and toxins, plus fiber acts to facilitate liver function and make us feel full after eating.
Studies have shown that consuming plenty of soluble fiber, like the kind found in artichokes, is a great way to keep off dangerous visceral fat — the kind that accumulates around your organs and can lead to various diseases.
A diet high in fiber is correlated with maintaining a healthy weight and also reducing the risk for serious conditions, including colon cancer, heart disease and more.
Fiber is technically the part of any plant-food that cannot be digested, therefore it must make its way through your digestive system and then out of your body. So essentially fiber is the substance that pulls food through your intestines, and without it you may suffer from issues like feeling overly hungry, constipation, energy spikes and dips, mood swings, weight gain, and bloating.
Fiber helps with weight loss because it has the ability to swell and expand in your stomach and intestines, soaking up fluid and giving you the feeling of being full. This makes it harder for you to overeat, plus it also helps to balance cravings due to fiber’s ability to stabilize blood sugar.
5. Helps Controls Diabetes
The high amount of fiber found in artichokes has the ability to help keep blood sugar levels stable, avoiding spikes and dips in insulin that can lead to serious problems for diabetics. The fiber in artichokes allows glucose to be absorbed in the blood more slowly, and because fiber is a substance that can be digested and does not require insulin, fiber does not count toward the amount of carbohydrates or glucose you consume.
Jerusalem artichoke has even been shown to improve insulin secretion and sensitivity in diabetic rats, which shows promise for diabetic humans as well. (7)
6. Good Source of Iron, which Prevents Anemia
A one-cup serving of artichokes provides about 10 percent of the average person’s daily requirement for the important trace mineral iron.
While many people think of animal products, like beef and eggs, as being the only and best sources of iron, artichokes are also a good source, especially for plant-based eaters who need to make sure they consume enough of the vital mineral.
An iron deficiency is most common among women, especially premenopausal women, and also children. Low levels of iron can result in fatigue, a weakened immune system, poor concentration and ability to focus, as well as digestive disorders like leaky gut syndrome and irritable bowel disease.
Even more serious is a condition that occurs when iron levels are low for an ongoing time called anemia. Anemia occurs when the body cannot produce enough hemoglobin, and therefore red blood cells are not able to properly distribute oxygen throughout the body. Consuming iron-rich foods is a great way to prevent anemia and negative symptoms associated with iron deficiency.
7. Improve Skin Health and Appearance
The foods that you eat are how your body receive antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, which ultimately show up in your appearance because they make up the layers of your skin. Antioxidants, in the form of vitamins and minerals, help prevent your skin from aging, becoming dry, and losing its texture and appearance.
For example, collagen makes up about 70 percent of your skin cells, and the antioxidant vitamin C is one of the biggest contributors to healthy collagen development. Therefore, not eating enough foods that contain vitamins and antioxidants often results in low collagen production and other skin-related conditions that age the skin prematurely.
A strong immune system is also crucial for maintaining healthy skin. Immunity is largely based upon the health of the gut wall and the amount of nutrients coming into your body and properly being absorbed, so your immune system is partially in charge of dictating how well your body is able to protect your skin from infection and unhealthy bacterial buildup.
Artichokes’ positive effects on the digestive tract and liver mean that your immune system is well-equipped to quickly heal your skin once damaged, burned, or when it comes into contact with common toxins and pollutants.
One medium-sized boiled artichoke (about 120 grams) contains about: (8)
- 64 calories
- 14.3 grams carbohydrates
- 3.5 grams protein
- 0.4 gram fat
- 10.3 grams fiber
- 10.7 micrograms vitamin B12 (27 percent DV)
- 17.8 micrograms vitamin K (22 percent DV)
- 8.9 milligrams vitamin C (15 percent DV)
- 50.4 milligrams magnesium (13 percent DV)
- 0.3 milligram manganese (13 percent DV)
- 343 milligrams potassium (10 percent DV)
- 87.6 milligrams phosphorus (9 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram copper (8 percent DV)
- 1.3 milligrams niacin (7 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram riboflavin (6 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram vitamin B6 (5 percent DV)
- 0.7 milligram iron (4 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram thiamine (4 percent DV)
- 0.3 milligram pantothenic acid (3 percent DV)
- 25.2 milligrams (3 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligram zinc (3 percent DV)
How to Buy and Use Artichokes
Nearly 100 percent of the artichokes grown commercially in the United States today are grown in California. They’re available 12 months a year, with the peak seasons being the spring and the fall.
Artichokes are also grown in the Mediterranean region commonly, as well as other parts of the world where they’re frequently used in different types of healthy cuisines. When selecting artichokes, the heaviest and firmest artichokes are best.
The artichoke should be a healthy green color, and it should look fresh, not dehydrated. The petals should still be closed; this means that the artichoke is fresh, and it will be tender when eating. If you press the leaves against themselves, it will create a slight squeaking sound, and this is a good indicator of an artichoke being fresh.
A medium-sized artichoke is about the size of a tennis ball, and a small one is the size of a golf ball. In order to keep your artichoke fresh, it needs to be stored properly. Keep the artichoke in an air-tight plastic bag, and cut off the edge of the stem to keep it from spoiling while it’s being stored. It’s best to cook the artichoke within a week of buying it if possible.
Preparing and Cooking Artichokes
Start by rinsing the artichoke well under cold water. There may be a light film on the artichoke, which happens while it’s growing, so rinse it well or scrub it with a kitchen brush or towel in order to clean it. Cut an inch off the top of the artichoke and trim the stem. Then pull the petals apart slightly. This will allow you to season the entire artichoke. You can also squeeze some lemon juice on it so it won’t brown easily while cooking.
Artichokes can be steamed, boiled and baked. To steam artichokes, place them in a steaming basket with the stem facing up, and when the water is boiling, leave them in for about 30 minutes (when steaming a medium-sized artichoke). You can even add a clove of garlic and some lemon into the steamer to add flavor. Steaming the artichoke is an excellent way to preserve its nutrients, since it doesn’t destroy some of the delicate nutrients and antioxidants.
To boil an artichoke, submerge the artichoke in boiling water, then keep the water at a high simmer for about 30 minutes.
To bake an artichoke, pull apart the pedals and season it well with heart-healthy olive oil and spices. Then wrap it with two layers of foil and put it on a baking sheet, baking at 425 degrees for about an hour. Be careful of under- or overcooking artichokes; when under-cooked they can be tough and chewy, and overcooked they can get slimy and mushy.
When cooked perfectly, artichokes will be silky and creamy and should hold together well. Keep in mind that the larger the artichoke, the longer it needs to cook.
It’s easy to eat an artichoke. Start by pulling off a petal from the cooked inside part of the artichoke. Then pull off the soft and delicious flesh with your clenched teeth. Once you consume all of the petals, remove the fuzzy layer that’s covering the heart of the artichoke. Then eat the heart, which most of us find to be the tastiest part.
Artichokes can be served as an appetizer or a side dish, stuffed artichokes serve as a delicious addition to a meal, and artichoke hearts can be added to salads and pastas. The most complementary seasonings for an artichoke are olive oil, lemon, parsley, salt and pepper.
Another popular and tasty way is to use your artichokes in a delicious artichoke dip. Try my Goat Cheese & Artichoke Dip Recipe.
Did you know that there are actually about 140 different artichoke varieties? Of these 140, only 40 are grown commercially to be sold as food.
The name artichoke comes from the word articiocco, which is most likely influenced by the word ciocco, meaning “stump.” The globe artichoke — the kind most often eaten today — is from the thistle species, a group of flowing plants characterized by leaves with sharp prickles on their margins.
The edible portion of the artichoke, usually called the “heart,” is actually the bud of the artichoke flower, formed before the flower begins to bloom. The budding flower head is a cluster of many small budding flowers, along with the edible base of the plant. An artichoke plant can grow to be six feet in diameter and three to four feet in height.
When the plant flowers, it’s about seven inches in diameter, and it has a vibrant violet-blue color. When the plant blooms, it’s no longer edible and it becomes coarse, so this is why artichokes are harvested and eaten before reaching this mature stage.
Records of eating artichokes date back to Ancient Greece and the Roan Empire, where we find texts indicating that these populations consumed the naturally occurring variant of the artichoke, the cardoon. Today, this native plant can be found in the same Mediterranean areas where it’s still a staple food in the healthy Mediterranean diet.
The artichoke was known during these times to be a delicacy and a natural aphrodisiac; it was also known to help in securing the birth of boys. The seeds of the artichoke were found during an excavation in the Roman period, and they were brought to North Africa soon after, where many more people were introduced to the health benefits of artichokes.
Varieties of artichokes have also been cultivated in Sicily since the classical period of the ancient Greeks and in Naples since around the middle of the 9th century. Records show that some of the most wealthy elitists enjoyed artichokes too; when they were introduced in England by the Dutch, they were grown in Henry VIII’s garden at Newhall around 1530.
During the 19th century, the health benefits of artichokes were brought to the United States. French immigrants settling in Louisiana brought artichokes with them around 1806, where they began making their way into French creole cooking. The Spaniards, settling in the Monterey, Calif., region, brought artichokes to the West Coast of the U.S. in the late 1800s, where they’re still grown and enjoyed today.
How artichokes landed up in the Northeast is actually somewhat of an funny story. In 1920s, a member of the mafia known as the “Artichoke King” purchased all of the artichokes shipped to New York from California at $6 a crate and created an artichoke produce company. He resold the artichokes at 30 percent to 40 percent profit and would attack and terrorize his competitors, until finally the mayor or New York declared the sale, display and possession of artichokes in New York illegal. Luckily the ban was lifted after only a week.
Possible Artichoke Side Effects
For a small percentage of people. artichokes can cause some side effects, such as intestinal gas and allergic reactions. Those who are allergic to plants like marigolds, daisies and other similar herbs are at the greatest risk of having an allergic reaction.
Artichokes may cause an allergic reaction in people who are sensitive to the Asteraceae/Compositae families of plants. Members of this family include ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, daisies and many others, so if you have allergies to any of these, be sure to check with your health care provider before taking artichoke extract or eating artichokes.
There’s also concern that artichokes could possibly worsen bile duct obstruction by increasing bile flow, which is the liquid naturally released by the liver. If you have this condition, don’t use artichoke extract or consume artichokes without first discussing your decision with your doctor. By increasing the bile flow in the body, gallstones may become worse, so if you suffer from gallstones, use precaution when consuming artichokes.
Final Thoughts on Artichokes
Artichokes have antioxidant power that may help prevent cancer, fight cardiovascular disease, detox the liver and digestive system, provide fiber and help manage weight, help control blood sugar and diabetes, provide a good source iron to combat anemia, and improve skin health and appearance.
When selecting artichokes, the heaviest and firmest artichokes are best. If you press the leaves against themselves, it will create a slight squeaking sound, and this is a good indicator of an artichoke being fresh.
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