Artichoke is a common ingredient for pizza toppings, salads, dips, and antipastos, but there may be some benefit health wise to sprinkling your diet with the intriguing food. Artichoke benefits may include a better cholesterol profile, lower blood pressure, and improved liver function.
You may know artichoke as a mysterious vegetable with a flavor that can be difficult to describe. But according to many botanists, artichokes aren’t vegetables at all! Instead, they are the edible thistle of a flower from the sunflower family.
Artichoke, also called globe artichoke, French artichoke, or by its scientific name Cynara cardunculus, is native to the Mediterranean region but is grown locally in America in California. Artichoke should not be confused with the Chinese artichoke or Jerusalem artichoke: they are completely unrelated plants.
It may be an understatement to say that most people don’t particularly enjoy artichokes. But in my opinion, this has less to do with the flavor than with the confusion over how to use them and the consistency of their flesh. Because of this, supplements like artichoke extracts have been growing in popularity.
But are the health benefits of artichoke something you should be getting in on?
Artichoke Nutrition Facts
According to the California Artichoke Advisory Board, cooked artichoke has more antioxidants than any other vegetable. Furthermore, it is packed with fiber, a nutrient severely lacking in the standard American diet.
A 120-gram serving of artichoke (about the size of a medium one) has:
|Vitamin C||8.9 mg (15% DV)|
|Vitamin K||17.8 mcg (22% DV)|
|Folate||107 mcg (27% DV)|
|Magnesium||50.4 mg (13% DV)|
|Potassium||343 mg (10% DV)|
|Manganese||0.3 mg (13% DV)|
Artichoke Health Benefits
The nutrients in whole artichokes and artichoke extract can be good for you in a number of ways. Here are five:
1. High in Fiber
Although whole artichokes provide many important nutrients, what makes them most appealing is their non-nutritive content: fiber.
With a single artichoke providing more than 20% of the recommended daily intake of fiber, eating the flower bud is a great way to include more in your diet.
It’s estimated that most Americans only eat about 15 grams of fiber per day, which is 10 to 15 grams less than what they should be eating. A single artichoke can bring that average up to the recommended intake.
The health benefits of fiber are far-reaching. High-fiber diets are associated with:
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Controlled blood sugar levels
- An improved digestive system
- A more diverse microbiome
- Normalized bowel movements
- Increased satiety
- Maintaining a healthy weight
2. Might Help Lower Cholesterol
Artichoke may help lower cholesterol—and improve your cholesterol profile—in a couple of ways:
Research has shown that people supplementing with artichoke extract each day for five to 13 weeks were able to lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol—the stuff that clogs arteries. Other work has shown that individuals with high cholesterol were able to lower their LDL by nearly 23% after taking it daily for six weeks.
Artichoke extract also appears to increase “good” HDL cholesterol levels, which can lower the risk of heart disease. It might affect cholesterol levels by being a rich source of luteolin, a powerful antioxidant that can prevent cholesterol formation.
If you have high cholesterol, talk to your doctor about the potential benefits of artichoke extract.
3. May Aid Digestive Health
Artichokes can be a useful tool for building and maintaining a healthy gut.
Artichoke acts as a great source of inulin, a valuable type of fiber that acts as a prebiotic. Prebiotics help feed and promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria, which is associated with health benefits like constipation relief, improved nutrient absorption, and accelerated bowel transit times.
4. Might Help Reduce Blood Pressure
Research has also shown artichoke extract can help lower blood pressure in hypertensive individuals.
A 2009 study, published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements, followed 98 men with high blood pressure and found that a daily dose of artichoke extract cut both diastolic blood pressure and systolic blood pressure by more than 2 mmHg. Even slight reductions in blood pressure can play a big role in lowering the risk of a heart attack.
These benefits may be the result of a combination of compounds in artichoke.
Antioxidants can protect against inflammation that may inhibit blood flow. Artichoke is also a good source of potassium, a nutrient with an important role in blood pressure regulation.
Although potassium is not exclusive to artichoke, combined with its fiber and antioxidant profile, artichoke may present a particularly useful blend of heart-healthy nutrition.
5. May Promote Improved Liver Health
Artichoke extract can help promote bile production, helping your body to better digest lipids and remove waste from the liver.
Animal studies have shown promising evidence that the extract may help protect the liver from damage, while small human studies have shown it can improve overall liver function.
These benefits might be tied to the anti-inflammatory effects of artichoke provided by antioxidants like cynarin and silymarin.
Effective dosages observed in the human studies were 600 mg per day, yet these are not conclusive. More research needs to be done regarding artichoke’s effect on liver health, so speak to your doctor before use.
How to Cook an Artichoke
Cooking artichokes can be a bit of a process, but it is worth the work. First, you have to know what to look for, however.
An artichoke that is ready to be eaten has bright green leaves and tight bulbs. When you get it home, remove the stiff, tougher leaves closest to the stem. Use kitchen shears because the leaves may have small thorns.
Next, remove the outer layer of the stem using a paring knife. After that, take a sharper knife to cut the pointy tip off the top, and also trim the rough end of the stem. Sprinkle with a little bit of lemon juice to prevent browning.
Artichokes are either boiled or steamed, so pick which you’d prefer. Bring a pot of water to a boil and submerge the artichoke. It should remain moist, so putting a piece of cheesecloth over the pot during cooking can help.
Cook for about 40 minutes before removing.
You’ll know it’s done by its appearance and texture. It should be firm and not crunchy. To test, pull it out of the pot and pull an inner leaf. It if easily separates, the artichoke is ready. Drop it in cold water and drain upside down to remove excess water.
Artichokes can be a challenge to eat if you’re a rookie, but it gets really easy with experience. Basically, all you have to do is tear off a leaf, dip it in a sauce of your liking, and use your teeth to scrape the fleshly part off the base of the leaf. The deeper you get, the meatier the leaves. When you finally reach the center, scrape off the fuzzy fibers and cut into the moist artichoke heart!
Here is a simple yet tasty way to prepare and serve artichokes:
1 lemon, halved
4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 cup parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons fresh parsley
- Using a paring knife, cut off the stems of the artichokes and about an inch from the tops. Use kitchen scissors to remove the thorny tips of the leaves.
- Use the juice from one lemon half and run it over the cut portion of an artichoke to prevent browning. Repeat with the second artichoke.
- Drizzle each artichoke with one tablespoon of olive oil and season with the salt and pepper.
- Spread the leaves of an artichoke and coat with a tablespoon of minced garlic. Next, rub two tablespoons of the parsley and a half cup of the parmesan between the leaves. Repeat with the second artichoke.
- Wrap each artichoke in aluminum foil and bake at 425 degrees F for 80 minutes.
- Serve with the dipping sauce of your choice.
Test out an Artichoke This Season—It Might Do Your Body Good
Artichokes are a nutrient-dense, plant-based food that has potential to improve overall health. The biggest challenge many face when it comes to including them in a diet, is unfamiliarity. But knowing how to select, prepare, and serve an artichoke can help handle this problem.
Furthermore, there are some promising studies showing that artichoke extract may have specific benefits for people with high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Giving this plant a try could help you on your way to better health.
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