Artichoke – a thistle bud for health
by Tammera J. Karr, PhD
Why do people eat artichokes? Is it a love for mayonnaise dip? Boy I hope not, what about the opportunity to have warm garlic butter dripping from your fingers? …. Hummm maybe. Artichokes are a native to the Mediterranean region, and they play a major role in the regional cuisine. Artichokes can be found throughout Europe, Middle Eastern countries, and America.
The edible part of an artichoke is the bud within the flower head before it fully blooms. Timing is key in cultivating them, as they turn hard and nearly inedible once the flower has fully bloomed. Also, one of the most sought-after parts of the thistle is the “heart,” which is the base from which the other buds spring. It is often considered a delicacy or at least the most delicious part of the plant and is generally more expensive.
Artichokes are a versatile food, and although some would consider them a vegetable, they are actually a variety of thistle. Artichokes have also long been famous for detoxifying the body and improving the health of the liver and aiding in digestive issues like indigestion, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and diarrhea. Furthermore, these miraculous little thistles can reduce blood pressure, eliminate hangovers, and stimulate urination.
Artichokes are low in saturated fat and cholesterol while being a rich source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They contain vitamins which include vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin B-6, B-12, A, E, D, and vitamin K. They also provide minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, sodium, potassium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc.
Artichokes contain 4 grams of protein – a significant amount for a vegetable.
One medium artichoke 6 grams of dietary fiber. Artichokes contain a fiber known as inulin. Inulin is a prebiotics; it’s also the preferred form of prebiotic used in diabetes research.
Artichokes have the highest antioxidant levels out of all vegetables, according to a study done by the USDA, and out of 1,000 plants of different types of foods, they ranked 7th in antioxidant content. Antioxidants are one of the primary means of defense for the immune system against the effects of free radicals, which are natural byproducts of cell metabolism that can lead to a number of conditions and diseases in the body.
The antioxidant properties of artichokes come from a number of sources, one of which are polyphenols, which are found in high numbers in them. Polyphenols have chemo-preventive qualities, which means they slow down, stop, or completely reverse the effects of cancer. Their antioxidant ability comes from another source as well, their high levels of quercetin and rutin, two specific antioxidants that have been proven to reduce the chances of developing cancer.
Artichokes are also considered a heart-healthy food. Certain ingredients in their leaves have been found to reduce LDL levels and increase HDL or omega-3 fatty acids levels. On a related note, artichokes are rich sources of potassium, the essential mineral that has an impact on numerous organ systems throughout the body. Potassium helps to neutralize the effects of excess processed sodium, which in some individuals damages the kidneys. Artichokes, therefore, act as a vasodilator and make them a useful dietary addition for those already taking hypertension medicine.
Diabetics are also encouraged to eat artichokes to prevent the complications associated with blood pressure. Finally, a reduction in blood pressure can reduce the chances of stroke, heart attacks, and coronary heart diseases.
Artichokes were used as liver tonics for centuries, but it wasn’t until modern science opened the door of understanding that we learned why. Two antioxidants found in artichokes, cynarin, and silymarin, have been shown to improve the overall health of the liver by reducing the presence of toxins and facilitating their elimination from the liver and the body. Some studies have even shown these antioxidants to actively promote regrowth and repair of damaged liver cells.
We all need Brain food and artichokes fill that bill also. Their quality as a vasodilator allows more oxygen to reach the brain for elevated cognitive function. Phosphorus, an essential mineral found in artichokes, is found in the brain cells. Phosphorous deficiencies have been associated with a serious decline in cognitive ability.
And this is only a small part of the health benefits of artichokes. So look for ways to eat artichokes without the mayo, there are digital cookbooks free from OceanMist.com
To your good health – and real foods
- Brown-Riggs, C. The Gut Microbiota. Today’s Dietician. November 2014: 22-25.
- J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Dec 27;54(26):9966-77.
- 5. STUDIES ON THE PHOSPHORUS COMPOUNDS OF BRAIN; http://www.jbc.org/content/110/3/625.short