The Health Benefits of Artichokes
A Healthy "Heart"
by Rachel B. Levin
By virtue of their thorny exterior, globe artichokes are demure vegetables that resist being eaten every step of the way. The spiky outer leaves encase the tender heart like an armored gown. Perhaps this indelicate challenge of eating an artichoke is why it was considered scandalous for women in the 16th century to partake of its pleasures and why the artichoke was thought to be a potent aphrodisiac for men. Despite its coy exterior, research suggests that every effort should be made—by men and women alike—to enjoy artichokes in full. Their nutritional and antioxidant properties make artichokes natural antidotes to a host of ailments including heart disease, cancer and birth defects.
Among antioxidant-rich foods, artichokes are too often overlooked. Yet a July 2006 study tested the antioxidant levels of 1,113 foods and beverages and found that artichoke hearts had the highest level among all vegetables measured; they came in fourth among all foods and beverages analyzed. That means artichoke heats beat out blueberries, red wine, chocolate, coffee and tea.
Artichokes’ antioxidant punch may be one of the reasons that their consumption has been linked with improved heart health. Antioxidants protect against the oxidation of cholesterol, thereby warding off arteriosclerosis. Concentrated in the leaves of the artichoke, the antioxidants cynarin and silymarin help support healthy liver function. These phytonutrients may boost the regeneration of liver cells and decrease blood cholesterol levels by speeding up its excretion. Because of artichokes’ benefits for the liver, it has long been considered a remedy for treating hepatitis.
- contain high levels of antioxidants, which help prevent heart disease, cancer and birth defects
- boost the regeneration of liver cells
- improve digestion
- contain potassium, vitamin C and folic acid
The thorny thistle can actually improve digestion as well. Studies suggest that artichokes help control blood sugar in those with diabetes. Artichoke extracts have been shown to alleviate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. A natural diuretic, artichokes are high in insoluble fiber, which helps regulate the digestive tract. The high fiber and low calorie count (60 calories in one medium globe artichoke) make artichokes attractive for dieters.
Artichokes promote general health with their balance of nutrients. They are high in potassium, which protects against kidney stones. They are also a good source of folic acid, which is especially important for women of childbearing age since deficiencies have been linked to birth defects. The vitamin C in artichokes adds to their cancer-fighting potential.
Whether dipped in melted butter or stuffed with seafood and breadcrumbs New Orleans style, artichokes lend themselves to a variety of dishes. Just don’t pair your artichoke with a glass of wine; you’ll be disappointed. The phytochemical cynarin has a peculiar effect on the taste buds, bringing a sweet flavor to anything you taste afterwards and ruining the true taste of your chosen wine. Pass on the vino. Toast to the artichoke instead.
(Updated: 09/24/12 SG)