Among the many vegetables available in the produce section, artichokes are often the most intimidating and mysterious. Although many people avoid the artichoke due to its somewhat strange appearance and confusing preparation techniques, they are missing out on the many benefits of this tangy, delicious food. The many health benefits you can enjoy by eating artichokes include improving your digestion, regulating cholesterol, preventing some cancers, aiding in weight loss efforts, and many others.
Studies show artichokes improve immune function and even give you a healthier, better-performing brain! Read on to learn eight reasons to add more artichokes to your diet in fresh, frozen, or canned form, including as pizza or salad toppings, appetizers, or a delicious dip.
The Artichoke: The Legend
The artichoke doesn’t just have a mystical appearance; this unique vegetable has an equally curious creation story that is reflected in its scientific name, Cynara Scolymus. The legend of the artichoke traces back to Greek mythology when Zeus, the Greek god of the sky, became enamored with a gorgeous young mortal girl named Cynara.
As the story goes, Zeus fell in love with Cynara and turned her into a goddess, only to have her escape from him and return to the world of mortals. When Zeus found her, he became angry and transformed her into the first artichoke.
Benefit 1: Fiber
One of the most important elements to a healthy diet is the right amount of fiber. Few people get enough fiber in their diet unless they consciously make a choice to eat high fiber foods. Some people might be surprised to learn just how much fiber is contained in a single serving of artichokes: one quarter of the recommended daily amount.
Benefit 2: Reduce Your Cholesterol
People who are watching their cholesterol level should know artichokes have been shown to be a helpful dietary tool in this fight. Experts believe artichokes lower bad cholesterol, or LDL cholesterol, while simultaneously increasing the amount of good, or HDL, cholesterol in the body. This is due in part to the vegetable’s high amounts of luteolin, a natural bioflavonoid. Artichokes also work to regulate the body’s internal cholesterol production, which has a significant impact on the liver as well.
Benefit 3: Improve Digestion
As a vegetable that acts as a natural diuretic, the artichoke helps significantly improve digestion. It can also aid in maintaining a healthy gallbladder and liver, making this vegetable a true superfood with many positive health implications.
Benefit 4: Improve Liver Function
The liver is unique because liver tissue can be regenerated in some circumstances. Artichokes are believed to aid in this process, thanks to its high concentration of two key antioxidants, silymarin and cynarin. These are both found in the pulp of the artichoke and can help improve and increase the flow of bile as well, which can help remove toxins from the body.
Benefit 5: Rid Yourself of a Hangover
Instead of turning to traditional hangover cures that might not be effective, such as over-the-counter pain medications or a Bloody Mary, try eating an artichoke instead. The same antioxidants that help improve liver function can also help ease the discomfort of a hangover by ridding your body of toxins. Be sure to drink plenty of water for the best results.
Benefit 6: Antioxidants
The high levels of antioxidants found in the artichoke do much more than have a positive effect on the liver. According to the USDA, artichokes have the seventh highest level of antioxidants of any food source. Antioxidants are key in preventing a variety of illnesses and can have an impact on the aging process. Studies show they may be helpful in the fight against rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and some forms of cancer. Antioxidants are also significant in relation to urinary tract health and even brain function.
Benefit 7: Prevent or Treat Cancer
New studies show evidence of the artichoke’s positive impact on some forms of cancer, including leukemia, breast cancer, and prostate cancer. Extract taken from the artichoke leaf could slow cell replication in these cancers, and a diet that includes the vegetable could reduce the risk of developing cancer as well.
Benefit 8: Taste
The best reason of all to eat artichokes is simply because they taste fantastic. Truly the “caviar” of vegetables, an artichoke can be prepared in multiple ways and used as an accent for a variety of foods. Artichokes are a great addition to pizza, pasta salads, sandwiches and other tasty dishes, and can be easily added to everything from salads to dips.
One favorite is spinach and artichoke dip, which is often paired with pita chips, small breads, or crackers. As a side dish, try a hearty, healthy artichoke spinach gratin, which combines the vegetable with fat-free sour cream and cream cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, breadcrumbs, and a few other simple ingredients. Your family will thank you.
Choosing the Right Artichoke
For someone new to artichokes, choosing the perfect vegetable can present a challenge. The artichoke should feel heavy and not spongy, and when the vegetable is squeezed, it should emit a squeaking sound. Be sure to watch for tight, dark green leaves on the vegetable; don’t be afraid of leaves with white or brown streaks, as these are simply from frostbite and do not have any effect on the taste whatsoever. Leaves that have pits should be avoided, as this is a sign of possible insect activity.
Preparing the Artichoke
Once you have chosen the perfect artichoke, preparing it is much easier than it appears. Cut off the top 1/3 of the vegetable and peel off the bottom leaves. On the rest of the leaves, use scissors to trim the thorny tips, and then cut the stem close to the bulb.
You’ll need to boil a pot of water; put the artichoke in the boiling water, face down. Then, cover it and let simmer for 40 minutes. Halfway through the cooking process, turn it right side up and lightly drizzle it with olive oil and kosher salt. When it’s finished cooking, try squeezing a bit of lemon juice over the top, add a bit more olive oil and salt, and enjoy.