Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS
Artichokes are kind of like the lobster of the vegetable community—you have to really work to get at the good parts. The part that contains the meat is called the “heart,” even though it’s technically the bottom of the plant. And it takes some digging to get there.
Is it worth it? Definitely.
A Liver Cleanser…
Artichokes are a pure liver-cleansing food. If you’ve ever looked at the ingredients on a supplement specifically designed for liver health or detoxification, you’re likely to have seen artichoke extract listed on the label.
Because this plant is a wonderful source of silymarin, the active ingredient in milk thistle. Silymarin has a long and distinguished pedigree as a plant compound that helps protect and nourish the liver.
And artichokes have plenty of it. And remember, if your liver isn’t operating at full tilt boogie, detoxification pathways are gummed up, and important cellular activity—like fat burning, for example—can be compromised.
Artichokes Bring Stomach Relief…
The artichoke leaves contain a number of active chemical compounds that have been found to be beneficial across a range of health issues. For example, the bile-stimulating action of the plant has been well documented in at least one controlled trial in which, after administration of artichoke extract directly into the duodenum, liver bile increased significantly.
This effect may be why artichokes are often used for indigestion. According to herbal experts Joe and Teresa Graydon, Ph.D., authors of The People’s Pharmacy, patients with chronic gastrointestinal (GI) upset who were given artichoke extract showed amazing improvement. In one study, researchers reported that 85 percent of patients experienced substantial relief from stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting.1
Reduces Cholesterol Oxidation…
Standardized artichoke extract has also been used to treat high cholesterol and triglycerides, and in test tube studies, the flavonoids from the artichoke (especially luteolin) have prevented the oxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol,2 a definite risk factor for cardiovascular disease. That’s the oxidation of cholesterol that’s a risk factor, you understand, not the cholesterol itself. And luteolin—found in artichokes—helps to prevent this oxidative damage.
Packed with Antioxidant Power…
The leaves of the artichoke also contain a number of active chemical compounds that have been found to be beneficial across a range of health issues. And let’s not even talk about artichoke’s antioxidant power!
One of the largest studies of antioxidants in food, conducted by the USDA and published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, ranked artichokes seventh among the top 100 foods!3,4
Artichokes are also nutrient superstars, providing more than 15% of your total recommended daily allowance (RDA) for four or more different vitamins and minerals.
One medium artichoke contains 72 mg of magnesium, 425 mg of potassium, a little bit of folate, the eye-friendly carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, and best of all, a really substantial 6 ½ grams of fiber per one medium artichoke (if you go for a large one, you get almost 9 grams!). And that’s all for a miserly 60 calories (okay, 76 if you’re going for the big guy).
A good nutritional deal no matter how you slice it! (Or, in the case of the artichoke, dig for it!)
What about Jerusalem Artichokes?
Jerusalem artichokes aren’t real artichokes: plus, they’re not even from Jerusalem. They’re actually a member of the sunflower family and are also referred as sunchokes, kind of a cross between an artichoke and a sunflower.
They probably got the name Jerusalem because it sounded like “girasol”, which is the Italian name for sunflower.
And something for all you trivia buffs: This large yellow flower—which is very pretty, by the way—was cultivated by the Native Americans, who prepared the tubers for Lewis and Clark in 1805 in what is now North Dakota. The tuber—or underground stem—resembles a gnarly potato or a piece of ginger and has a really nice taste. The baked tubers are delicious.
Whether you go with the traditional artichoke, or the “Jerusalem” variety (which technically isn’t an artichoke) these foods are packed with fiber, nutrients, and more that can protect your heart, reduce oxidative stress, and ease your stomach.
Include them in your diet and “choke off” chronic illness.
Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS