Nutritional Powerhouse: Artichoke

You have to really work to get at the good parts of an artichoke! The portion of the artichoke that has the meat is called the 'heart,' even though it's at the bottom of the vegetable and not in the center. Artichokes are a great liver-cleansing food and detoxifier. They have a healthy compound called silymarin—which is also the active component in milk thistle—that has been shown to protect and nourish the liver. Artichokes also contain caffeoylquinic acid, which is especially good at protecting and regenerating the liver. Caffeoylquinic acid promotes bile and fat flow to and from the liver—a highly important function because the liver can be damaged if the bile is not carried well to the gallbladder. 

But the healthy attributes of the artichoke don’t end at the heart. The leaves of the artichoke have a lot of substances helpful for many health issues. Artichokes also help to stimulate the production of bile, likely the reason artichokes are commonly used for indigestion. Artichokes, therefore, can be a beneficial food for people with gastrointestinal problems. Artichoke extract has also been used to treat high cholesterol and triglycerides; this is because artichokes contain luteolin, a flavonoid (what gives fruits and vegetables their color) that helps to prevent the oxidation of LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Beneficial, since oxidized LDL cholesterol is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. In addition, artichoke leaf extracts have been shown to help improve the function of the cells that line the arteries, which is important because when these cells are damaged or not working properly, the result is atherosclerosis.

Artichokes are also high in fiber, magnesium, chromium, vitamins A and C, folic acid, biotin, niacin, riboflavin, manganese, thiamin, potassium, and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin—and all for approximately 60 calories per serving!  Artichokes are low in calories partially because most of the carbohydrate it contains is in the form of the startch inulin and starches are handled differently in the body than other sugars. Inulin is not used by the body for energy, which makes artichokes a great food for diabetics because it helps to improve blood sugar control. But, it is important that the artichoke be as fresh as possible, because inulin is broken down to other sugars when the artichoke is stored for any length of time.

Grilled Artichokes

Artichokes are most often served steamed, but grilling them adds a smoky dimension to their flavor. If you can get them, first-of-the-season baby artichokes will yield extra-tender results—double the number of artichokes and reduce the cooking time as needed.

4 servings

Active Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 lemons
  • 4 large artichokes, (3-3 1/2 pounds total)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Get the rest of the recipe at EatingWell.com


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