There is not a more delicious and satisfying vegetable than a roasted artichoke, drizzled with some melted grass fed butter, a squeeze of lemon, sea salt and pepper. In fact, I am getting hungry right now just thinking of it! There are quite a few reasons to eat artichokes—in fact, they are one of the most potent liver detoxing foods you can eat!
Artichokes are actually members of the thistle family. The artichoke is actually the flower portion of the plant when they bloom. When we eat artichokes, we are eating the flower bud before it blooms. Did you know artichokes have been around since the ancient Greek and Roman days, where it was well known for its health and medicinal properties, including an aphrodisiac and fertility enhancer. The Spaniards brought artichokes with them when they came to settle in California, where they have been growing and thriving ever since! Almost all artichokes that we eat are grown in California, and available year round, but peak seasons are spring and fall. Among about 140 different varieties, we generally eat the globe artichoke most often.
While everyone loves the artichoke hearts, it is actually the leaves that contain most of the nutrients, which means artichokes are best when you consume them whole—or mostly whole—you actually just eat the ends of the leaves where they join the rest of the artichoke, and you do not eat the fuzzy choke in the center. Don’t do like I did the very first time I ate an artichoke– I was trying to be ‘cool’ and act like I knew what I was doing and ate the fuzzy center! I nearly choked on it—as those fuzzy spiky things stuck in your throat!
Decrease LDL Cholesterol, Aid in Digestion and Detox Liver
Artichokes contain two natural chemicals cynarin, and silymarin, which aid in detoxifying the liver, stimulating the kidneys, and increasing the flow of bile. Bile, which comes from the liver, helps digest fats and break down cholesterol. Cynarin was once used as a cholesterol lowering drug, and tests show it can decrease total cholesterol by almost 20%, and LDL by 23%. That’s pretty impressive!
Since bile is responsible for digesting fats and absorbing fat-soluble vitamins, artichokes are excellent for digestion. The soothing power of artichokes also helps those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome as it reduces inflammation, as well as adding bountiful amounts of fiber, which nourishes the gut and gut flora. This fiber can also help prevent deadly colon cancer as well. And considering that artichokes supply almost 30% of your recommended daily amount of fiber, they are a great addition to your regular diet. Cynarin and silymarin are also immensely helpful to cleanse the liver after medications, exposure to dangerous chemicals, or chemotherapy for cancer treatments. And add another big plus for the artichoke: if you find you drank too much, it works well as a hangover cure—detoxing and strengthening the liver.
Abundant Antioxidant Power to Prevent Cancer
Artichokes are packed with a ton of antioxidants and amazing phytonutrients! Our bodies need antioxidants to fight off disease, stress, excessive exercise, aging, and chronic diseases like cancer. The most powerful antioxidants are the ones that can fend off cancer, and artichokes actually contain a number of them, including silymarin, caffeic acid, ferulic acid, quercetin, rutin, gallic acid, and cynarin. And, artichokes also contain small amounts of antioxidant flavonoid compounds like beta-carotene, lutein, and zea-xanthin.
In clinical trials, extracts from edible parts of the artichoke inhibited cancer cell proliferation in breast cancer, while other studies on artichokes showed significant activity against liver cancer cells. Artichokes are also found to have the capability to help prevent skin cancer as well.
A Delicious Food to Eat to Lose Weight and Balance Blood Sugar
Artichokes are the perfect healthy, low glycemic food. Because of the high fiber content, they are filling and very satisfying to eat. The fiber and the low glycemic value of artichokes also help to stabilize blood sugar, preventing cravings. Because artichokes are low-glycemic, they don’t spike blood sugar or insulin, meaning your body does not try to store fat! Artichokes are also relatively low in calories–but don’t forget to add a little grass fed butter!
Iron and Mineral Rich
People with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, food allergies, leaky gut, IBD, athletes, and vegans often find they are low in iron, or even anemic. Iron is an essential mineral for our bodies to produce red blood cells which carry oxygen to all parts of the body. While the best way to get more iron in the diet is by eating red meat, artichokes are a great vegetarian option. A one cup serving—about the size of a whole artichoke—provides a good 10% of the average person’s daily requirement for iron.
Artichokes are also a wealth of other precious minerals, like copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, phosphorus, which all work together to optimize our health. Potassium is an important electrolyte which keeps our bodily fluids in balance, as well as helping control heart rate and blood pressure, while balancing sodium. Manganese works with another co-factor to help create super ant-oxidants, and copper works alongside iron to help build essential red blood cells.
More Essential Nutrients
Fresh cooked artichokes contain even more super nutrients! They are high in folic acid, which is essential for DNA in our cells, and vital especially for pregnant women and their babies. Besides folic acid, they contain other B-complex vitamins, including niacin, thiamin, and pantothenic acid, all important to nourish the nervous system and the brain. These lovely green globes also contain vitamin C, which helps the body create collagen that supports your skin and joints, and help fight off infections. It is one of the best sources of vitamin K, which is necessary for bone health and brain health.
Artichokes Taste Great!
Look for artichokes that are appealingly green, or purple if you get the purple variety. Ones that have been sitting too long will look wilted and grayish-green. Look for tightly closed petals, that make a little bit of a ‘squeaky’ sound. Pick the ones that feel dense and heavy for their size. Turn it over and take a look at the stem—if it looks freshly cut, then you know it is fresh. If it’s dried and brownish, obviously it was picked a while ago, and is less than fresh.
Clean artichokes and cut off the top inch or so of the artichoke and trim the stem. Squeeze a little lemon on it to prevent it from getting dark. Artichokes are best steamed or baked, but they do take a little while to cook, so be patient! You can steam a whole artichoke in a steamer rack or cut it in half and steam the halves, so it cooks faster. Allow about 20-30 minutes to cook. When you can easily pull a leaf off the artichoke, it is tender enough to eat. To bake, season it with melted butter or olive oil and a bit of lemon, wrap in foil and bake at 400-425 for about an hour, depending on size. You can check when it is done by using the leaf test.
To eat, pull off each leaf, and put the large end of the leaf in your mouth and bite down as you pull it out. You should get a nice mouthful of tender artichoke meat in every bite. Discard the leaves. When you get to the center of the artichoke, pull off the thin leaves and use a spoon to scoop out the thistle-y center till you get to the smooth base of the artichoke. This is the heart and the pièce de résistance! The very best part! Best if dipped in some melted butter and lemon juice, or some olive oil and garlic!
Here is an amazingly good artichoke soup recipe below to try—it’s filling, low-glycemic, and has a delicious nutty, rich flavor. It’s best with some freshly grated Parmigiana Reggiano and extra virgin olive oil drizzled on top. Enjoy!
2-4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 medium to large artichokes
2 leeks, washed and sliced (white part only)
2 red potatoes, quartered and chopped
6 butter or bibb lettuce leaves
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
5-6 cups water
1 lb of frozen peas
½ fresh lemon
Break off the tough outer leaves. Cut off the top 2/3 of the remaining artichoke. Cut in quarters and remove the fuzzy chokes. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the leeks, artichokes, garlic, potato, lettuce, and parsley and squeeze of lemon. Add salt and 1/2 cup of water and cook over medium heat until veggies are tender, 7-10 minutes. Add peas and remaining water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, add salt to taste. Puree soup for a smoother texture, by adding to a blender in batches. Spoon into bowls and garnish with parmesan cheese.
Here’s another amazing artichoke recipe to use for dinner: