People love to eat artichokes. What’s not to love? From the leaves to the heart, artichokes are simply delicious. However, you might not be aware of the humble artichoke’s position as a nutrient powerhouse and the amazing health benefits you can have simply by adding this veggie to your diet. We boiled down the artichoke’s many benefits to the 12 best and unexpected ways that artichokes can positively impact your health.
Artichokes are a superfood in every sense of the word. The phytonutrients in artichokes provide potent antioxidant benefits, and a 2006 study conducted by the US Department of Agriculture and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that a serving of artichokes provides greater antioxidant benefits per serving than many other foods traditionally considered to be antioxidant-rich such as dark chocolate, blueberries and red wine.
Anthocyanins, quercetin, rutin, and many other antioxidants contained in fresh artichokes offer a range of health benefits ranging from cancer prevention and immune support to protection against heart disease.
2. Dietary Fiber
The 2005 Dietary Guidelines published by the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services recommend that men consume between 30 and 38 g of dietary fiber per day, and that women consume between 21 and 25 g per day.
Currently the average American consumes roughly half this amount, leading to many potential health effects such as an increased risk of gut-related diseases and colonic cancer.
One 120 g artichoke provides a whopping 10.3 g of dietary fiber, making them a powerful tool for helping to not just keep you regular but also to improve your digestive health overall.
However, the digestive benefits of artichokes are not limited just to their fiber content.
3. Digestive Support
German doctors have long recommended artichoke leaf extract as a gentle remedy for indigestion and upset stomach.
This may be due to a compound found in artichokes called cynarin which has been shown to increase the production of bile, helping to speed up the movement of food and waste through the intestines and reduce feelings of bloating.
In fact, a study conducted with 247 individuals showed that 86% reported a satisfactory improvement of symptoms such as bloating and flatulence after using an artichoke leaf extract supplement.
One of the major sources of fiber found in artichokes is inulin, which is a prebiotic. Prebiotics can increase the proportion of probiotics or ‘good bacteria’ in the gut.
In a 2001 study 143 patients suffering from high levels of total blood cholesterol and were administered with 1800 mg of artichoke leaf extract per day for a period of six weeks.
When compared to placebo the artichoke leaf extract showed a clear reduction of around 20% “bad” LDL cholesterol and 18% total blood cholesterol; the group taking the placebo reduced their total cholesterol level by around 8%.
Douglas Schar, DipPhyt, MCPP, MNIMH suggests “[...] trying a natural remedies artichoke extract to decrease cholesterol levels before taking prescription drugs. Artichokes supplements are free of side-effects, and in my clinical experience, artichoke is a highly effective cholesterol reducer.”
5. Brain and Cognitive Benefits
Artichokes provide around 12% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin K.
This vitamin may offer protection against neuronal damage and degeneration, thereby helping to keep cognitive diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease at bay in elderly individuals. In a study published by the journal Nutrients, researchers found that eating a diet that included more vitamin K was associated with better cognition in elderly people.
6. Liver Health
A 2010 study published in the Journal of Biological Trace Element Research showed significant reduction levels of lipids and cholesterol in the livers of mice fed a high-cholesterol diet when administered with artichoke extract.
Artichokes, as well as artichoke extracts from the leaves and stems of the plant have been historically recommended for liver health. Ongoing research seems to indicate that artichokes have qualities that may protect the liver and decrease blood lipids, such as cholesterol, in the body. Some researchers think that the mechanism for beneficial effects on the liver may be related to increased from of bile from the liver. Among the most powerful phytonutrients in artichokes, cynarin and silymarin have strong positive effects on the liver.
7. Cancer Prevention
We have already established the antioxidant protection that some of the phytonutrients in artichokes can provide, but the cancer prevention benefits extend beyond this.
Rutin, quercetin, and gallic acid in particular are able to induce apoptosis or cell death within the body, and while this may sound like a bad thing it can actually help to prevent the proliferation of cells which leads to many forms of cancer.
What’s more, a study released by the University of Georg-August showed how phytonutrients found in artichokes can interfere with estrogen receptors and help to blunt the release of prostate specific antigen or PSA.
This suggests a great deal of promise in the use of artichoke leaf extract for the prevention and treatment of prostate cancer in men.
8. Folic Acid
Artichokes provide around 107 mcg folic acid per serving, more than a quarter of the daily recommended amount of 400 mcg. Women who are pregnant or attempting to conceive should consume even more folic acid, since it can be instrumental in preventing neural tube defects in developing embryos, as well as increasing fertility in both men and women.
The list of pregnancy-related health benefits attributed to folic acid is extensive and growing, so artichokes are a fantastic addition to the diet any pregnant woman or nursing mother.
9. Blood Pressure
Foods high in potassium such as bananas, sweet potatoes, and of course artichokes help to maintain a healthy balance of electrolytes within the body.
Consuming plenty of potassium and magnesium is essential for offsetting the potentially harmful effects of consuming too much sodium, and in particular can help to prevent or combat hypertension or high blood pressure.
Women and other individuals suffering from water retention may also find this useful because it elicits a mild diuretic effect to help shed excess fluid from the body.
10. Bone Health
Earlier we discussed the vitamin K content of artichokes and how it may help to reduce vascular calcification.
Another interesting benefit of vitamin K is the role that it plays in the formation of bones and the general support of ongoing bone health.
Artichokes also contain vitamin C which, as well as being well known for its immune-boosting properties, is also directly involved in the formation of a protein known as collagen. Collagen is essential for the health of our skin, bones, and connective tissues.
Magnesium and potassium are also crucial building blocks of many tissues throughout the body, with magnesium helping to enhance the uptake and absorption of calcium.
This quite clearly suggests further bone and joint health benefits offered by artichokes.
11. Metabolic Function
Another interesting and highly beneficial nutrient found in artichokes is manganese.
Manganese is used in the metabolism of cholesterol, amino acids, and fatty acids, making it absolutely essential in enabling the body to correctly utilise the nutrients in the foods we eat.
If you are trying to lose weight and optimising your metabolism should be one of the top priorities, and the manganese content of artichokes excellent tool to add to your arsenal for this purpose.
12. Protection Against Free Radicals
By this point, the antioxidant and overall protective properties of artichokes should be quite clear to you.
There are a number of environmental and lifestyle factors which can cause oxidation of our cells, leading to cellular damage which can compromise the body’s ability to protect itself against disease and further toxins.
The simple functions and processes that our body undergoes on a daily basis often produce compounds which are known as free radicals as a by-product stop.
These free radicals, when left unchecked and unbalanced, can cause significant stress on our cells and lead to the kind of oxidative damage described above.
Obviously this is something we want to avoid or minimize as much as possible!
Artichokes contain compounds which can essentially “scavenge” and neutralise free radicals and other environmental toxins before they can cause significant damage in the body.