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Artichokes! Have You Known All These?
Artichokes are used as a vegetable, but scientifically they are regarded as part of the thistle family. They are delicious and are able to be eaten from the leaves to the heart, and are a year-round favourite. Artichokes are native to the Mediterranean region, but can also be found throughout Europe, in America, and Middle Eastern countries.
Artichokes were used as a liver tonic for hundreds of years by past civilisations, and latter day research has shown just how effective it is in other health areas as well.
The most sought-after edible part of the artichoke is the bud within the flower head just before it blooms. Once the plant blooms, the bud is hard and almost inedible. The heart of the plant, which is the base from where the buds spring, is also very popular – in fact many folk regard it as the most delicious part of the artichoke.
A potent powerhouse of nutrients
According to the US Department of Agriculture, artichokes have one of the highest levels of antioxidants out of all vegetables. A recent study revealed that out of 1000 different types of plant foods artichokes were rated 7 in antioxidant content. Antioxidants are instrumental in combatting free radicals which cause damage to body tissues and organs.
In addition to antioxidants, the nutritional profile of artichokes includes a rich source of dietary fibre, vitamin C, most of the B vitamins, and vitamins K, E, A, and D. Trace minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, potassium and magnesium.
Research has the following information about certain compounds in artichokes:
- One medium size artichoke contains 6 grams of dietary fibre, which is amounts to 25% of the RDA (recommended) daily amount.) Note that the same size contains only 60 calories, ideal for those on weight loss diets.
- Vegetable protein. Artichokes contain 4 grams of vegetable protein, which is higher than most other vegetables.
- Prebiotics promote the formation of good bacteria in the gut. The fibre in artichokes in unique because it contains inulin, which, in the food chain, is one of the best promoters of healthy gut-bacteria.
Further studies have shown that artichokes are low in saturated fat and low in cholesterol.
Health benefits of artichokes
The common health benefits of artichokes are almost unlimited. Here is a list of the top 7 that are very notable and backed by research.
- Cancer prevention. The high content of antioxidants support the immune system and combat the free radicals which do damage to the body cells and tissues. This substantially lowers the risk of cancer. The significant levels of Vitamin C in artichokes also contain flavonoids (powerful plant chemicals) which have been shown to lower the risk of breast cancer.
- Heart health. Certain ingredients in the leaves of artichokes are known to reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase good cholesterol (HDL) thus promoting cardiovascular health. The high levels of potassium in artichokes also help heart health by regulating blood pressure and reducing harmful sodium levels.
- Liver health. Recent research has shown that two specific types of antioxidants found in artichokes improve liver function by eliminating toxins from the liver and the body. Some studies have also shown that these antioxidants may promote the regrowth and repair of liver cells which might be damaged.
- Bone health. The mineral content of magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, and calcium, work to improve bone health and bone density, lowering your risk of future conditions like osteoporosis.
- Healthy bowel. The bowel can be a breeding ground for many toxic dangers, especially if you are troubled by constipation, or irregular bowel movements. The rich source of dietary fibre in artichokes, assists digestion, keeps bowel movements regular, and decreases the chances of constipation. By keeping the colon clear of fermenting foods and eliminating them from the body, the fibre content in artichokes greatly reduces the chances of intestinal cancer, and improves general stomach digestive problems.
- Studies have shown that artichokes can soothe an inflamed gallbladder, as well as open a blocked duct which is a common problem with gallbladders. A blocked duct can cause gallstones to develop, which are painful and may have to be surgically removed.
- Improved brain health. Phosphorous found in artichokes is prolific in brain cells. Tests have indicated that a deficiency of phosphorous has been linked to a decline in cognitive ability and possible memory function.
With all these health benefits, and there are more, making artichokes part of your diet, seems like an excellent idea for general health and well-being.
Artichokes are not difficult to cook, but need to be properly prepared, as they are members of the thistle family.
- Before cooking, wash and cut off the little thorns which are on the ends of all the leaves.
- Remove the excess stem as it may be very bitter in taste.
- The most edible part of an artichoke is the bud within the flower. It must be removed before the flower blooms, or it will be too hard to eat.
- The heart of the artichoke is sought-after as it is very delicious, and is the part from which the other buds develop.
- Cook artichokes in a pan of lightly-salted water, bring to the boil, and then simmer for about 20 minutes until leaves can be easily pulled loose. Herbs and spices can be added for flavour.
- When cooked, artichokes can be eaten hot or cold, and are also delicious if served with sauces and dips.
A word of caution
As with any food item, possible allergies should be taken into consideration. Some folk may be sensitive to the effects of artichokes, particularly if they are allergy-prone.
Artichokes are actually a thistle, in the same family as daisies, ragweed, and marigolds. If you have an allergic reaction to any of them, the chances are that you will also have a reaction to artichokes, and it would be safer not to add them to your diet.
If you have no allergies, go ahead and indulge in this truly miraculous, health-beneficial, incomparable plant food.