Widely known as a Mediterranean plant, artichoke is now found all over the world. This is a perennial plant with a fern-like appearance that belongs to the thistle variety, artichoke refers to the plant Cynar scolymus of the Compositae family. However, certain other varieties of plants that belong to totally different genera are also called by the name of artichoke and it is important to understand this difference.
Jerusalem artichoke is an irregular tuber with a reddish purple or light brown color. Chinese artichoke is an underground tuberous stem with a nutty and sweet taste. This article does not refer to either of these varieties; it is concerned with the health benefits of artichoke that also goes by the name of globe artichoke.
Why Artichoke is Beneficial?
Artichokes contain certain compounds that confer distinct antioxidant properties. These include the flavonoids rutin and quercetin, color pigments called anthocyanins, antioxidants such as gallic acid, cynarin, silymarin and luteolin and chlorogenic and caffeic acid. Besides, some of the health benefits of artichokes may also be attributed to their content of minerals such as potassium and magnesium, vitamin C, protein and dietary fiber.
Artichokes in Traditional Medicine
Health benefits of artichokes were known since ancient times and they have been used for blood purification and bladder cleaning as well.
Artichoke was also used by the Egyptian civilization for its ability to cure gall bladder and liver problems.
Health Benefits of Artichokes
Most of the ancient cultures that used this vegetable, knew of the health benefits of artichokes. Modern day scientific research is only proving the validity of this use.
Digestive benefits : Extracts from artichoke have been tested in patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome and have proved effective in reducing the symptoms of this ailment. The dietary fiber content of artichokes also plays a role in helping maintain the regularity of bowel movements. Artichokes also improved digestive function in patients with dyspepsia and gastritis.
Cholesterol-reducing Benefits : The dietary fiber in artichokes is also responsible for its action against high circulating cholesterol levels. Besides, the leaves of artichoke contain cynarin and luteolin – chemicals that have demonstrated an ability to reduce cholesterol as well as triglyceride levels.
Artichokes Benefits in Diabetes : One of the significant health benefits of artichokes has been observed as the ability to regulate the blood glucose levels in patients with diabetes. This is partly because of its dietary fiber content and also because it contains the carbohydrate inulin rather than starch and therefore, does not cause a sudden spike in blood glucose levels. However, for this effect, it is important to consume fresh artichokes as inulin gets converted to sugar with ageing.
Improvement of Liver Function : Traditional medicine recommended artichokes for liver dysfunction. Now, the validity of this has been proved by some scientific studies which have shown that artichokes have an ability to protect the liver against infections and toxic metabolites along with the ability to stimulate bile flow.
Probable Anticancer Benefits : One of the most important health benefits of artichokes that researchers are now investigating are their value against cancer. Recent studies have shown that the high antioxidant content as well as vitamin C content may bestow artichokes with a protective role against several forms of cancer.
How to Select and Store
It is good to buy artichokes that are fresh, green in color, heavy for their size, have all leaves tightly closed and a plump head. Avoid artichokes that have a dried and dehydrated appearance. Make sure the heart of the artichoke does not carry any blemish by pulling a single leaf backwards.
Awesome Spinach and Artichoke Dip
Sometimes during winter, the buds have a white or bronze color but this does not affect its nutritional value or taste. The artichokes can be stored in a plastic bag under refrigeration but it is important to avoid moisture to prevent the growth of mold.
When not to use Antichokes
Although health benefits of artichokes are many, people with a known allergy to inulin and other compounds from the sunflower family should avoid consuming them. Similarly, patients with kidney disease, bleeding disorders, gallstones and obstruction of the bile duct should avoid artichokes. Women should avoid consuming excess of artichoke during pregnancy and lactation because there is no sufficient evidence of its safety. Patients who take medications such as blood thinners, painkillers and cholesterol-lowering agents should discuss possible interactions with their physician.
As scientist discover greater health benefits of artichokes, it is fast becoming obvious that there is more to this vegetable than just its exotic appearance and flavor and using it on a regular basis appears to be a good thing.