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It's time artichokes get the credit they deserve.

By Cynthia Sass, RD, MPH
March 04, 2021
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Artichokes are among the most beautiful vegetables on the planet (seriously, just take a look at them), but they remain a bit of a mystery, even for health-conscious eaters. In fact, artichokes don't even make the list of the 20 most commonly sold veggies within the US, and their consumption has remained relatively unchanged from the 1980s through at least the mid-2000s. However, there are research-backed reasons to up your intake.

When I talk with my private practice clients about artichokes, I find that many have enjoyed the veggie at restaurants, but most have never bought and prepared an artichoke at home. Here's why you should incorporate the veg into your meals more often—and how you can do that.

Artichokes are a top source of fiber

According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), one whole, cooked artichoke packs nearly 7 grams of fiber, about a third of the daily minimum target. In addition to supporting healthy weight management and digestion, fiber also plays a role in regulating blood sugar and insulin levels for steady, even energy. It also feeds beneficial gut bacteria tied to immunity, mood, and anti-inflammation.

Artichokes are rich in antioxidants

In one USDA study, artichokes were one of the highest-ranked veggies in terms of antioxidant concentration and antioxidant capacity per serving. Antioxidants play a role in protecting cells from premature aging and dysfunction. They also curb exercise-induced cell damage and help support exercise recovery.

Artichokes are nutrient-rich

One medium-size, cooked artichoke provides more than 20% of the recommended daily value for both folate and vitamin K, as well as more than 10% of the recommended daily value for vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, and potassium.

Too little folate has been linked to a higher risk of depression and memory problems. Vitamin K, which helps properly clot blood, is also required for bone formation; a shortfall is linked to increased fracture risk. Vitamin C, which also acts as an age-fighting antioxidant, is needed for DNA repair, immune function, and the production of collagen.

Magnesium has been shown to help fight depression, boost learning and memory, and improve sleep in women. And for active people, a higher magnesium intake has been shown to improve strength, oxygen uptake, energy production, and electrolyte balance. Manganese also supports collagen production and bone health. And potassium is needed for heart function, muscle contractions, and blood pressure regulation. That's a pretty impressive nutrient profile, particularly for just 60 calories per whole artichoke, which also provides about 3.5 grams of protein.

Artichokes may help regulate blood pressure

A 2021 study analysis, published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine, found that, among people with high blood pressure, 12 weeks of artichoke consumption significantly reduced blood pressure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, having high blood pressure ups the risk of both heart attack and stroke, which are leading causes of death in the US.

Artichoke leaf extract may aid liver health

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the most common cause of chronic liver disease worldwide. Healthy eating, weight management, and physical activity can help prevent NAFLD, but artichoke leaf extract (a concentrated amount of certain substances found in the plant that is typically put into a powder or tablet form) may also play a role.

In a 2018 study published in Phytotherapy Research, scientists conducted a trial that included 100 people with ultrasound-diagnosed NAFLD. They were randomly assigned to take either 600 mg of artichoke leaf extract daily or a placebo for two months. Compared to the placebo group, those who received the artichoke leaf extract experienced increased greater improvements, including changes in liver size and blood markers for liver health. The extract also reduced total cholesterol, "bad" LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.

Jerusalem artichokes provide protective prebiotics

The green artichokes you see at the market are called globe artichokes; they are completely unrelated to Jerusalem artichokes. But given the shared name, it's worth covering this veggie's benefits, too. Jerusalem artichokes—which aren't green—are related to sunflowers and are sometimes referred to as sunchokes. These tubers, which look like a cross between white potatoes and ginger root, can be eaten raw or cooked. They're a top source of inulin, a prebiotic with multiple benefits.

Prebiotics feed beneficial bacteria in the gut linked to digestive health, immune function, and positive mood. Inulin has also been shown to boost the absorption of important minerals, including calcium and magnesium, and support the synthesis of B vitamins. Plus, inulin has been linked to the prevention of certain cancers, including breast and colorectal cancer.

But there's more to Jerusalem artichokes than inulin. A 2020 paper published in Cellular and Molecular Biology reviewed the medicinal and functional benefits of the veg. Researchers note their anti-fungal, anti-cancer, and antioxidant properties, as well as their potential to lower cholesterol, triglycerides, and high blood sugar levels. They have also been shown to facilitate weight loss, help with detoxing alcohol and heavy metals, and support immune and digestive health.

It's worth noting that globe artichokes contain some inulin too, although the amount is higher in Jerusalem artichokes.

How to select and cook a fresh artichoke

When buying artichokes at your local farmer's market or produce section, look for ones with a heavy feel, with tightly packed leaves that are firm, not squishy. A telltale sign of freshness is if the leaves give a little squeak when rubbed.

Cooking artichokes isn't difficult, but the cooking time is long compared to most other veggies. To start, lay a washed artichoke on its side on a cutting board and chop off the top inch and a half. Next, cut off the stem. Place the trimmed artichoke in a bowl, and drizzle with fresh-squeezed lemon to prevent browning. Gently pull open the leaves outward from the center, drizzle avocado oil into the crevices, and push a peeled clove of garlic into the center. Sprinkle the veggie with kosher salt, transfer to foil, and pour over any juices from the bowl. Double wrap the artichoke in foil, place in an oven-safe dish, and bake in a preheated 425-degree oven for about an hour and 20 minutes.

Once the artichoke has cooled enough to handle, open it up, take out the garlic, and pull off the purple-tipped inner leaves. Next, use the edge of a spoon to remove and toss the fuzzy, fibrous, inedible section called the choke, which covers the prized artichoke heart. To eat, pull off the outer leaves, and either enjoy as is or dip it into anything from hummus to pesto to seasoned tahini. Note: the whole leaf isn't edible—just scrape off the tender part with your teeth and discard the tough outer section. Finally, enjoy the delicious heart as is or with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

How to eat more artichokes

In addition to the oven-roasting technique included above, you can purchase globe artichoke hearts ready-to-eat in the produce section of many markets. There are also frozen, jarred, and canned options. Eat them as a side dish, or add them to omelets, salads, pasta dishes, veggie tacos, and more.

As for Jerusalem artichokes, you can eat them in ways similar to jicama. Grate, thinly slice, or cut them into matchsticks to eat raw, add to salads, or pair with dip. You can also steam, boil, or oven roast them, or incorporate into dishes like soup.

Keep in mind that both globe and Jerusalem artichokes are high FODMAP foods, so they may trigger digestive issues like bloating in people with irritable bowel syndrome. Canned artichokes hearts are fine, however, in a half cup portion or less.

If they don't upset your stomach, try to eat globe or Jerusalem artichokes a few times a month or more. Apart from their benefits, they offer a simple way to add variety, in terms of flavor, texture, and color to your plate.

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a private practice performance nutritionist who has consulted for five professional sports teams.

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