You can read about the health benefits of artichokes on many websites and blogs, but does scientific research back up those claims? We took some time to dig into the facts to make sure that artichokes really deserve a more prominent place in your healthy diet. We came up with 11 science-backed reasons to add artichokes to your grocery list.
At the highest level, research is consistently showing artichokes to be one of the most nutrient-rich foods available today. They may help prevent everything from IBS and diabetes to cancer and heart disease. Most people don’t think of artichokes when making their grocery list, but you may do just that after learning about the many health benefits of this thistle-turned-vegetable. Let’s dig into the specific health benefits of artichokes.
When the USDA analyzed the antioxidant content of more than 100 foods, artichokes ranked as one of the top three vegetables. Not only were they found to have some of the highest concentrations of antioxidants overall, but they also had the highest antioxidant content per serving when compared to other vegetables. These antioxidants are responsible for many of the health benefits of artichokes that we present on this list.
Antioxidants are molecules that combat damage to human cells. They’re known to fight oxidative stress, which is a form of cellular damage caused by free radicals. This cellular damage is connected to heart disease, cancer, dementia and many other life-threatening diseases.
While we can’t eliminate free radicals from our bodies, we can consume more antioxidants to combat their damage. Everything from exercise to the transformation of food into energy can cause free radicals, so we have a continuous need for antioxidants to prevent damage that may one day lead to disease.
If you eat artichokes for no other reason, do it for the antioxidants. Do you want more in-depth information about how artichokes benefit your health? Keep reading to see what this vegetable can do when consumed along with a healthy diet.
Most artichokes sold in the United States today are grown in California, and the California Artichoke Advisory Board states that one artichoke grown in the state contains about 5 grams of fiber. The UC Davis Department of Nutrition credits each medium-sized artichoke with close to 7 grams of fiber.
The exact amount varies by the size and health of the artichoke, but this is a lot more fiber than you will receive from eating many other vegetables. For instance, a cup of spinach contains less than 1 gram, one medium carrot offers less than 2 grams and a half cup of broccoli will deliver less than 3 grams.
5-7 grams may not seem like a lot of fiber, but it adds up if you toss artichokes on top of a salad or eat them raw as a snack. They taste better than many fiber supplements and may do a better job of delivering the health benefits that your body deserves.
According to the University of California’s San Francisco Children’s Hospital, fiber comes with some amazing health benefits, including:
- Slows the absorption rate of sugar, including natural sugars found in carbohydrates
- Signals that your stomach is full faster than low-fiber foods
- Cleanses the colon
- Helps with elimination of waste
We can keep this simple by saying that you need fiber to keep your digestive system working smoothly. This allows you to use the restroom in a healthy manner while avoiding the discomfort of bloating, constipation and other signs of gastrointestinal distress.
Prebiotics are substances that support the microorganisms living in your gut. We’ve talked before about the importance of the gut microbiome to human health, and prebiotics are needed to feed the microbes that live in the colon of every human. You can take prebiotic supplements just as you supplement the actual microbes with probiotics, but getting both from your diet is still important.
Artichokes are one of the leading vegetables that contain some form of prebiotics. Try consuming them right before you take your probiotic supplement to ensure that the microbes you’re adding to your gut have the nutrients that they need to thrive.
Artichokes can have up to 4 grams of protein each, depending on the size and quality. If you’ve ever wondered how vegans get their protein, you may have underestimated the protein content of many vegetables. Most vegans consume vegetables and fruits that are ignored or unknown to most meat-eaters, and that includes artichokes.
Protein is composed of amino acids and is found in every cell of the human body. Pregnant women, children and teenagers need protein to grow, and adults need dietary protein intake to maintain healthy cells and build strong muscle. Protein shakes, bars and other supplements have become quite popular, but it’s important to get protein through your diet as well.
Artichokes and other vegetables contain much less protein than you would get from animal meat, but they’re also much lower in fat and calories. Adding artichokes to your protein shake or enjoying them fresh after a workout will add some natural protein that your muscles need to recover and grow.
5. Immune System Support
A lot of websites and blogs claim that artichokes can strengthen the immune system, but there isn’t much scientific evidence that directly connects this vegetable with enhanced immunity. The connection is more likely indirect due to the prebiotic fiber contained in artichokes. The prebiotics feed the microorganisms in the gut, and those tiny organisms have a positive impact on the immune system.
One scientific review of studies currently available determined that prebiotics do have an impact on the immune system. The researchers determined that additional research is needed to determine how that happens, but they strongly suggest that it is an indirect connection through the health of the gut.
Even with an indirect connection, this gives you just another reason to add artichokes to your diet. This is a natural way to fight off those winter colds, and children can benefit without any risk of side effects. While the impact of a few artichokes alone isn’t likely to ensure you don’t get sick, this is another weapon to add to your immunity-boosting arsenal.
6. Liver Support & Detoxification
According to an overview of experimental and clinical trials published in the journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition in 2015, artichoke plants have a medicinal impact on the liver. This is most likely due to the high concentration of cynarin, which is found mostly in the leaves. Studies have shown that this compound protects the liver and may help cells in the liver regenerate naturally.
Further research is needed before artichoke extract is used to treat liver disease, but you can get these benefits immediately by consuming more artichokes. There is also some research in support of using artichokes as a natural detox for the liver, gallbladder and digestive system. You would need to consume a lot of artichokes or artichoke extract to do that, but simply including it in your diet along with other fresh vegetables and fruits can help keep these organs clean and efficient.
7. Gallbladder Support
A study released in 2011 found that bile production increased by more than 120 percent after the application of artichoke extract mixed with water. Researchers are now considering it for the treatment of digestive disorders, but additional research is needed. What we do know is that natural components of the artichoke plant seem to support the gallbladder as well as the liver and colon.
While this is considered a health benefit for people without a gallbladder obstruction, it’s important to note that increasing the production of bile could trigger a gallbladder attack in those with an obstruction. The fact that simply eating too much artichoke could lead to that type of attack shows the power of nutrition.
8. Lowering Blood Pressure
Research published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements in 2009 showed that concentrated artichoke leaf juice significantly lowered the blood pressure of participants diagnosed with mild hypertension. While this isn’t enough proof to recommend going off your blood pressure medication, it is enough to suggest adding this vegetable into your diet for a bit of extra help.
It’s also important to note that it’s specific compounds within the artichoke plant that have the desirable impact. The amount of those compounds consumed will determine the level of benefits received. This study delivered a concentrated form of artichoke extract rather than asking participants to just add artichoke to their diets.
If artichoke extract is ever used for medicinal purposes, it will likely be in this concentrated form. This doesn’t mean that consuming artichokes won’t benefit you. It’s just not likely to lower your blood pressure on its own. When combined with a healthy lifestyle and nutritious diet, it is possible for many people to eliminate blood pressure medication. Look at the artichoke recipes listed at the end of this report if you don’t know how to cook artichoke properly.
9. Cholesterol-Lowering Properties
Cholesterol is difficult for many people to control, and some aren’t successful even with prescription medication. This is why researchers are actively studying natural foods like artichokes to see if they can help without the uncomfortable side effects that often come with medication.
There is some scientific research that proves extracts of the artichoke plant can effectively bring down high cholesterol levels, but additional research is needed before it’s considered a medical fact. This is just another reason to get your fill of artichokes as often as possible for the many potential health benefits.
Remember that the amount consumed and the frequency of consumption matter, so you aren’t likely to control your cholesterol entirely from artichokes. Consider it a powerful weapon that can help when combined with a healthy lifestyle and diet. If you want to try artichoke extract as a daily supplement, talk with your doctor to ensure that it won’t interact negatively with any of your prescription medications.
10. Protection from Disease
Some of the most exciting research surrounding artichokes relates to the vegetable’s ability to fight disease. We’re talking about life-threatening diseases that take millions of lives each year, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. These studies are ongoing and further research is needed before artichokes are turned into new medicinal applications, but there is enough research already to justify everyone adding this vegetable to their plates.
According to the National Foundation for Cancer Research, there are several reasons that artichokes may protect against cancer:
- Vitamin C
- Other nutrients
There is also scientific proof for the use of artichoke extracts to treat heart disease, diabetes and a growing list of other medical conditions. In most cases, it comes down to those antioxidants and other nutrients, so a well-balanced diet loaded with fresh or lightly cooked vegetables will give you the maximum benefit.
11. Improved Sleep
Do you often struggle to sleep because your mind is racing or you’re too stressed out to relax? Research is showing that there is likely an indirect connection between sleep quality and natural compounds found in artichokes. One study conducted on mice and published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience found that mice spent more time in the restorative phase of their sleep cycles when fed prebiotics.
This study also studied the feces of the mice to verify that the organisms in their guts were likely different from mice that were fed a normal diet without prebiotics. The conclusion was that prebiotics likely improve the health of the gut microbiome, which in turn has a beneficial impact on sleep quality.
Artichokes are one of the most powerful prebiotics out there, and they cost much less than prebiotic supplements. Try a salad with spinach, artichokes and other green leafy vegetables to feed the organisms that keep your body healthy and help you sleep soundly.
How to Cook an Artichoke
If you’re looking for the simplest way to eat an artichoke, wash it off and eat it raw. You can eat them as snacks or add them to salad, and some people use them as interesting garnishes for light dishes. They aren’t as bitter as you may expect, and you may enjoy the nutty taste once your taste buds adjust.
If you prefer your artichokes cooked, there are multiple options, including:
- Steamed artichokes
- Baked artichokes
- Boiled artichokes
- Grilled artichokes
- Fried artichokes
Research has shown that you lose some of the nutritional benefits when artichokes are heavily cooked. If you want to maximize the nutritional quality of your food, try tossing fresh artichokes on your salad or using it as a plate garnish. You may also dip artichokes in a healthy, homemade dip to use it as a snack. Steaming is the next best option because it leaves the artichokes crisp and barely cooked.
In closing, we’ll spill a secret about eating artichokes raw: They will make whatever you place in your mouth next taste sweeter. If you want a sweet vegetable or fruit to explode in your mouth, simply take a bite of fresh artichoke before taking a bite of the alternate produce. Enjoy the sweetness!
If you still aren’t sure how to cook artichoke properly, take a look at some of these recipes: