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Artichoke Information & Facts

Artichokes are one of the oldest known cultivated vegetables belonging to the thistle family. They are native to North Africa, southern Europe and the Canary Islands and were valued in ancient Greece and Rome as a digestive aid. It was brought to the shores of the United States by French and Spanish explorers. Today, Italy is the largest producer of artichokes with California being the largest producer in the US.

Artichokes are an excellent source of dietary fiber and are a good source of vitamins, minerals and trace elements. They contain high levels of magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, calcium, copper and phosphorus and the trace minerals chromium and selenium.

They are also a good source of vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A, folic acid, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, pantothenic acid and pyridoxine. They are also a rich source of flavonoids which have many beneficial uses.

Medicinally, the extract is manufactured from the long, serrated basal leaves using standardized procedures. The roots and flower heads also have beneficial nutrients, but these are generally not used, as their concentration in the leaves is much higher. Today, you can have an artichoke supplement either as a stand-alone or in combination with other herbal extracts. The exact dosage to be taken will depend on the kind of supplement you have.

Artichoke And Health

Artichokes have a number of health benefits.

Artichokes are low in calories and fat apart from being a rich source of dietary fiber. For this reason, they can play an important role in any weight loss program. This is of special significance to people with Type 2 diabetes who need to lose excess weight as a means of controlling high blood sugar. The high fiber content helps benefit the bowels and helps to ease constipation. It also helps to decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol levels by binding with it in the intestines. It can also help lower the risk of colon and colorectal cancer by preventing the absorption of toxic compounds in food.

Scientific studies have shown that artichoke leaves have a high content of pharmacologically active substances. Three of these groups are caffeeolyquinic acid (CCS), flavonoids and bitter substances. Within these groups there are many compounds such as cynarin and sesquiterpene which benefit health by their cholesterol lowering actions and by increasing the secretion of bile. Initially it was thought that cynarin alone was the active component of artichoke leaf extract, but research has shown that other components too play an important role.

The human body is constantly bombarded by toxins in food and the atmosphere. The liver is the main organ responsible for removing these toxins from the body. Bile helps to carry these toxins from the liver to the intestine. Bile is also essential for fat digestion as it helps in the breaking down and absorption of fats. When the flow of bile is inhibited, a condition known as cholestasis, these toxins and cholesterol may remain in the liver and cause damage to the organ. Increased bile flow also helps protect the cells of the intestine and promotes intestinal peristalsis resulting in better digestion.

Fresh artichokes are an excellent source of folic acid, with a 3.5 oz. serving providing approximately 70 mcg. (17% of RDA). Folic acid is essential for the synthesis of DNA. Scientific studies have shown that adequate levels of folic acid are necessary in the diet during pre-conception and pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects in newborn babies. They are also rich in the other B-complex group molecules like niacin, thiamin, pantothenic acid and pyridoxine. These vitamins are essential for optimum cellular metabolic functions. In children, B-complex vitamins are essential to promote growth of a healthy nervous system.

Artichokes also contain high levels of antioxidants like vitamin C. A 100 gm. of artichokes provides about 20% of RDA. Vitamin C helps the body ward of infections and eliminate harmful free radicals from the body. It is also beneficial for diabetics and those with heart disease because of its antioxidant action. Deficiency of Vitamin C in the body leads to diseases like scurvy.

It is also a rich source of vitamin K, with 100 gm. providing about 12% of RDA. Vitamin K promotes bone formation and plays a role in the treatment of osteoporosis. Adequate vitamin K levels in the body can help limit neural damage in the brain. Studies have shown that the vitamin K content in artichokes can have a beneficial effect on people suffering from degenerative neural diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.

Artichokes are also a good source of antioxidants like ferulic acid, silymarin, caffeic acid, lutein and beta carotene, helping to protect the body from the damaging effect of free radicals.

Side Effects

Artichoke has no serious ill effects on health and less than 5% report any serious side effects. In one particular study, 1 in 100 reported an increase in flatulence. It may also cause a local atopic reaction in some people who come in contact with the fresh vegetable or its dried parts.

The only warning in regard to artichoke consumption is in cases of gall stones or bile duct occlusion. Artichokes should not be consumed in such cases as it stimulates the effect of bile and can cause further harm. Pregnant and nursing women should consult a physician before consuming artichoke supplements.

Artichoke Soup Recipe

An artichoke soup is quick and easy to make. Cook the artichoke hearts, leek, garlic and shallots with butter in a large pot till they are tender. In a cheesecloth, tie together the bay leaf, thyme, parsley and peppercorn. Add this to the pot and let the vegetables simmer and cook well. After a while, take out the herbs and puree the mixture. Throw in a dash of salt to taste, when ready to serve. Slurp this soup during the winter season and enjoy the warmth this soup will provide you.

Submitted on January 16, 2014