Artichokes are grand-looking vegetables. They’re interesting to look at but can be intimidating to attempt to eat. Although they may not be on everyone’s top vegetables list, they are a tasty food that should not be overlooked.
They contain a high number of vitamins, minerals, even protein and fiber. They play a role in promoting liver and heart health among several other health benefits.
Keep reading to find out all you need to know about artichoke.
Did You Know?:Approximately 20 artichokes are produced from one artichoke plant within a year.
Table of Contents
History & Facts
Although often considered a vegetable, artichokes (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) are a type of thistle (1). They come from the Asteraceae or sunflower family (2). The globe artichoke, also known as green or French artichoke is the most common type consumed in the U.S. They have bulbs with thorny outer leaves, a choke, and a fleshy heart. The leaves are inedible, as is the choke unless you’re using a baby artichoke.
The artichoke is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean area and has been around for thousands of years (3). They were likely cultivated during the Roman period in Egypt. They were introduced to England by the Dutch in the 1500s and eventually made their way to the United States in the nineteenth century.
Today, artichokes are grown in several countries including Italy, Spain, France, as well as Argentina, Peru, and the United States. In the U.S., California produces nearly 100% of the crop. World production of the artichoke is around 1.5 million tons yearly (4).
Fun Fact:The peak production of artichokes is seen in March and May.
If you didn’t know already, there are tons of nutrients in artichokes. Below are some of the highlighted ones.
In one raw artichoke (128 grams weighed), there are the following macronutrients (5):
- Calories: 60 calories (kcal)
- Protein: 4.2 grams (g)
- Total fat: 0.2 grams (g)
- Carbohydrate: 13.4 grams (g)
- Fiber: 6.9 grams (g)
Artichokes contain a relatively low number of calories, and carbohydrates, a moderate amount of protein, and are high in fiber (6). They are also low in fat. Most Americans do not get adequate fiber in their diets. Eating a diet rich in fiber can help increase the feeling of fullness, reduce blood sugar spikes, lower cholesterol, and promote gut health (7). Additionally, they are a moderate glycemic index food, which means eating them won’t typically spike your blood sugar very high (8). This can be beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes.
Summary:Artichokes are low in calories and fat, moderate in protein, and high in fiber.
Vitamins and Minerals
In one raw artichoke (128 grams weighed), there are the following vitamins and minerals (9):
- Calcium: 56.3 milligrams (mg)
- Iron: 1.5 milligrams (mg)
- Magnesium: 76.8 milligrams (mg)
- Phosphorus: 115 milligrams (mg)
- Potassium: 474 milligrams (mg)
- Sodium: 120 milligrams (mg)
- Vitamin C: 15 milligrams (mg)
- Folate: 87 micrograms (mcg)
- Choline: 44 milligrams (mg)
- Beta carotene: 10.2 micrograms (mcg)
- Vitamin A: 16.6 IU
- Lutein + zeaxanthin: 594 micrograms (mcg)
- Vitamin K: 18.9 micrograms (mcg)
Artichoke is high in folate, choline, and vitamin C while also providing excellent sources of magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium (10). Not only that, but they are also high in antioxidants.
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant necessary for immune health and promoting skin health (11). Furthermore, they are very rich in antioxidants and plant compounds, which have also been noted to have health benefits.
Folate, an important B vitamin, helps to maintain normal tissue growth and cell function. It is especially important during pregnancy. Potassium is a mineral that is involved in many processes and metabolic functions in the body, one of which is regulating blood pressure.
Antioxidants help to protect against a huge range of health conditions by helping to get rid of free radicals in the body that can have negative effects (12). They have been suggested to protect against issues like heart disease, cancers, lung disease, and age-related eye disease.
Lastly, artichokes contain a compound called cynarin, which has been shown to support liver health by promoting bile production and aiding in the natural detoxification process (13).
Summary:Artichokes contain several nutrients, some of which include vitamin C, folate, choline, antioxidants, and cynarin, all great for different aspects of health.
Artichokes pack a real punch with the health benefits they offer from consuming them.
May Promote Heart Health
The American Heart Association reports that approximately 82.6 million people in the United States currently have one or more forms of cardiovascular disease (CVD), making it a leading cause of death for both men and women (14). Common types of CVD include coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and congestive heart failure.
Research suggests that both artichokes and artichoke extract may provide some benefits to heart health. Several studies conclude that supplementing artichokes into the diet may significantly lower blood pressure, specifically in those with high blood pressure and hypertension (15). How this mechanism occurs is not fully understood.
It could be because of the large amount of potassium in artichokes, which naturally regulates blood pressure. Artichoke leaves, specifically their extract, had a significantly positive effect on cholesterol levels when it was consumed daily for 1-3 months (16). In these studies, specifically total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol were reduced.
Lowering blood pressure and optimizing cholesterol levels is key when it comes to having good heart health and artichoke can help you get there.
Summary:Artichokes and artichoke extract may help lower blood pressure and optimize cholesterol levels to help promote overall heart health.
May Improve Digestive Health
Studies on artichokes and their impact on digestive health are positive. One of the reasons for this is the high amount of fiber that artichokes contain. Fiber helps promote a healthy digestive system by having regular bowel movements, increasing beneficial gut bacteria, and reducing the risk of intestinal cancers (17).
Artichokes also contain inulin, which is a type of fiber that acts as a prebiotic (18). Prebiotics are known to have a positive effect on the gut microbiome, which is exactly what studies find from consuming artichokes.
Not only that but artichokes also provide relief from indigestion symptoms, like bloating, nausea, and heartburn. People with IBS also found relief from these symptoms after consuming artichoke leaf extract.
Summary:Artichokes are high in fiber and contain inulin, which has positive effects on digestive health and the gut microbiome.
May Help Lower Blood Sugar Levels
Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a metabolic disease, involving inappropriately elevated blood glucose levels. Type 2 diabetes has a prevalence of about 9% in the total population of the United States, but approximately 25% in those over 65 years.
Unfortunately, even today, diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in the country and worldwide. In the US, it remains the seventh leading cause of death.
Artichokes, as well as artichoke leaf extract, may help lower blood sugar levels (19). A few studies suggest that certain compounds in artichoke may reduce blood sugars due to its antioxidant effects. A larger review study reports that artichoke and its products may significantly reduce fasting blood sugar levels. However, more research needs to be done to confirm these findings.
Summary:Consuming artichokes and their leaf extract may lower blood sugar levels which can help lower the risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes.
Ways to consume
When eaten raw, artichokes taste slightly bitter, potentially similar to asparagus or celeriac. When cooked, the bitterness subsides and gives a milder taste similar to boiled potatoes.
Preparing artichokes to eat can be intimidating for some, but not as difficult as it looks.
Once they are rinsed and the stem is cut off, all that they need is to be steamed for 30 to 40 minutes. This is when it can be the petals or heart can be eaten and a variety of recipes can be made. Many scrape off the meaty part of the leaves with the teeth to eat them.
Here are some ways that artichokes can be enjoyed other than eating them plain:
- Try them canned for a flavor boost
- Mix in dips, one of the famous being spinach artichoke dip
- Mix with your favorite pasta
- Added to stir fry
- Grilling them alone or with other vegetables
- Can be eaten stuffed or breaded with additional seasonings for extra flavor
- Dip the leaves in sauce like aioli or herbed butter
- Add to salads or as a pizza topping
- Turn it into a tea
Fun Fact:Artichokes are considered an aphrodisiac by the Greeks and Romans.
In general, artichokes are safe for the average person to consume. However, there are some potential risks to keep in mind.
- People with certain medical conditions: People with certain health conditions, including severe liver or kidney disease, should not consume artichokes, specifically its extract unless advised by a doctor. Artichoke extract is not generally recommended for children and people who are pregnant and breastfeeding, as there is a lack of research on its safety for these populations.
- Side Effects: Consuming artichoke extract can cause significant side effects for some. Some of these include gas, upset stomach, diarrhea, or even allergic reactions.
- Allergy: Although artichoke allergy is rare, it can happen to some (20). This allergy risk may be higher for anyone who is allergic to plants from the same family, including daisies, sunflowers, chrysanthemums, and marigolds. Consult with a medical provider if you are unsure if you should be consuming any type of artichoke.
Summary:Artichokes are in general safe, however can cause negative digestive effects, impact those with severe liver or kidney disease, and trigger allergic reactions.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I choose a good artichoke?
Size does matter when it comes to selecting a good artichoke. Look for medium-sized artichokes, not too small or too big. Look for a deep green, vibrant hue while avoiding artichokes with dull or yellowish leaves. The leaves should have a light curl on them. Avoid leaves that are moldy, wilted, or brown. When slightly squeezing the artichoke, it should feel firm and slightly heavy. Avoid soft or lightweight ones.
How should artichokes be stored?
Remove any tough leaves on the outside and trim the stem of the artichoke before storing it. Make sure it is clean of dirt or debris and rinsed off. Artichokes are best stored at room temperature in a cool and dark area.
Avoid placing them near heat or sunlight. Use containers that allow for proper air circulation otherwise, moisture can get trapped in airtight containers/plastic bags. Fresh artichokes can last for 2-3 days. If you prefer to refrigerate them, that is fine and they will last around one to two weeks.
Fun Fact:March 16th is National Artichoke Day.
Artichokes are a fun food to experiment with and can be added to several dishes. They are low in calories and fat, while being high in fiber and some protein. Regular consumption of artichokes may improve blood pressure, regulate cholesterol, decrease the risk of cancer, promote good digestive health, and regulate blood sugar levels.
They can be eaten in a variety of ways by adding them to dips, and salads, grilling them or even eating them plain on its own.
Try one of the fabulous preparation methods for artichoke today and start enjoying it for yourself!