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Promote liver health with this elegant and unusual vegetable

Promote liver health with this elegant and unusual vegetable

Let us consider the artichoke.  Its appearance - featuring tough, interlocking dark green leaves - is somewhat unusual.  Its scientific name - Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus - is a real mouthful.  Even its pyramidal shape - squat on the bottom and narrower on top - is odd-looking.

Yet, the artichoke’s subtle, mild flavor and superb nutritional profile make it a true gift to the dinner table and overall health.  Trust us - you don’t want to overlook the many virtues of this delicious Mediterranean vegetable (odd-looking through it may be!)

Artichokes support health and well-being with a near-perfect balance of nutrients

The health benefits of dietary fiber are legion, and artichokes are loaded with it.  (A one-cup serving of cooked artichoke packs a hefty 10 grams of fiber).  Population studies have shown that diets high in fiber can support heart health, help manage blood sugar, lower harmful LDL cholesterol and even reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. 

In addition to fiber, each one-cup serving delivers a respectable 5 grams of plant-based protein, minimal fat and a roster of essential minerals and vitamins.  A cup of cooked artichokes delivers 34 percent of the adult recommended daily allowance for folate, a B vitamin believed to protect against strokes.  The serving also provides 21 percent of the RDA for copper, which is needed for immune health, and 15 percent of the RDA for magnesium, which the body requires for regular heartbeat and stable blood pressure. 

For good measure, artichokes contain healthy amounts of antioxidant vitamin C, niacin, and riboflavin, along with the bone-building minerals potassium and phosphorus.  And artichokes provide this wealth of health-supporting nutrients at a mere 90 calories per cup (about the same caloric investment as nine potato chips)!

Love your liver with artichokes

Artichokes are rich in quercetin, rutin, gallic acid, and silymarin - antioxidants that can scavenge harmful free radicals in the body.  But the “star” of the show just might be luteolin.  This powerful antioxidant may help clear fat deposits from the liver, helping to combat nonalcoholic fatty liver disease or NAFLD.  In a recent study published in Bioorganic Chemistry, researchers concluded that luteolin could help prevent NAFLD from progressing to a much more serious stage of the disease: nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH.  The impressed team even recommended using luteolin as a dietary supplement for NAFLD patients. (As it turns out, it’s not really that surprising that artichokes can benefit the liver.  They are closely related to milk thistle, long revered in natural healing systems as the “gold standard” herbal intervention for liver disorders).

As if this weren’t beneficial enough, artichokes also increase bile production, which helps clear toxins from the liver.  And one 2021 meta-analysis showed that artichoke extract decreased levels of inflammatory liver enzymes.  Unsurprisingly, some integrative practitioners recommend artichokes to revitalize a clogged, sluggish liver.

Artichokes support good digestion

 Artichokes can also promote digestive and gastrointestinal health.  Much of the artichoke’s fiber is in the form of inulin, a prebiotic that nourishes “friendly” bacteria in the gut microbiome (the community of microbes living in the gastrointestinal tract).  In this way, artichokes can support intestinal integrity and reduce a condition called increased intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut.” 

Another “plus” for inulin in artichokes is its ability to promote normal elimination and ease diarrhea and constipation.  Integrative practitioners sometimes advise artichokes to relieve nausea, indigestion, bloating, and gas.  This natural intervention appears to be particularly effective when it is paired with ginger, another tummy-friendly superfood.

Artichokes are simple to prepare

While artichokes may appear intimidating, they are surprisingly easy to cook.  After trimming the sharp edges of the outer leaves, you can steam artichokes for 20 to 40 minutes or bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees.  Artichokes can also be seasoned with your favorite herbs and roasted, grilled, sauteed, or stuffed.

To eat an artichoke, simply dip the leaves in lemon butter or oil, then scrape off the edible part with your teeth.  After spooning out the fuzzy “choke” at the center, you can nibble the tender, succulent hearts.  Of course, artichoke hearts - which may be marinated in some garlic and olive oil - also lend themselves perfectly to salads, spreads, hummus, and dips.

While artichokes are generally recognized as safe to eat, allergies have been reported.  An allergy to daisies, marigolds, and chrysanthemums may make sensitivity to artichokes more likely.

For even more artichoke “bang for your buck,” you can use a supplementary or extract form.  However, check with your integrative doctor before trying artichoke extract.

All told, artichokes are a delicacy that can enhance and elevate any meal while working behind the scenes in your body to supply diverse health benefits.  They make a superb addition to your healthy diet.

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