These Artichoke Health Benefits Are Hard to Beat
At first glance, artichokes may seem awkward. They're bulky, covered in leaves, and kinda look like oversized green pinecones. But don't let that fool ya — artichokes are surprisingly easy to prepare and insanely nutritious. Not only is the veggie full of fiber, but it's also considered one of the top sources of antioxidants. Still on the fence? Ahead, check out the many impressive health benefits of artichokes, along with how to prepare and eat them.
What Is an Artichoke?
The artichoke (or the globe artichoke) is a teardrop-shaped vegetable that's actually the unopened flower bud of the artichoke plant, according to North Carolina State University. It's covered in tough, inedible green-purple petals or leaves that protect the inner edible portion known as the artichoke heart. If left on the plant, an artichoke will bloom into a large, lavender-hued flower. Dubbed the Official Vegetable of California, the green veggie is a member of the sunflower family, along with chicory, lettuce, and Jerusalem artichoke, which, despite its name, is not a type of artichoke.
Artichokes are packed with vitamins A, C, K, along with potassium, magnesium, folate, zinc, calcium, and iron, according to Jonathan Poyourow, R.D., L.D., C.S.C.S., registered dietitian and associate professor at Johnson and Wales University.
They're also a stellar source of fiber, a type of carb that fills you up, promotes normal bowel movements, and lowers your risk for diseases such as diabetes. More specifically, one medium artichoke (~128 grams) has nearly 7 grams of this key nutrient, thereby providing about one-third of your daily fiber needs, explains Sarah Rueven, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., registered dietitian and founder of Rooted Wellness. (FYI — the daily fiber requirement is 25 grams for women and 30 grams for men.)
Here's a quick nutritional profile of one raw, medium artichoke (~128 grams) according to the United States Department of Agriculture:
- 60 calories
- 4 grams protein
- <0.2 grams fat
- 13.5 grams carbohydrate
- 7 grams fiber
- 1 gram sugar
Artichoke Health Benefits
With its rich cocktail of essential nutrients, artichokes should totally be on your radar. Here are the many artichoke health benefits, according to dietitians and scientific research:
Supports Healthy Digestion
Dealing with digestive woes? Artichokes can help. The nutrient-dense veggie contains insoluble and soluble fiber, both of which promote healthy number twos. Insoluble fiber increases fecal mass and stimulates intestinal muscle movement to push stool through your system. This can be particularly helpful for those with constipation, according to the Mayo Clinic. Soluble fiber, on the other hand, dissolves in water, creating a gel-like substance that slows digestion and potentially eases diarrhea. (Related: What Is a Gut-Healing Diet, Really?)
And you can't talk about the soluble fiber in artichokes without calling out inulin. A type of soluble fiber, inulin is a prebiotic, meaning it feeds the "good" bacteria in your gut, explains Rueven. By providing fuel to the good guys, inulin can help balance your microbiome, which is essential for metabolizing nutrients and managing digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome.
While artichokes might ease tummy troubles for some, they can actually cause them — i.e. diarrhea, gas, pain — for others, says registered dietitian Alka Chopra, R.D., C.D.E. And this is especially likely for those with IBS or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, as artichokes are considered a high FODMAP food, according to John Hopkins Medicine. This means that they have certain short-chain carbohydrates (FODMAPs or fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) that can be particularly hard for your body to digest. So if you have a sensitive stomach, either of the aforementioned conditions, or follow a low FODMAP diet, you might want to steer clear of artichokes.
Promotes Heart Health
Besides keeping your gut in check, the soluble fiber in artichokes can also help your heart. The soluble fiber in artichokes binds with LDL or "bad" cholesterol in the GI tract, explains Rueven. From there, it brings along its new BFF as it's excreted in the stool, thereby preventing your body from absorbing the "bad" stuff. This also lowers your blood levels of LDL cholesterol, which, in turn, can help reduce your risk of heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Artichokes may also protect your ticker by way of blood pressure management, says Poyourow. Artichokes are rich in potassium, which can reduce blood pressure by counteracting the effect of excess sodium in your body, he explains. (High sodium levels are associated with high blood pressure, another risk factor for heart disease, according to the CDC.)
Reduces Cancer Risk
First, a quick refresher: Free radicals are harmful molecules that, in excess, can damage cells and increase oxidative stress, boosting the risk of chronic conditions and cancer. Antioxidants, however, can help combat oxidative stress — and guess what? Artichokes are full of antioxidants including vitamin A and C as well as iron, says Poyourow. (Related: The Most Antioxidant-Rich Foods to Stock Up On, Stat)
The veggie also has other plant compounds — such as gallic acid, rutin, and quercetin — that are believed to have antioxidant and anti-cancer effects. For example, a 2020 lab study found that rutin can be toxic to renal cancer cells while a 2019 lab study suggests that quercetin can destroy cervical cancer cells.
Manages Blood Sugar
Artichoke may help reduce fasting blood glucose, aka your blood glucose level on an empty stomach, according to a 2020 review in Complementary Therapies in Medicine. This is key because a high fasting blood glucose can indicate prediabetes, a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. So, how does the almighty artichoke do it? It's all thanks to its fiber content, according to a 2020 study; fiber slows down the absorption of sugar in the blood, which keeps your blood glucose levels in check. Fiber FTW. (See also: The 10 Diabetes Symptoms Women Need to Know About)
How to Pick, Prep, and Eat Artichokes
In the supermarket, artichokes are available fresh, canned, frozen, pickled, and marinated. Rueven recommends buying fresh artichokes whenever possible, as they tend to be the most nutritious and freshest option. However, artichokes are typically only in season from March to May, so it might be tricky to fresh ones during the off-season, she says. When picking fresh artichokes, look for heads with tightly packed leaves. "Splayed leaves are a sign that the artichoke is not fresh," says Rissetto. The leaves should also be firm and green with tinges of purple, according to Texas A&M University. At home, store unwashed artichokes for 3 to 4 days in your fridge's veggie drawer (or up to 1 week in a sealed container).
You can also buy canned artichoke hearts, but be sure to check the sodium content; artichokes are typically canned in salt water to preserve their freshness, notes Rueven. If choosing the canned variety, look for a low-sodium option or rinse and drain the artichokes before eating them to remove some of the salt, she suggests. (Related: 10 Quick and Creative Recipes Using Canned Food)
Pickled and marinated artichokes are excellent for adding a tangy kick to your dishes, says Chopra. They're often packaged in a brine of water, vinegar, and salt, so if you're on a low-sodium diet for, say, high blood pressure, you may want to avoid these options — or marinate your own artichokes at home.
To prepare fresh artichokes, wash them under cold water. Poyourow suggests opening up the leaves to make sure they're free of dirt and debris. Remove the bottom leaves, then cut off the stem and top quarter of the artichoke to remove the thorny parts. You should also snip off the sharp tips of the outer leaves; Texas A&M University suggests using a pair of kitchen shears, such as Gerior Heavy Duty Kitchen Scissors (Buy It, $16, amazon.com). From there, you can steam, grill, roast, or bake the artichokes — or enjoy them raw.
To eat an artichoke, pull off the leaves one at a time. The leaf itself is not edible, but the bottom of each one has a pulp-like tender part that can be eaten. For example, you could dip it into your favorite sauce, then scrape the leaf between your teeth to eat the pulpy portion. Discard the leaf. As you pick off the leaves, you'll eventually reach a fuzzy center called the choke. This also isn't edible, so scoop it out and discard that too. Finally, you'll reach the delicious edible artichoke heart in the center; this part of the veggie can be eaten as is/whole or included in any of the below culinary creations.
For starters, check out these tasty ways to eat artichokes at home:
As a steamed dish. One of the easiest ways to cook artichokes is to steam them, says Poyourow. Fill a large pot with water, fresh garlic, and herbs such as oregano or thyme. Place the artichokes in a steaming basket (Buy It, $20, amazon.com), then add it to the pot. Cover the pot and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes; the artichokes are ready when you can easily pull a leaf off the base.
As a marinated condiment. For a quick and tangy condiment, make these marinated artichoke hearts by the food blog Foodstasia. Simply soak canned artichokes in lemon juice, olive oil, and spices (i.e. oregano and chili flakes) and skip the salt if needed. Alternatively, you can find marinated artichokes next to the canned vegetables in most supermarkets; they're typically found in cans or jars, like Native Forest Marinated Artichoke Hearts(Buy It, $24, amazon.com).
In hummus. Spice up your hummus game with canned artichokes. Try this artichoke hummus recipe by food blog Feed Me Phoebe and serve it with crackers, sliced vegetables, or whole wheat pita. Want a quick fix? Try Sabra Spinach & Artichoke Hummus (Buy It, $6, instacart.com).
As a roasted topping. For another easy option, Poyourow recommends roasting canned artichokes with a medley of spices. Drain and rinse canned artichokes, then "toss them with olive oil, garlic, lemon slices, and fresh rosemary," he says. Roast them at 400°F for 30 minutes, then add to dishes such as pesto linguine or avocado toast.