Power Foods: Artichokes

Left alone, an unpicked artichoke will blossom into a striking purple flower. But its real beauty lies in what it can do for you. The globe artichoke frequently shows up on lists of top 10 detox foods -- and it's no wonder. An elegant member of the aster family, it's low in calories, a good source of vitamins and minerals, and replete with nutrients that ease digestion and lower cholesterol, among other wellness rewards.

Whole-Wheat Pizza with Artichokes and Pecorino
Steamed Artichokes
Spicy Aioli
Tarragon-Yogurt Dip

Health Benefits
Leaves and heart combined, one medium artichoke has just 60 calories, more than six grams of fiber, and four grams of protein. Artichokes also provide a good source of magnesium, potassium, and folate, nutrients that help improve muscle function and heart health.

The real draw for artichokes, though, is their ability to promote liver health and soothe digestive issues such as nausea, pain, and bloating. For this we have the flavonoid silymarin to thank. A powerful antioxidant, silymarin boosts liver function by stimulating cell regeneration and scavenging for free radicals. In addition, it helps the liver cope with big toxic loads.

Artichokes help the liver in another way -- with cynarin, a caffeoylquinic acid found primarily in the leaves. Cynarin promotes the liver's bile production, which in turn helps break down fatty foods. According to some studies, cynarin also helps lower cholesterol.

Finally, this versatile vegetable can even stimulate sweet receptors. Back in the 1930s, a scientist found that after eating an artichoke, two thirds of his dinner guests thought that even a glass of water tasted sweet (a researcher at Yale University later confirmed this phenomenon). It makes one wonder-who needs ice cream when you have artichokes?

How to Buy
Look for firm, heavy, medium-sized artichokes. To test for freshness, squeeze the artichoke and listen for a squeaky sound. Refrigerated in a plastic bag, artichokes will keep for up to five days.

Cooking tip
To keep cut artichokes from discoloring, place them in water with juice from one lemon.

Did You Know?
Artichokes have an ancient reputation as an aphrodisiac. During the Renaissance, physicians considered the flower's powers so potent that they prescribed them to men who sought to increase their "skills" in the bedroom. Today, we prize the artichoke as much for its flavor as its intrinsic benefits. But its sex appeal remains: Marilyn Monroe was crowned the first California Artichoke Queen in 1949.

Nutrition Breakdown
Per one cooked, boiled, drained, medium globe artichoke

Calories: 60 kcal
Fat: 0.19 g
Fiber: 6.5 g = 26 percent* of DRI**
Iron: 1.55 mg = 8.3 percent of DRI
Magnesium: 72 mg = 23 percent of DRI
Vitamin C: 12 mg = 16 percent of DRI
Folate: 61 mcg = 15 percent of DRI

* Percentages are for women 31-50 years old who are not pregnant
** DRI, Dietary Reference Intakes, is based on National Academy of Sciences' Dietary Reference Intakes, 1997-2004

Text by Jane Black
Recipes by Kristen Evans

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