As vegetables go, the artichoke is among the most fascinating visually. It is as beautiful as it is delightful to eat. While many view it as a vegetable, the artichoke is actually the bud of a flower from the thistle family and at full maturity, the plant grows to a width of about six feet and a height of three to four. If not harvested from the plant, the bud will eventually blossom into a beautiful, blue-violet flower!
The bud of the artichoke flower contains the heart, the coveted meaty core of the artichoke, and is topped by a fuzzy center, or choke, which is surrounded by rows of petals, which protect the artichoke heart. With their tiny thorns, the artichoke’s petals reveal their thistle heritage. (The thorns aren’t a problem if handled carefully and they soften in cooking.)
The artichoke is a low-calorie, nutrient-rich vegetable. According to the USDA, one medium artichoke is an excellent source of fiber and vitamin C, and a good source of folate and magnesium. Artichokes are a delicious way to get nutrients that research shows we typically lack in our diets — fiber, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium and above all, antioxidants!
Artichokes contain phytonutrients, or plant compounds that have antioxidant properties and promote human health. Some of the most powerful, polyphenol-type antioxidants are found in artichokes, a few of which are highlighted below:
A flavonoid that works as an anti-carcinogen and antioxidant to protect against cancer and heart disease.
A flavonoid that promotes vascular health, helps prevent cell proliferation associated with cancer, and has anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic properties.
Color pigments in artichokes that are associated with a lower risk of certain cancers, urinary tract health, memory function and healthy aging.
An antioxidant also found in red wine and black tea. It has been shown to inhibit cell proliferation in prostate cancer cells.
LUTEOLIN AND CYNARIN
Polyphenol antioxidants that may lower cholesterol levels. Artichokes contain cyanarin, which may also help in regeneration of liver tissue.
CAFFEIC ACID AND CHLOROGENIC ACID
Contain anti-cancer, antimicrobial, anti-LDL (bad cholesterol) and antiviral properties.
This antioxidant may aid the liver in regenerative tissue growth.
Our bodies are battlegrounds for infection and diseases. Simple body functions, such as breathing in city air, and other lifestyle habits, such as smoking, produce substances called free radicals that attack healthy cells, causing oxidation (a process similar to “rusting”). When these healthy cells are weakened, they are more susceptible to heart disease and certain types of cancer. Antioxidants help protect healthy cells from damage caused by free radicals.
When it comes to nutrition, no one can out smart Mother Nature. Artichokes, with their beautiful packaging and exquisite taste, offer a unique nutritional inventory.