Artichokes contain a lot of instant nutritional perks as well as potential long-term health benefits. They’re also extremely versatile when it comes to cooking options.
Plenty of folks have never thought to eat an artichoke, mostly because it has kind of a strange look and an even stranger name. Fair.
Well, to ensure you’re not missing out, we’re intro’ing this little green goodie with everything you need to know about its nutritional value and how it translates to health boosts for your body.
You might’ve seen artichokes referred to as globe artichokes, French artichokes, or green artichokes. You might’ve also seen them being called vegetables, but they’re actually a type of thistle, which has been around for thousands of years.
An artichoke is a bulb made up of its thorny outer leaves, feathery choke, and fleshy heart. The heart is at the base of the bulb and this is what you’ll be wanting. The leaves are inedible, as is the choke unless you’re using a baby artichoke.
Eaten raw, artichokes taste slightly bitter, similar to asparagus or celeriac. When cooked (more on that later), the bitterness gives way to a milder taste that’s not unlike boiled potatoes.
They’re tasty and easy to find at the store, but are artichokes good for you? In short: yes! They pack a serious nutritional punch whether eaten raw or boiled up:
That’s a mighty little thistle, once we compare some of these values to your recommended daily intake (RDI) of certain nutrients. Artichokes contain:
25% (raw) or 15% (boiled) of your Vitamin C DV
24% (raw) or 22% (boiled) of Vitamin K DV
22% (raw) or 27% (boiled) of folate DV
19% (raw) or 13% (boiled) of magnesium DV
12% (raw) or 9% (boiled) of phosphorus DV
14% (raw) or 10% (boiled) of potassium DV
The healthy nutrient profile of an artichoke translates to a number of health benefits. For example…
Artichokes contain a boatload of antioxidants
Antioxidants protect against a huge range of health conditions by helping your body get rid of the toxic byproducts of processing oxygen. Artichokes are a potent source of antioxidants, meaning they could play an active role against:
Age-related eye disease
Artichokes can tell good cholesterol from bad
We’re reasonably sure that artichoke leaf extract plays a role in keeping cholesterol low – essential for your heart and your health in general. Better still, evidence suggests that the extract can balance the ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol and the ‘bad’ (LDL) type.
Get used to artichoke leaf extract. This is what most studies use when they examine the health benefits of artichokes. It’s a concentrated version, usually sold in pill form. Very little formal research has been done on the plant itself, but we can reasonably assume its health effects will be similar to the extract.
You may be able to regulate your blood pressure with an artichoke
Studies on animals and test tube-bound cells suggest that artichokes might help keep your blood pressure steady. We know they’re a solid source of potassium, which regulates the blood. Some research also hints that leaf extract helps your body produce eNOS, an enzyme which keeps blood vessels wide enough to facilitate a healthy flow of the red stuff.
Your liver could get a boost from artichokes
Recent studies indicate that artichoke leaf extract might be good for helping your liver function. It helps repair damage done to the liver, speeding up the rate at which tissue grows back. It also increases the rate at which you produce bile, helping flush toxins out of the liver.
As with most of these benefits, we need more research before we can say for sure how they work. At our current best guess, it’s the antioxidants silymarin and cynarin that are to thank.
Artichokes might be great for digestion and IBS
Because they’re so rich in fiber, artichokes help keep things moving along nicely as far as your digestion is concerned. In particular, a type of fiber called inulin is present in artichokes. This is especially good for promoting healthy digestion.
If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inulin appears to be good for regulating gut bacteria and easing the spasms that sometimes come with the condition. Overall, the existing evidence is looking good for artichokes and your digestive system.
Studies have hinted that artichoke leaf extract might play a role in lowering your blood sugar levels. However, what little research in this area we have tends to mix the extract with other plants. Other studies have taken place on rats, but not humans.
The strongest evidence we have suggests that the specific enzyme which turns starch into glucose (called alpha-glucosidase) might be the key. However, we need to know more before we can say how artichokes interact with that enzyme.
Artichokes (might) fight cancer cells
The high antioxidant content packed into artichokes gives it a healthy start as a cancer-buster. More detailed studies have suggested that the leaf extract might slow the growth of cancer cells. Others indicate that the extract could have potential in other cancer therapies.
But, it’s still very early days for this research. Most studies have been done either on rats or cells contained in test tubes. We need to know more about how exactly the extract affects cancer cells in actual humans.
Artichokes are a very flexible food. You can get artichokes at pretty much any grocery store, but not all are created equal. To pick a nice ripe artichoke, look for:
Weight. A heavier artichoke means it’s still retaining plenty of moisture, meaning it’s closer to peak ripeness.
Sound. The leaves of a healthy artichoke should squeak against each other if you squeeze it. No squeak means dried-out leaves.
Form. A perfect artichoke’s leaves will be opened only slightly, without too much separation. If the leaves are opened up too much, it could be too old.
Finally, you might find an artichoke whose leaves are peeling a bit. These have been hit with a touch of frost, but they’re still perfectly fine to eat. In fact, some people insist that frost-kissed artichokes are even tastier.
Artichokes can be grilled, braised, or baked. Two of the most common (also quickest and easiest) ways to prepare an artichoke, however, are steaming and boiling. In either case, you’ll need to prepare it for cooking.
To do this:
Use a sharp pair of scissors to snip the thorny tips off the outer leaves
Cut off the tip of the artichoke (about an inch down) using a sharp knife
Pull off the small, looser leaves around the base and stem
Slice off any excess stem so you’ve only got about an inch sticking out of the artichoke’s base
Rinse your artichoke, making sure the water gets in between the leaves
To steam your artichoke (one per person):
Toss a clove of garlic (cut into two halves), a bay leaf and a slice of lemon into two inches of water
Put a steaming basket on top of the pot and boil the water
Place your artichokes into the steaming basket
Steam for 25-35 minutes until the outer leaves can easily be pulled off
If you prefer to boil your artichokes, do so in lightly salted water for 20-30 minutes. As with steaming, you’ll know it’s time to eat when the leaves are easy to peel off.
Once the heart is cooked, you can use it in:
Artichoke allergies are extremely rare, most people are at no risk from eating a cooked or raw artichoke. You may be at higher risk if you’re also allergic to other plants of the aster family (like daisies, thistles, sunflowers and kiwis).
Artichoke extract is more concentrated. It’s recommended that pregnant or breastfeeding women avoid the extract, but we don’t have enough data yet to say whether or not it’s safe.
Because artichoke leaf extract helps increase bile movement, you should probably avoid it if you have bile duct obstruction or gallstones.
Folk have been eating artichokes since the days of old, but we still need more research to know exactly how these delicious thistles really benefit our bodies. That gives them an air of mystery, but don’t feel put off trying them.
Their versatility and unique flavor might just make them your new best culinary buddy!
More than 55 million people live with dementia, and it is one of the biggest causes of death and disability worldwide.
Research shows a healthy lifestyle can cut the chances of getting dementia, even for people whose genes put them at increased risk.
Scientists have shown 7 healthy habits seem to stop up to 43% of people developing the condition.
Eating well, exercising and not smoking all play a big part in preventing dementia.
Researchers have found that people whose genes put them at increased risk of dementia can reduce their chances of getting the condition by up to 43% if they follow seven habits for healthy living.
It was already thought that a healthy lifestyle could cut the risk of dementia, but until now it has been less clear if this applied to people with genetic variants that make them more likely to develop the condition.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says dementia is the seventh leading cause of death among all diseases worldwide and is responsible for millions of older people enduring disability and dependency. With the proportion of older people increasing in almost every country, the WHO expects dementia cases to rise to 139 million by 2050.
A study from the American Academy of Neurology investigated whether people with a higher genetic risk could reduce their chances of getting the condition. Researchers followed almost 12,000 people for 30 years and scored them on how closely they followed the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 – a list of lifestyle habits linked to good cardiovascular health.
1. Manage your blood pressure. Keeping your blood pressure within a healthy range reduces the strain on your heart, arteries and kidneys.
2. Control cholesterol. High cholesterol contributes to plaque which can clog arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke.
3. Reduce blood sugar. High levels of blood sugar can damage your heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves.
4. Get active. There’s strong evidence daily physical activity increases the length and quality of your life.
5. Eat better. A healthy diet is one of the best ways to prevent cardiovascular disease.
6. Lose weight. Shedding a few pounds can reduce the burden on your heart, lungs, blood vessels and skeleton.
7. Stop smoking. Smokers have a higher risk of developing a range of serious illnesses including heart disease.
Participants in the dementia study were asked to score themselves on a scale of 0 to 14 depending on how closely they followed all seven healthy habits. Researchers also calculated their genetic risk, based on whether they had variants linked to a higher or lower chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease, which is a major cause of dementia.
Alzheimer’s Diesease, a result of rapid ageing that causes dementia, is a growing concern. Dementia, the seventh leading cause of death worldwide, cost the world $1.25 trillion in 2018, and affected about 50 million people in 2019. Without major breakthroughs, the number of people affected will triple by 2050, to 152 million.
To catalyse the fight against Alzheimer's, the World Economic Forum is partnering with the Global CEO Initiative (CEOi) to form a coalition of public and private stakeholders – including pharmaceutical manufacturers, biotech companies, governments, international organizations, foundations and research agencies.
The initiative aims to advance pre-clinical research to advance the understanding of the disease, attract more capital by lowering the risks to investment in biomarkers, develop standing clinical trial platforms, and advance healthcare system readiness in the fields of detection, diagnosis, infrastructure and access.
The participants had an average age of 54 when the research started. Around 9,000 had European ancestry and 3,000 African ancestry.
By the end of the study 1,603 people with European ancestry and 631 people with African ancestry had developed dementia. Those with the highest scores for following a healthy lifestyle were much less likely to have dementia, including participants who had genetic variants linked to Alzheimer’s.
Study author Adrienne Tin, from the University of Mississippi Medical Centre in Jackson, says: “The good news is that even for people who are at the highest genetic risk, living this same healthier lifestyle [is likely to] lower risk of dementia.”
In those with European ancestry, participants with the highest scores for living healthily were up to 43% less likely to get dementia than those scoring lower. For those with African ancestry, following the healthy habits was linked to a 17% lower risk of developing the condition. But the study’s authors say the smaller numbers of people with African heritage taking part means the findings are less certain for this group, so more research is needed.
If adopting these seven healthy habits can reduce the number of people who get dementia, it won’t just be individuals who benefit. The World Health Organization says dementia has high global social and economic costs too. Informal carers - including family and friends - spend an average of five hours a day caring for sufferers, and the global financial bill is expected to be more than $2.8 trillion by 2030.
There are many organizations around the world working to help accelerate advances in prevention and treatment of the condition. Davos Alzheimer’s Collaborative is led by the World Economic Forum and The Global CEO Initiative on Alzheimer’s Disease and is investing $700 million over six years into drug development and healthcare diagnostics.
Speaking at a meeting of the DAC Learning Laboratory in May 2022, its co-chair, George Vradenburg, highlighted the importance of remembering that Alzheimer’s can affect anyone, regardless of their economic, racial or geographic status.
“We are explicitly global in character. We want to make sure from the very beginning of this effort that we involve low- and middle-income countries and that we pay attention to all societies, all resource settings and all racial and ethnic legacies as we move forward on the path to cure Alzheimer’s.”
Simon Read, Senior Writer, Formative Content
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.