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Artichokes: The 3,000-Year-Old Greek Superfood

Artichoke superfood
Artichokes. Credit: Nino Barbieri/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.5

The artichoke is one of the oldest known Greek superfoods, with many powerful medicinal properties, while it is also used in delicious recipes that tempt our palates today.

The artichoke (Cynara cardunculus) has a history going back 3,000 years, and carries on its thick, green leaves many myths from ancient Greece.

In ancient Greece it was considered food for the Gods of Olympus, while in ancient Rome it was intended only for the palates of aristocrats.

In the Middle Ages, artichoke was viewed as a rare, exotic delicacy and was available exclusively in the palaces of kings.

Today, the green vegetable that resembles a flower, is one of the most widely consumed superfoods.

Zeus and the artichoke

According to Greek mythology, the first artichoke was actually a beautiful, young mortal woman named Kynara, who lived on an Aegean island.

One day Zeus visited Poseidon’s brother and suddenly saw Kynara swimming in the blue waters off the island’s beaches. He immediately fell in love with her and made her a goddess to be seated next to him on Mount Olympus.

However, Kynara felt homesick for her old way of life and often she would secretly leave the heights of Mount Olympus to go down to her island to swim.

When Zeus discovered this, blinded by jealousy and the feeling of betrayal, he turned Kynara into a plant.

Artichoke: The Mediterranean superfood

That plant, now called the artichoke, is produced mainly in the Mediterranean and in the Americas. It has been used as a food for more than 3,000 years, thanks to its wonderful, nutty taste and its healing properties.

It is considered a superfood, having a high concentration of antioxidants and vitamins, having great nutritional value.

Specifically, 100 grams of artichoke provide:

Energy (calories) 53
Carbohydrates (g) 11.9
Proteins (g) 2.9
Fat (g) 0.3
Fiber (g) 5.7
Calcium (mg) 21
Iron (mg) 0.61
Magnesium (mg) 42
Phosphorus (mg) 86
Potassium (mg) 285
Vitamin C (mg) 7.4
Folic acid (μg) 89
Niacin (mg) 1.107
Lutein & Zeaxanthin (μg) 463

Health benefits of eating artichokes

Lowering cholesterol is one of the many benefits of eating this delicious vegetable.

Studies have shown that artichoke leaf extract can have a positive effect on cholesterol levels, either by lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol or by increasing “good” HDL cholesterol.

Artichokes can affect cholesterol through two different biochemical pathways. First, they contain luteolin, an antioxidant that prevents the formation of cholesterol.

Second, artichoke leaf extract possibly leads the body to better regulate cholesterol levels through the greater elimination of sterols and bile acids.

Regulation of blood pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Studies have found that artichoke leaf extract helped regulate blood pressure in people with mildly high BP.

Although studies are still in the early stages, this improvement in blood pressure is most likely due to the high potassium content.

Improvement in liver function

Research shows that artichokes have beneficial effects on liver health. Artichoke leaf extract may protect the liver from damage and even help grow new tissues.

It also increases bile production, which helps remove harmful toxins and possibly helps improve liver function in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Improvement in digestive function

The large amount of fiber they contain helps maintain a healthy digestive system. Artichokes contain inulin, a type of fiber that acts as a prebiotic.

Maintaining a good gut microflora reduces the risk of certain bowel cancers and symptoms of constipation or diarrhea.

In one study, 12 adults showed an improvement in gut bacteria when they consumed an artichoke extract containing inulin every day for three weeks.

Potential anti-cancer protection

Certain antioxidants (rutin, quercetin, silymarin and gallic acid) in artichokes are thought to be responsible for anti-cancer effects.

For example, silymarin has been found to help prevent and treat skin cancer in animal studies. Despite the promising results, there is still no research on humans and more research is needed.

Cynarin in artichokes improves the taste of other foods

A remarkable phenomenon observed after consuming artichokes is the feeling of a sweet taste in other foods — even in water — consumed at the same time.

This is due to the presence of cynarin contained in the artichoke, which seems to affect the sweet taste sensors present in the taste buds.

This means that a meal with artichokes is likely to alter the taste of other items consumed at the same time, such as salad, wine, or even meat.


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