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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 three thousand 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, the 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 she would often 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 over three thousand years thanks to its wonderful, nutty taste and its healing properties.

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

Specifically, a hundred grams of artichoke contain:

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 consumption of 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.

Secondly, artichoke leaf extract possibly supports the body in the more efficient regulation of 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 remain in the early stages, this improvement in blood pressure is most likely due to the high potassium content.

Improvement in liver function

Studies have shown beneficial effects of artichokes on liver health. Artichoke leaf extract possibly protects the liver from damage and even allows for the growth of 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 contained in artichokes aids in the maintenance of 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, twelve 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 promising results, there are still no studies on humans and more research is needed.

Cynarin in artichokes enhances taste of other foods

A remarkable phenomenon observed following artichoke consumption 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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