Artichokes: More than Just a Prickly Vegetable

Artichokes are the antioxidant-rich flower bud of a thistle plant. This time of year, you can buy “baby artichokes” at the grocery store, so we thought it would be a good time to do a deeper dive into this quirky vegetable. They are alkaline-forming on DrJ’s Alkaline Way Chart, and we recommend including them in your diet.


Artichokes have a long and storied history. Believed to have originated in the Mediterranean region, artichokes have been cultivated for over two millennia. The ancient Greeks and Romans prized them for their purported medicinal properties and esteemed them as symbols of luxury and fertility. In 800 AD, artichokes were brough to Spain by the African Moors. They were cultivated in this region and introduced to the US in the early 1800s. In the late 1800s, artichokes were brought to the Salinas Valley in California by Spanish settlers, and they still thrive there today.

As we noted in a previous blog post, “The base of the outer leaves, a larger part of the inner leaves, and the “heart” are all edible. Loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidant compounds, artichokes are considered a superfood.” Let’s take a closer look at some of the health benefits of this might vegetable.

Health Benefits of Artichokes

Aside from their delectable taste, artichokes offer an array of health benefits:

Rich in Antioxidants: Artichokes are packed with antioxidants including flavonoids, quercetin, rutin, and anthocyanins. These compounds help neutralize harmful free radicals in the body, which can otherwise lead to oxidative stress and damage to cells. By reducing oxidative stress, antioxidants in artichokes may help lower the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Interestingly, a USDA study suggested that artichokes have the highest antioxidant count of any non-legume vegetable.

Promote Digestive Health: Artichokes are an excellent source of dietary fiber, with one medium-sized artichoke providing around 6 to 7 grams of fiber. Dietary fiber is essential for maintaining regular bowel movements, preventing constipation, and supporting a healthy gut microbiome. Additionally, the soluble fiber found in artichokes can help regulate blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity.

Support Liver Health: Artichokes contain compounds like cynarin and silymarin, which have been studied for their potential benefits in supporting liver function. Cynarin, in particular, stimulates bile production in the liver and gallbladder, aiding in the digestion of fats and promoting liver detoxification. Silymarin, found in high concentrations in milk thistle (a relative of the artichoke), is renowned for its hepatoprotective properties and may help protect the liver from damage caused by toxins and oxidative stress.

Fun Fact: Cynarin is the main compound responsible for altering the perception of taste, whereby the sweetness in other foods in enhanced. Cynarin stimulates taste receptors on the tongue, specifically those responsible for detecting sweetness. When cynarin interacts with these receptors, it temporarily blocks the ability to perceive bitterness, making other flavors, particularly sweetness, more pronounced. As a result, foods consumed after eating artichokes may taste sweeter than they normally would. This is called the “artichoke effect,” or “artichoke-induced sweetness.” It’s worth noting that the perception of this artichoke-induced sweetness may vary from person to person.

May Help Lower Cholesterol Levels: Several studies have suggested that artichokes may have cholesterol-lowering effects, thanks to their high fiber content and unique compounds like cynarin. Fiber helps reduce cholesterol absorption in the intestines, leading to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in the blood. Additionally, artichokes contain plant sterols, which compete with cholesterol for absorption in the gut, further contributing to their cholesterol-lowering potential.

Potential Anti-Inflammatory Effects: The polyphenols and flavonoids in artichokes exhibit anti-inflammatory properties. Chronic inflammation is associated with various health conditions, including arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers. By reducing inflammation in the body, artichokes may help mitigate the risk of these inflammatory diseases and contribute to overall health and well-being.

Incorporating Artichokes into Your Diet

To reap the health benefits of artichokes, consider incorporating them into your diet regularly. Enjoy them steamed, grilled, roasted, or sautéed as a delicious side dish or main course. You can also add artichoke hearts to salads, pasta dishes, dips, and pizzas for an extra burst of flavor and nutrition. With their versatility and health-promoting properties, artichokes are a welcome addition to any balanced diet.

How to Prepare Baby Artichokes

While baby artichokes may look petite, they pack a punch in flavor and versatility. Here’s how to prepare them:

  • Look for small, firm artichokes with tightly closed leaves and minimal browning.
  • Trim off the top inch of the artichoke and any tough outer leaves and the stem.
  • Remove the remaining outer leaves until you reach the tender, pale inner leaves.
  • Once cleaned, baby artichokes can be steamed, sautéed, roasted, or even enjoyed raw in salads. You can cut them in half lengthwise, or slice thinly, depending on the recipe you are following.

Check out our Baby Artichoke and Sweet Potato Hash recipe!

Artichokes, with their rich history, unique flavor, and numerous health benefits, are a true culinary treasure. Whether enjoying the tender heart of a globe artichoke or savoring the delicate taste of baby artichokes, incorporating these versatile vegetables into your diet can add both taste and nutrition to your meals.

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