Artichoke hearts are foreign to many and intimidating for some. That’s why we went to an expert, Dr. Michael S. Fenster, MD, FACC, FSCA&I, PEMBA, a faculty member at The University of Montana College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences, to help us understand the importance of this thistle-like vegetable. Here’s what he had to say:
February is perhaps my most favorite month. It combines all the elements that warm the cockles of my heart, although as a cardiologist I must confess that I was never taught exactly where those are in medical school. February is American Heart Month and a time when extra attention is paid to the number one killer of men and women in this country—heart disease.
But given that Valentine’s Day also falls within the purview of February, appropriate attention is given to matters of the heart beyond the physiological; although they still tend to deal with some of the world’s most basic biology. Invariably, in one form or another, such matters of the heart will define themselves, connect, and bond over a plate of food. And as a professional chef, this seasons and spices up the cockles and mussels in my personal kitchen.
Enter one of the super-agents of the food world: the artichoke. This delicious dynamo will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy — literally, if you don’t prepare it right by making sure you remove the fuzzy choke from the heart at its center before you eat it. The artichoke has been with us since olden times where it was consumed by the ancient Greeks in its wilder, more thistly form: the cardoon. From this original cultivar the modern artichoke was likely born where so many of the sumptuous and salubrious components of the Mediterranean diet have their origin: Sicily.
While the tender heart is buttery smooth with a pleasing, subtle, yet hearty flavor, it packs a powerful punch. Read on for five reasons to knock out any excuse for not including artichokes in your culinary repertoire.
People are all too familiar with the health benefits associated with the moderate consumption of wine and chocolate. A large portion of these benefits are believed to be the result of powerful antioxidants. Such antioxidants are also found in other plant-derived foods such as blueberries, the regular consumption of which is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, particularly in older women. However, a one-cup serving of artichoke hearts is higher in antioxidants than blueberries, chocolate, or red wine.
Happy Liver, Healthy Lipids
The ancients recommended artichoke consumption for maintenance of liver health, including keys and tinctures made from the leaves. The leaves are particularly rich in the phytochemicals cynarin and silymarin. These compounds, along with others are believed to play a role in the increased release of bile that accompanies artichoke consumption. The end result is a healthier hepatic profile and a significant improvement in blood lipid levels, including favorable effects on blood cholesterol.
It’s in Your DNA
Artichokes are an excellent source of naturally occurring folic acid. Folate is a form of a water-soluble B vitamin that is involved in the production and maintenance of DNA. Unless you are Wolverine, making sure you get enough is a critical aspect of any complete diet. Folate is so important in the development of us humans that it is prescribed to pregnant women to prevent miscarriage and birth defects. It is involved in the treatment of a wide range of disorders like alcoholism, kidney issues cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, depression, and chemotherapy side effects.
Like many wholesome and unprocessed foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, artichokes are major source of potassium. Potassium is needed by the body, and particularly the heart, to function normally. With over 60 percent of the modern Western diet consisting of processed and refined foods, it should not be a surprise that almost 75 percent of the dietary sodium enters our body this way each day. Consumption of such foods is associated with the sodium to potassium ratio that is greater than one. Such a ratio has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Dining on delicacies like artichokes helps restore the natural ratio, which is less than one and also associated with a reduction in said cardiovascular disease. Artichokes are also a great source of manganese, a critical element in weight loss and maintenance of a healthy weight.
Increasingly, the gut microbiome, that symbiotic endocrine organ with over 100 trillion bacterial minions that has co-evolved to co-metabolize our diet with us, appears to be a critical link in determining whether the balance shifts towards health and wellness or dips into disability and disease. In addition to being an area of intense investigation, it’s also become big business with all sorts of probiotics flooding the market. But it does you no good to load up on probiotics, if you don’t feed the wee beasties. And what the good minions love to munch on his fiber — particularly the kind found in artichokes. The daily recommended amount is between 30 and 38 grams men and 21 and 25 grams per day for women. Most people in the United States concerning the modern Western diet consume less than half that amount. One serving of artichokes (approximately 120 grams) provides over 10 grams of minion fodder. A prebiotic bolus guaranteed to keep you and your colonic helpers in excellent health at a fraction of the price of artificial supplements.
As you can see, Dr. Fenster feels quite passionately about the benefits of artichokes, and we can’t blame him. After washing them, cutting the top and stem off, and spreading the leaves (or petals) a bit, your artichoke is ready for cooking. If it’s the heart you’re after, you can slice the prepped artichoke from top to bottom, removing the soft choke from the inside. They’re not as difficult to prepare as people think, but if cutting into your own artichoke seems too difficult, you can buy jars or cans full of marinated artichoke hearts.
Hand-prepared or bought in a jar, we hope you see the obvious health benefits of eating artichoke hearts. We’ve decided to give you a few ways to use artichoke hearts in your own kitchen. Click ahead to see our list of 9 ways to cook with these beneficial vegetables.