OKEY-DOKE, ARTICHOKE

This Mediterranean thistle is fun to eat and good for you

NINA MARINELLO
Section: Health,  Page: D3

Date: Saturday, June 26, 2010

Dear Healthy Professor: I heard that artichokes are a good choice if you are trying to lose weight. Is this true?


Answer: If you are watching your weight, artichokes are just what the nutritionist ordered.


A medium artichoke is only about 60 calories, rich in vitamins and minerals and has more than one fourth of the daily recommendation for fiber, about 7 grams. Artichokes are one of the highest sources of antioxidants and even supply some protein.


They come in different varieties and sizes, but most of us are familiar with the globe or green artichoke. They taste delicious and the best part is they take a long time to eat, definitely helpful when dieting. Preparation can be a bit daunting for some cooks so I suggest finding a cookbook or website (www.artichokes.org) to help you prepare this nutrient-rich vegetable.


Thinking about artichokes brings me back to my childhood and reminds me how well I ate and how I should return to my food roots more often. It also made me think about the book "Food Rules" by Michael Pollan (Penguin Group, 2009). This nutrition philosophy book is chock-full of words of wisdom addressing what we should eat, what kind of food we should eat and how we should eat.


In this short book, the author gets his point across very clearly; eat food, mostly plants and not too much. My favorite bit of advice is not to eat anything my great-grandmother (or my grandmother for that matter) wouldn't recognize as food. Artichokes remind me of my grandmother, how she cooked and how she fed us when she lived with us in Brooklyn.


I can still taste her warm meat pies filled with olives, tomatoes and a bit of ground beef that were better than any take-out burgers around. She would fry bits of dough in olive oil early in the morning instead of buying donuts from the store. She would make us an after-school snack of crusty Italian bread drizzled with olive oil. She fed us the Mediterranean way, and I didn't even know it. My grandmother ate well, walked a lot and maintained the same healthy weight her whole life.


Getting back to artichokes, I can still remember sitting around the dinner table on a holiday or a special Sunday and artichokes would be on the table. I would usually share one with one of my three sisters or get a whole one for my very own. Dipping the leaves into vinaigrette dressing and pulling the leaf between my teeth was almost hypnotic. I still remember that after eating the tender center of the artichoke (the heart), my grandmother would tell me to sip cold water for a sweet taste sensation.


As a nutritionist, I learned that artichokes contain the phytochemical cynarin, which stimulates the taste buds and is responsible for the sweet taste. To be honest, it was more fun thinking that my grandmother knew something mysterious about artichokes and shared it with me.


I am going to start making artichokes more often, both for nutrition and tradition. I know my grandmother would approve.


What nutrition topic are you curious about? E-mail me your questions at thehealthyprofessor@hotmail.com.





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