Jerusalem Artichokes: Health Benefits & Nutritional Properties
The Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), native to eastern North America, belongs to the sunflower family of plants. Also known as the earth apple, sunchoke, sunroot and topinambour, the Jerusalem artichoke is a healthy root vegetable cultivated for its highly nutritious and fleshy tuber. The skin of the root, which varies in color from light brown and white to purple and red, can be eaten as well, provided that you clean it thoroughly before eating.
Jerusalem artichokes can be eaten raw or cooked, and they make a nice, health boosting addition to soups and salads alike. To learn more about the health benefits of eating Jerusalem artichokes, keep reading. The paragraphs below aim to provide an overview of the most important health benefits and nutritional properties of Jerusalem artichokes.
Jerusalem artichokes have prebiotic effects
Jerusalem artichokes contain plenty of inulin, a type of prebiotic fiber that has been credited with a number of health benefits due to its medicinal properties. Many of these health effects can be attributed to the ability of inulin to stimulate the growth of bifidobacteria. Naturally present in the large intestine, bifidobacteria fight harmful bacteria in the intestines, prevent constipation, and give the immune system a boost. Furthermore, evidence indicates that bifidobacteria help reduce intestinal concentrations of certain carcinogenic enzymes.
Further health benefits for the digestive tract due to thiamine
Jerusalem artichokes are packed with B vitamins, particularly thiamine, with a 100-gram portion (3.5 ounces) of raw Jerusalem artichokes providing 0.2 milligrams of thiamine. This correponds to about 13% of the recommended daily value for thiamine. Thiamine, also known as vitamin B1, is involved in a number of bodily functions. It is crucial for the proper functioning of the nervous system and the muscles. It is also needed for carbohydrate metabolism as well as for the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Lack of hydrochloric acid may impair protein digestion and cause stomach pain by inhibiting the activation of the enzyme pepsin. Furthermore, low acid levels in the stomach increase the risk of bacterial overgrowth in the stomach, which in turn may cause diarrhea or decreased absorption of health benefiting vitamins and minerals. The natural level of hydrochloric acid decreases as we age, and therefore especially older people might want to eat plenty of Jerusalem artichokes and other foods that promote the production of hydrochloric acid.
Jerusalem artichokes have a gentle effect on blood glucose
With a glycemic value of 50, Jerusalem artichokes are considered a medium GI food. The glycemic index (GI) classifies foods and beverages based on their ability to increase the level of glucose in the blood. Carbohydrates in foods with a high GI rating break down into simple sugars quickly and cause blood glucose levels to rise sharply. This surge is followed by a steep decline in blood glucose levels. Evidence suggests that the fluctuating blood glucose levels associated with eating high GI foods may significantly increase the risk of a wide range of health problems such as fatigue, heart disease, altered mood, intense food cravings, insulin resistance and diabetes. By contrast, low and medium glycemic foods such as Jerusalem artichokes are digested slowly, and they do not cause rapid fluctuations in blood glucose levels. Due to their gentle effect on blood glucose levels, low and medium glycemic foods like Jerusalem artichokes can help curb cravings, prevent mood swings, fight fatigue, manage PCOS symptoms, improve diabetes control, and even reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Furthermore, low/medium GI eating can be a successful weight loss strategy! When the carbohydrates in our food cause our blood glucose levels to rise, our bodies respond by secreting a pancreatic hormone called insulin. One of insulin's biological purposes is to stimulate the uptake of blood glucose by the body's liver, muscle and fat cells which can then store it for later energy use. The higher the blood glucose levels, the more energy will be stored, particularly in the form of body fat.
Jerusalem artichokes are an excellent source of potassium
Jerusalem artichokes provide even more potassium than bananas which are famous for their high potassium content: a 100-gram portion of raw Jerusalem artichokes delivers 429 milligrams of potassium, while bananas provide 358 milligrams of this important mineral. Potassium is essential for good health and it is particularly important for a healthy heart and properly functioning muscles. What's more, by eating Jerusalem artichokes and other potassium-rich foods you may also improve the health of your bones and even reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis. Potassium-containing foods such as Jerusalem artichokes and bananas are considered particularly beneficial for people who eat a lot of salty food (potassium can counteract some of the negative health effects of salt).
A nutritious root vegetable that promotes hair health
Jerusalem artichokes are a good source of hair health promoting nutrients such as iron, copper and vitamin C. A 100-gram serving of raw Jerusalem artichokes provides almost a fifth of the recommended daily intake for iron. Dietary iron carries oxygen to the hair, keeping hair follicles healthy. Evidence suggests that depleted iron stores are among the most common causes of hair loss in pre-menopausal women. Similar to iron, copper helps prevent hair loss and boost hair growth. Additionally, copper is sometimes used as a treatment for thinning hair, and it is thought to intensify hair color and prevent premature graying of hair, too. Vitamin C, on the other hand, is required for the synthesis of collagen. Collagen contributes to healthy hair by strengthening hair follicles and by keeping blood vessels in the scalp healthy. Vitamin C in Jerusalem artichokes also promotes iron absorption from foods.
Tip: If you are interested in learning more about the nutritional approach to healthy hair, check out healwithfood.org's Nutrition Guide to Healthy Hair.