Every now and then a new weight loss aid does the rounds, claiming spectacular results with no need to cut calories or restrict your food intake in any way. Pop a pill, drink a tea, use a powder in a smoothie, etc. The weight loss miracles usually come in the form of some exotic fruit extract or root, that costs a small fortune to take on a daily basis.
With a huge marketing campaign behind them these products quickly make millions for the ‘savvy’ (scammy), entrepreneurs who saw an opportunity to make a quick buck by preying on people’s never ending desire to lose weight.
Then, as always, the latest weight loss fad fades into obscurity as it’s replaced by the next shiny, new, exotic and expensive miracle.
How nice it is then, to find a weight loss aid that is ordinary, easy to find and cheap, and that actually has some solid weight loss benefits, instead of a stream of vacuous hype. It’s not a miracle substance that will allow you to eat cookies galore and still lose weight, but as part of a sensible diet it can help in some profound ways, and give you an extra and long lasting weight loss boost.
Introducing the Humble Artichoke
Artichokes aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but they are hugely nutritious and don’t need importing from the other side of the world, making them much kinder on the environment as well as easier on your pocket.
In Europe artichokes are mainly produced in Italy (half a million tons), Spain (200,000 tons), and Southern France (36,000 tons), while the artichokes grown in the United States (43,000 tons) mostly come from California. The majority of those Californian artichokes are grown in Monterey County. The town of Castroville promotes itself as “The Artichoke Center of the World”, and even holds an annual Artichoke Festival, featuring parades, live music, art competitions and a farmers market. The crop brings in revenue of $50 million for the area, so that’s certainly worth celebrating!
The artichoke is actually a cultivated form of thistle. The part that we harvest as a vegetable is the flower head before it blooms. The plants grow up to 2 meters tall (6 feet 6 inches) and in warmer regions the artichoke is a perennial vegetable, producing the edible globe in its second and subsequent years.
If you live in a more northerly region and fancy producing your own artichokes, you can purchase seeds that have been bred to produce an annual form of artichoke – look for Imperial Star artichoke, or a newer perennial cultivar – Northern Star artichoke, which is said to be able to withstand a northern winter and survive sub zero temperatures!
Health Benefits of Artichokes
Artichokes make a great addition to a healthy diet, they only contain 22 calories for each 100 grams of vegetable, and they have a very mild taste, which takes on the flavor of whatever you cook them with. Served plain they have a flavor similar to cooked egg white – pretty bland and inoffensive.
Artichokes contain a form carbohydrate called inulin. This isn’t easily digested by the body, making inulin act as a fiber in the body rather than a sugar – that’s a huge weight loss benefit right there.
Inulin is known to regulate blood sugar levels, and artichokes are one of the best foods people with diabetes can eat.
The fleshy lobes also contain a compound called cynarin, which helps to stimulate bile secretion and promotes fat digestion. Cynarin exerts a diuretic effect too, which prevents fluid retention.
Artichokes have the one of the highest amounts of antioxidants of any vegetable and also contain plenty of fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, folate, magnesium, potassium, copper, and manganese. Other less well known components are the phytonutrients / polyphenols, cynarin, silymarin (milk thistle), quercetin, rutin, and gallic acid. These are known to help to protect against liver disease, cancer, and heart disease.
Which brings us around to artichoke water. A good portion of these beneficial nutrients leach out into the water when artichokes are cooked, and some of these nutrients can aid weight loss.
Shed Water Weight With Artichoke Water
Drinking artichoke water is a gentle and natural way to release the excess water that contributes to bloating and a pound or two on the scales. Often the amount of extra water stored in your tissues can mean the difference between fitting into one size or needing to move to the next size up – and nobody likes to pick up a bigger size off the rail. Keeping water weight at bay could mean that you can put your fat pants at the back of your closet and forget about them.
Artichokes Make Other Foods Seem Sweeter
Artichokes and their water contain cynarin which inhibits taste receptors and makes water and other foods taste sweet. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, and cravings are your downfall on low carb diets, then artichoke water will make other foods seem sweet and allow them to satisfy your cravings, keeping you solidly on your diet and away from the cookie jar.
The Fiber In Artichoke Helps Prevent Constipation And Feeds Your Gut Bacteria
The fiber in artichokes works to keeps your bowel movements regular, which is particularly helpful when you’re on a low calorie or a low carbohydrate diet. Both types are diet are known to cause a sluggish digestive system, so by incorporating artichokes you can resolve that problem in a healthy and natural way.
The fiber also feeds your ‘good’ gut bacteria, and having the right kinds of microbes makes all the difference when you’re trying to reach and maintain a healthy weight.
Your gastrointestinal tract has over 500 kinds of different bacteria which together weigh about three pounds in total.
If you have too many of the wrong kind of bacteria, these ‘little monsters’ actually influence the foods that you are drawn to eat. They don’t push you to eat healthy nutritious food, they push you to eat sugar, because sugar is the food that they thrive on. These bacteria activate the endocannabinoid system (regulates energy balance and influences metabolism), which makes you overeat sugary foods. This system also also negatively affects your muscle cells, your fat cells, and your degree of insulin sensitivity.
Those sugar cravings that destroy your efforts to lose weight, could very well be out of your control until you get rid of the harmful bacteria in your gut.
By giving your good bacteria the food source that they need to thrive – fiber which they ferment – you allow them to multiply and crowd out the bad guys. Once the sugar pimps have gone, you can get your cravings under control – unless your food cravings have an emotional trigger that is.
It isn’t just food cravings that allow bacteria to make you fat. They fundamentally change the way that your body deals with food.
Studies have proven that the bacteria in your gut can make you fat. Scientists began by looking at how gut bacteria affected the weight of mice.
They took mice that were born in a bacteria free environment and continued to raise the mice in sterile surroundings. The mice didn’t get fat, even when they were fed the same diets that make ordinary mice obese – namely diets high in fat, fructose or sucrose.
Other bacteria free mice fed a healthy, no-weight- gain inducing diet stayed lean and healthy until they had bacteria from obese mice transferred to them. While eating the same healthy diet the mice became obese!
Just to double check, the scientists took bacteria from the guts of lean mice and administered it to the now obese mice. Their diet remained the same, and in time the mice returned to their normal lean state.
Moving onto humans, researchers found four sets of identical twins where one twin was obese and the other a healthy weight. Germ-free mice were given gut bacteria from both twins. The mice that received bacteria from the lean twins stayed lean and healthy. Whereas the mice that were given bacteria from the obese twins piled on the weight.
Subsequently the researchers allowed the two sets of mice to live together, mingling and naturally swapping some bacteria.
Once exposed to the lean mice with their bacteria, the obese mice eventually became lean too.
As scientists understand more about obesity, they have discovered that adipose tissue (fat) inflammation plays a large role in whether you get fat in the first place and how easily you can lose extra weight when you need to.
Inflammation causes adipose tissue to be prone to further enlargement, and to send hormonal signals which cause metabolic disruption and reduce insulin sensitivity in muscle tissue.
One of the underlying causes for this inflammation is the activity of certain gram-negative bacteria like Desulfovibrionaceae, enterobacter, shigella, klebsiella, and Escherichia. These bacteria release endotoxins called Lipopolysaccharides, which strongly influence systemic inflammation and can contribute to obesity.
But your gut bacteria aren’t done making you fat yet, they actually increase fat storage by suppressing a hormone known as Fasting Induced Adipocyte Factor (FIAF). This hormone regulates lipid metabolism. When it’s missing or suppressed, obesity follows.
Mice who were bred and raised in a sterile environment and consequently had no gut bacteria, had no obesity or insulin resistance no matter what they ate but they soon developed obesity when they were introduced to normal mice gut bacteria. Tests showed that these bacteria had suppressed the production of FIAF resulting in a greater proportion of triglycerides ending up deposited in fat cells.
It’s no exaggeration to say that having the wrong gut bacteria can cause obesity, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. In addition to making you crave the foods that they want you to eat, these bacteria make you feel really bad when you don’t give them what they want.
They achieve this by mucking about with your mood via their influence on the endocannabinoid system, and by their ability to influence the vagus nerve and the enteric nervous system.
The vagus nerve runs from your gut to your brain and the signals carried along it affect your perception of hunger and fullness. The bacteria can basically send a message to your brain via the vagus nerve which says send more food. A bit like when those zombies in Return Of The Living Dead get on the police radio and say “send more cops” (for them to eat). Good luck trying to ignore those powerful messages, especially when the willpower in force at the beginning of your diet flags by the end of the first week.
Your enteric nervous system is your “gut brain,” a network of nerves in your gut. This second brain actually contains more neurotransmitters than the brain in your skull, and the two are linked in intricate ways. When bacteria affect this system, they completely screw up the way that your body processes food, extracts energy, stores energy and burns energy.
To lose weight and fix your metabolic issues, the first thing that you need to do is throw those bad bacteria out. And the good bacteria in your gut are just the guys to flex their muscles and do it for you. Feed those good bacteria and they will crowd out the bad bacteria, enhance the integrity of your gut lining (preventing lots of gut issues), and produce short chain fatty acids.
Short chain fatty acids are definitely something you want more of. They decrease systemic inflammation, increase satiety (feelings of fullness), increase leptin production, improve insulin sensitivity in muscle tissue so that your muscles use energy, and decrease insulin sensitivity in adipose tissue so that your fat cells don’t grab onto energy and turn it into fat.
Giving the good bacteria fiber is a fantastic way to increase the numbers of good bacteria that you have working for you. But you also need to increase their diversity. If you’ve wiped out entire species of bacteria, then they need replacing. You can try using a pre biotic or a probiotic but the best way to add to your microbiome is by eating raw locally grown vegetables.
The very best way to get an awesome amount of fat busting bacteria, is to eat produce that you’ve grown in your backyard. Pull up a sweet carrot, lightly brush of the visible dirt and get munching.
Once produce is washed and packed a huge number of bacteria are destroyed, so it’s better to get food that’s in the most natural state possible.
If you can’t, or don’t want to grow your own veggies, then head to a farmers market and pick up unwashed vegetables there. Fermenting these vegetables will massively increase the numbers of available bacteria too.
Polyphenols, like those abundant in artichokes and artichoke water, are also excellent for supporting the good bacteria population in your gut.
Anytime that you take a course of antibiotics you really mess up your bacteria balance. So whenever you take antibiotics, take extra care to reintroduce foods that carry bacteria and to eat plenty of fiber to feed them with.
So now you know that eating artichokes and using the water they’ve been cooked in can be very beneficial for your health and for your weight loss efforts.
You can use the cooking water as a hot tea, you can chill it and drink it as a refreshing cool drink, you can use it as cooking water to cook beans (another good food for gut bacteria) and you can use it as a base for a nourishing broth or soup.
How To Make Artichoke Water
For two medium artichokes use five cups of water. Slice the artichokes in half and drop them in a pan of water. Bring the pan to a boil, then reduce the heat and gently simmer for about 45 minutes to one hour.
Now your artichokes are cooked and you have a beautiful, light green, fragrant pan of artichoke water, it looks just like green tea. You can strain the water if you want to but there is no need.
Drink some right away and store the rest in the fridge. Reheat it to drink as tea, or pour over ice and serve cold.
Your artichoke water will be full of the soluble fiber inulin, and the polyphenols that will keep your gut bacteria in tip top, fat burning shape.
To get the best results from drinking artichoke water, cut out starchy carbohydrates and sugar. Starchy carbs are just sugar as far as your body and those bad bacteria are concerned.
Your will power will let you get through the first few days with no sugar and by that time the fiber and polyphenols in the artichoke water will have increased the population of good bacteria in your gut. These good bacteria will be combatting the bad guys and making lots of those much needed short chain fatty acids that are going to re-balance your gut brain and get your fat burning/fat storage mechanisms working properly again.
You won’t feel such strong cravings for sugary foods, and if you do get any cravings, you can satisfy them with healthy foods because by drinking artichoke water you’re affecting your taste buds and everything will taste sweeter to you.
For the icing on the cake, eat some raw vegetables that are covered with a good colony of bacteria from the soil that they grew in.
Pretty simple right? Who needs super foods from South America when you’ve got awesome artichokes!