Jerusalem artichokes, or sunchokes as they are often called, are starchy root vegetables that have nothing whatsoever to do with artichokes. They have great health benefits including the standard nutritional profile of the garden-variety potato which is high in potassium and other nutrients like vitamin C, B6, iron. However, they can be quite a bit pricier than potatoes. So what is the appeal? They have two very important and unique health benefits because of their inulin fiber.
Lower Glycemic Index than Potatoes
Inulin fiber causes sunchokes to be lower in the glycemic index (GI) than potatoes, making their impact on blood sugar small. For diabetics or those wishing to prevent diabetes or those on low carb, low glycemic index diets, this is an important attribute. The appeal to dieters and diabetics alike is that sunchokes can be eaten like a potato (mashed, fried, soups/stews). Landing at 50 on the GI scale puts them in the medium range.
Although nutritionists know that the sunchoke is great for glucose control, scientific studies to back up this idea have been few and far between. Now, a team of researchers from Japan has demonstrated that sunchokes may help prevent type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease (a condition that often goes with diabetes and that can lead to life-threatening liver cirrhosis and hepatitis).
Prebiotics Keep Probiotics Alive
What makes them lower GI is that they have a fiber called inulin, a type of prebiotic fiber that has been credited with a number of health benefits.
This is 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.
Our gut bacteria do more than just keep our bowels moving along nicely or keeping the bad bacteria from getting out of control, they keep us healthy in other ways as well.
The Conversion of Vitamin K to K2
Another benefit of good gut bacteria is it takes these probiotics to make vitamin K2 in our body. They help to convert dietary vitamin K1 into K2.
K2 (menaquinone) is produced by bacteria in the intestine. While K2 may be more important in bone mineralization than K1, the amount of K2 absorbed from the gut provides only a fraction of the total daily requirement. Laboratory and some human data now suggest that K1 is in fact converted to K2 in tissues.
Although vitamin K affects many vital processes, it has the same fundamental action in all tissues. Vitamin K acts as a cofactor in converting the amino acid glutamate into gamma-carboxyglutamate, or Gla.20 Gla-containing proteins (Gla-proteins) regulate many of the myriad physiological processes controlled by calcium. Vitamin K thus participates in some of the body’s most finely tuned systems.
Vitamin K’s action was first discovered, and is still most thoroughly understood, in the control of blood coagulation. It is now known to be fundamental as well in regulating the mineral content of bone and of blood vessel walls, with important implications for aging.
Vitamin K2 is responsible for the mobilization of calcium into bone. It also moves this rock-like mineral out of our soft tissues like our arteries. Both of these functions are important for keeping healthy while aging. Of course, keeping calcium out of our arteries can help us prevent heart attacks. It can also help reverse cardiovascular disease. Being able to move dietary calcium into our bones properly, our K2 helps to prevent the fractures and death that are commonly associated with osteoporosis.
A 50 year old woman has a 2.8% risk of death related to hip fracture during her remaining lifetime, equivalent to her risk of death from breast cancer and 4 times higher than that from endometrial cancer. Nearly 75% of all hip fractures occur in women and about 25% of hip fractures in people over 50 occurs in men.
Taste and Texture
The flesh of the sunchoke is crisp like a water chestnut. As a mashed potato substitute alone, some think they fail miserably, so they often combine them with other veggies like potatoes and celery root because there is no creaminess in these roots. Crunchy, yes, creamy, no. Stir fry – yes. Mashed – not so great.
Sunchokes are bland like a potato in taste, but are also said to have a nutty flavor when allowed to stay in the ground long enough to get a light freeze on them. When they are raw, there is basically no taste to them (they work well in salads raw) but cooked they have a slight artichoke taste. They can give you gas if you don’t soak them first in water (use lemon to keep them from turning brown).
Sunchokes are in the same family as the sunflower and are just as prolific in the garden to many gardener’s chagrin. This makes them return year after year often even after trying to get rid of them. It is for that reason and many others that they are a great staple for homesteaders, preppers, or organic gardeners who are trying to subsist on what they can grow/raise on their own. They are resistant to disease and have just about as many calories cup for cup as potatoes.
Besides these folks, those who will be the most interested in what sunchokes can do for them will be: Diabetics, dieters, people with gastrointestinal problems, and those wishing to maintain a strong colony of good bacteria in their gut so that they can produce their own vitamin K2 and benefit from greater health.
Typical Sunchoke Dishes
Eating too much inulin—more than 10 grams a day—can make you gassy. Since one-half cup of sunchokes has 18 grams of inulin in it, Freuman suggests eating no more than one-quarter cup at a time if you are new to this root vegetable but want to add it to your diet. Within six to eight hours—the amount of time it takes for the sunchokes to travel from your mouth to your colon—you’ll know whether your body tolerates the inulin well or not. As your body gets used to this new food, you may be able to increase how much you eat without the gassy side effect. Cooking helps.
- Roasted Sunchokes. Roughly cut sunchokes into one-inch chunks, and toss them in olive oil and salt. Roast at 400°F for about 40 minutes until they are tender and golden brown.
- Sunchoke Chips. Slice the chokes thinly using a mandoline or sharp knife. Toss the slices in oil, salt, pepper and any of your favorite spices—I especially like using garlic powder and thyme—and spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 400°F for 15 minutes, flip them over and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes or until crisp. I warn you—these chips are addictive, so don’t dive into a giant batch until you’ve made friends with inulin!
- Sunchoke Mash. Steam or boil sunchokes as you would potatoes, and season them with butter, salt and pepper. Or boil and mash them with potatoes to add a new taste sensation to an old standard.
- Sunchoke Soup. After roasting sunchokes, simmer them in a saucepan with onions and garlic sautéed in olive oil along with broth or water. Season with thyme or rosemary. Stir in one-quarter cup of milk, cream or yogurt. Then purée.
- Sunchoke Salads and Snacks. Slice or shave raw sunchokes, and add to salads (toss them in lemon juice or vinegar first, since the cut sides will discolor) or just eat out of hand.
Copyright by Over 50 Diabetic Frutarian on November 18, 2016.
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1) Freuman, T.D. (2014, September 4). “Control Blood Sugar And Keep Fit With Prebiotic Sunchokes.” Retrieved from http://bottomlineinc.com/control-blood-sugar-and-keep-fit-with-prebiotic-sunchokes
2) “Jerusalem Artichokes: Health Benefits & Nutritional Properties” (n.d.). Healwithfood.org. [Website.]. Retrieved from http://www.healwithfood.org/health-benefits/jerusalem-artichokes.php#ixzz4R8jGy6vo
3) Goepp, J.G. (2006, April). “Vitamin K’s Delicate Balancing Act.” Retrieved from http://www.lifeextension.com/magazine/2006/4/report_vitamink/page-01
4) “Osteoporosis Facts and Statistics.” Retrieved from https://www.iofbonehealth.org/facts-and-statistics/index.html11-5-2013
5) Freuman, T.D. (2014, September 4). “Control Blood Sugar And Keep Fit With Prebiotic Sunchokes.” Retrieved from http://bottomlineinc.com/control-blood-sugar-and-keep-fit-with-prebiotic-sunchokes