The liver is getting a lot of attention these days in the health press, and for good reason. It plays a central role in every metabolic process. Everything that you consume gets filtered by the liver. It’s ground zero for detoxification. It’s where fat is burned and broken down. And when your liver isn’t working properly—if it’s stopped up with too much fat for example (as in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which affects about one-third of Americans)—well, then, you’re in trouble. Which is why we really like liver-friendly foods and supplements, especially artichokes.
If you’ve ever looked at the ingredients on a supplement designed specifically for liver health or detoxification, you’ve likely seen artichoke extract listed. Why? Because this antioxidant-rich plant is a wonderful source of silymarin, which has a long and distinguished pedigree as a plant compound that helps protect and nourish the liver. And artichokes have plenty of it. Their peak season is March through May.
Of course, artichokes are only one of the superstar ingredients featured in this lovely dish. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that may have anticancer properties. Lentils are packed with healthy fiber. Just about everyone knows about the incredible health benefits of olive oil. And vinegar has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity. —Dr. Jonny
Featured Ingredient: Lentil
Lentils are small, disk-shaped brown, reddish-orange, or brownish-green legumes. They grow on an annual bush-like plant native to central Asia. They’re especially popular in India, where they’re cooked to a purée called dahl, an amazing-tasting lentil curry. Pappadams—those crisp Indian crackers—are made with lentil flower.
One of the big differences between beans and lentils is that lentils don’t give you gas, because they lack sulfur. So if you want the benefits of fiber minus the unpleasant side effects of eating beans, check out this cool little legume.
Of course lentils’ real claim to fame is the fact that they’re absolutely loaded with fiber, especially soluble fiber, which breaks down as it passes through the digestive tract, forming a gel. This helps control blood sugar by delaying the emptying of the stomach and slowing down the entry of sugar into the bloodstream. Since fiber slows digestion, it can help blunt sudden spikes in blood sugar and insulin that can cause you to be hungry again an hour after eating a low-fiber meal.
In the last decade, research has exploded on the microbiome, the name scientists give to the vast ecology of microbes that live in and on our bodies. The good guys in our microbiome—the “friendly” gut microbes—simply love fiber. They actually feast on it and create important compounds from it.
Lentils and beans get a bad rap from the Paleo crowd because they contain lectins, proteins that give some folks digestive problems. But according to Steven Masley, MD—my coauthor on a book called Smart Fat—lectins affect only about 10 percent of the population. For everyone else, lentils are a true superfood.
Notes from The Clean Food Coach
If you want to “vegucate” this meal even more, spiralize and lightly steam 2 large summer squash, and serve the artichoke lentils over zoodles. Combine that with a simple green salad for a quick-and-easy spring meal. It’s filling, but you will feel light after eating because it’s made up of nearly all high-fiber, high-water-content vegetables.
- Heat oil in large sauté pan over medium heat. Sauté shallot, pepper, and zucchini until just tender. (If veggies are a little older or tough, cover sauté pan 2–3 minutes to generate steam for faster softening.)
- Stir in Italian spice blend, lentils, artichoke hearts, and tomatoes, and cook until hot throughout.
- Stir in vinegar, salt, and pepper before serving.