One of the first foods that signals the start of spring is the appearance of fresh asparagus at local farmers’ markets and grocery stores. In ancient times, asparagus was renowned as an aphrodisiac. Regardless of its powers to put you in the mood, this succulent, savory vegetable contains a stimulating blend of nutrients, making this member of the lily family a fantastic food for your health. We look into the health benefits asparagus can provide you and how you can ensure that you gain the maximum nutritional value out of asparagus.
Asparagus or garden asparagus, scientific name Asparagus officinalis, is a spring vegetable, a flowering perennial plant species in the genus Asparagus. It was once classified in the lily family, like its Allium cousins, onions and garlic, but the Liliaceae have been split and the onion-like plants are now in the family Amaryllidaceae and asparagus in the Asparagaceae. Asparagus officinalis is native to most of Europe, northern Africa and western Asia, and is widely cultivated as a vegetable crop. We look into the heath benefits asparagus can bring to us.
Like all vegetables, asparagus does not instantly “die” when it is harvested, but instead, continues to engage in metabolic activity. This metabolic activity includes intake of oxygen, the breaking down of starches and sugars, and the releasing of carbon dioxide. The speed at which these processes occur is typically referred to as “respiration rate.” Compared to most other vegetables, asparagus has a very high respiration rate. This rate is five times greater than the rate for onions and potatoes; three times greater than the rate for lettuce and tomato; and twice as great as the rate for cauliflower and avocado. Asparagus’ very high respiration rate makes it more perishable than its fellow vegetables, and also much more likely to lose water, wrinkle, and harden. By wrapping the ends of the asparagus in a damp paper or cloth towel, you can help offset asparagus’ very high respiration rate during refrigerator storage.
The way to keep asparagus fresh is to treat them like cut flowers and store them in the refrigerator. Uncooked asparagus will stay fresh for three to four days in the refrigerator. The secret is to keep the vegetable cool and damp. Store spears upright in a container with the stems wading in an inch of water, then cover loosely with a plastic bag.
Cleaning & Cutting:
Clean asparagus when you are ready to cook it. Don’t wash before storing as it hastens decay. Wash in cold water paying special attention to the tips which are often sandy.
Break off the woody ends of the stalks. Grab a stalk and apply pressure at the bottom. It will naturally snap where the woody part ends. Alternately, you can lay out the asparagus in your bunch and cut all ends to the same length. You can cook young asparagus without peeling it, but more mature stalks may require peeling.
How to Buy:
Inspect the tips of the asparagus spears. Look for spears with tightly closed buds. Avoid asparagus with open or seedy tips. Choose asparagus with firm stalks. Wilted or limp asparagus is most likely old or has been mishandled.
Peeling mature asparagus is important, not only for taste and texture, but because it ensures even cooking of the stalks and tips.
You will want to consume asparagus within approximately 48 hours of purchase to gain from all health benefits asparagus can bring to you.
Asparagus is a low calorie vegetable rich in many important vitamins including folate, vitamin C and vitamin A. Fresh asparagus spears are a good source of anti-oxidants such as lutein, zea-xanthin, carotenes, and crypto-xanthins.
Mineral Content: Asparagus is good in minerals, especially copper and iron. In addition, it has small amounts of some other essential minerals and electrolytes such as calcium, potassium, manganese, and phosphorus.
Vitamin & Compounds: Fresh asparagus are rich sources of folates, folic acid. The shoots are also rich in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, also B-complex group of vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), and pantothenic acid.
Water Content: Asparagus is 93 percent water by weight.
Carbohydrate Content: Asparagus provide only 20 calories per 100 g.
Asparagus spears contain moderate levels of dietary-fiber. 100 g of fresh spears provide 2.1 g of roughage. Dietary fiber helps control constipation conditions, decrease bad (LDL) cholesterol levels by binding to it in the intestines, and regulate blood sugar levels. Studies suggest that high-fiber diet help cut down colon-rectal cancer risks by preventing toxic compounds in the food from absorption.
Heart health: Asparagus is extremely high in vitamin K, which helps blood clot. Asparagus also has more than 1 gram of soluble fiber per cup, which lowers the risk of heart disease, and the amino acid asparagine helps flush your body of excess salt. Lastly, asparagus has excellent anti-inflammatory effects and high levels of antioxidants, both of which may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Regulating blood sugar: The Mayo Clinic notes that vitamin B6 may affect blood sugar levels and advises caution for people who have diabetes or low blood sugar. However, those with healthy levels can benefit from asparagus’s ability to regulate it.
Lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes: Asparagus’ ability to improve insulin secretion and improve beta-cell function also helps lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. Beta cells are unique cells in the pancreas that produce, store and release insulin.
Anti-aging benefits: The antioxidant glutathione is thought to slow the aging process, and the folate that asparagus provides works with B12 to prevent cognitive decline.
Skin: Yet another amazing thing about the antioxidant glutathione: it helps protect the skin from sun damage and pollution.
Keeping you cleansed and preventing kidney stones: Asparagus can act as a natural diuretic. This can help rid the body of excess salt and fluid, making it especially good for people suffering from edema and high blood pressure. It also helps flush out toxins in kidneys and prevent kidney stones.
Pregnancy health: Nutritionist Laura Flores noted asparagus’s significant amount of folate, which she said “is important for women of childbearing age to consume daily.” Folate can decrease the risk of neural-tube defects in fetuses, so it is essential that mothers-to-be get enough of it.
Digestive health: “Asparagus is known to help stabilize digestion due to the high amount of fiber and protein that it contains,” said Flores. “Both help move food through the gut and provide relief from discomfort during digestion.”
Cancer risk: Antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, which are found in great quantities in asparagus, are typically associated with decreased risk of cancers. Eating asparagus may help protect against and fight certain forms of cancer, such as bone, breast, colon, larynx and lung cancers.
Infections: Asparagus has also been found to prevent multiple sclerosis, bladder and urinary tract infections.
Blood Pressure: Asparagus is also helpful for people suffering from high blood pressure, as it lowers down the blood pressure levels.
Bone Health: Asparagus is a good source of vitamin K, which is beneficial for the bones, and it limits neuronal damage to the brain, which is why it beneficial for patients of Alzheimer’s disease.
Metabolism: The Asparagus shoots are rich in B-complex group of vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), and pantothenic acid. These group of vitamins are essential for optimum cellular enzymatic and metabolic functions.
Acidity, Blood: The high alkalinity of this wonder juice is effective in reducing the acidity of the blood and helps cleanses the tissues and muscles of waste.
Arthritis and Rheumatism: A unique phytochemical in asparagus that produces anti-inflammatory effect helps relieve arthritis and rheumatism.
Bowel movement: Consume asparagus regularly for its mild laxative effect and dietary fiber that provides for regular bowel movement.
Cataracts: The anti-oxidant and glutathione in asparagus prevents the progression of cataracts and other eye problems.
Diuretic: Asparagus is a wonderfully diuretic vegetable and its efficacy is more pronounced when it is taken in juice form.
PMS symptoms: The diuretic effect of asparagus juice helps relieve premenstrual swelling and bloating. The magnesium in this wonder juice also help relieve irritability, fatigue, depression, etc.
Weight loss: A serving of asparagus contains roughly 10.9% of your daily fiber requirements.
Asparagus is also great for weight loss because it contains potassium, which has been known to help reduce belly fat. It also doesn’t contain any fat or cholesterol.
Eye Heath: The vitamin A found in asparagus can help you maintain healthy vision because it helps your retinas to absorb light.
It’s high in iron: A single serving of asparagus contains 15.9% of your recommended dose of iron. Iron should be an imperative aspect of your diet because it is one of the key components of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to different parts of your body.
Allergy to onions, leeks, and related plants: Asparagus might cause an allergic reaction in people who are sensitive to other members of the Liliaceae family including onions, leeks, garlic, and chives.
Gas: The incomplete breakdown of foods, especially carbohydrates, causes gas in the digestive tract. Asparagus contains raffinose, a type of carbohydrate that includes the sugars known as galactose, fructose and glucose. Eating asparagus daily causes excess gas that can be both uncomfortable and embarrassing.
Smelly Urine: Many people who eat asparagus notice a pungent odor to their urine within about 15 minutes following the meal. This odor occurs due to a specific sulfur-containing amino acid derivative of methionine, which the body produces during the breakdown of the asparagus.
Here are some simple and delicious Asparagus recipes.
- Grilled Asparagus: The special thing about this recipe is that it’s so simple. Fresh asparagus with a little oil, salt, and pepper is cooked quickly over high heat on the grill. Enjoy the natural flavor of your veggies.
- Oven-Roasted Asparagus: Salty and savory, the roasting method kills the natural bitterness of asparagus. Try it next to grilled fish or lamb.
- Spring Asparagus Salad: This is a nice and simple cold salad that is nothing more than asparagus dressed in a Chinese-influenced vinaigrette topped with sesame seeds. It’s a great way to celebrate the arrival of the asparagus crops!
- Fresh Asparagus Soup: A creamy asparagus soup accented with yogurt, lemon, and Parmesan cheese. Everyone loves it! You can substitute soy products to make this recipe vegan.