Asparagus is a perennial garden plant belonging to the Lily family (Liliaceae). While approximately 300 varieties of asparagus have been noted, only 20 are edible.
Asparagus, its fleshy spears topped with bud-like compact heads, is often thought of as a luxury vegetable, prized for its succulent taste and tender texture. It is harvested in the spring when it is 6 to 8 inches tall.
While the most common variety of asparagus is green in color, two other edible varieties are available. White asparagus, with its more delicate flavor and tender texture, is grown underground to inhibit its development of chlorophyll content, therefore creating its distinctive white coloring.
It is generally found canned, although you may find it fresh in some select gourmet shops, and it is generally more expensive than the green variety since its production is more labor intensive.
Nutritional Value of Asparagus
Asparagus is a nutrient-packed source of vitamins, minerals and essential proteins. Asparagus is rich in vitamin A, B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B-6, folate, C, E (alpha-tocopherol), and K (phylloquinone).
The mineral treasures that are stored in asparagus include iron, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, zinc, selenium, and potassium.
Asparagus contains a very low amount of calories with no cholesterol and is low in sodium as well. Along with this, it is also a rich source of dietary fiber, which is essential for the body.
Health Benefits of Asparagus
The health benefits of asparagus include fertility, relief from pre-menstrual syndrome, cancer, diabetes, hangover, cataract, rheumatism, tuberculosis, depression, neurodegenerative diseases, and convulsions. It also reduces urinary tract infections and blood cholesterol.
It improves digestive health, is beneficial during pregnancy, helps in lowering levels of homocysteine in the body, and maintains cardiovascular health. The various health benefits of asparagus have been detailed below.
1. Anti-Cancer Benefits
As a result of its very strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrient composition, we would definitely expect to see a food like asparagus showing up as a risk reducer for certain cancers. Chronic, excessive inflammation and chronic oxidative stress are risk factors for a variety of cancer types, and both unwanted phenomena are related to deficient dietary intake of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients—exactly the kind of nutrients that are especially plentiful in asparagus.
Most of the studies we’ve seen on the anti-cancer benefits of asparagus have been studies on rats and mice, or studies on specific types of cancer cells. For this reason, we would describe asparagus cancer research as preliminary, and not yet validated by large-scale studies involving humans and dietary intake. But the trends in animal studies and cell studies are clear – asparagus and asparagus extracts can change the metabolic activity of cancer cell types, and these changes are protective in nature and related to better regulation of inflammation and oxidative stress.
2. Decreases Risk of Birth Defects
Folic acid is essential for pregnant women to protect their infants against miscarriage and neural tube defects. Recent research has also shown that a father’s folate status before conception may be just as important.
In a study from McGill University, paternal folate deficiency in mice was associated with a 30% higher number of various birth defects than in offspring with no paternal folate deficiencies.
3. Heart Health Benefits
Asparagus is good for your ticker in a variety of ways. Flores noted, “Asparagus is extremely high in vitamin K, which helps blood clot.” And the vegetable’s high level of B vitamins helps regulate the amino acid homocysteine, too much of which can be a serious risk factor in heart disease, according to Harvard University School of Public Health.
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.
4. Relieves PMS Bloating
An asparagus extract can be used effectively for easing pre-menstrual bloating. The presence of essential nutrients helps to combat depression and fatigue, as well as reduce menstrual cramps. Asparagus also helps in controlling blood loss and maintaining hormonal balance during menstruation.
5. Prevents Osteoporosis
Poor vitamin K intake is linked with a high risk of bone fracture. Just one cup of asparagus provides 70% of your vitamin K needs for the day. Consuming an adequate amount of vitamin K daily, improves bone health by improving calcium absorption and reducing urinary excretion of calcium. The iron in asparagus also plays a crucial role in maintaining the strength and elasticity of bones and joints.
6. Digestive Health Benefits
Asparagus contains significant quantities of the nutrient inulin. Inulin is a kind of complex carbohydrate that is commonly known as prebiotic. It does not get digested until it reaches the large intestine, where it is fed upon by a kind of good bacteria like Lactobacilli. This aids in the improved absorption of nutrients and the reduced risk of stomach cancer and allergies.
7. Lowers the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
As with heart disease, risk of type 2 diabetes increases with excessive inflammation and oxidative stress. Therefore, asparagus’ impressive anti-inflammatory properties and high levels of antioxidants make it a good preventive food.
A 2011 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition also suggested that 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.
8. Healthy Hair
The calcium, antioxidants, and vitamins A and C within asparagus all promote healthy hair. They stimulate your hair follicles, which subsequently produce sebum. Although that word is generally associated with nasty, oily pimples, it can be a good thing when it comes to the top of your head.
Sebum is a natural conditioner and moisturizer for your hair, which means it makes it stronger and prevents it from becoming dry and brittle.
9. Treats Rheumatism
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition that causes inflammation of the joints. Studies have shown that the consumption of folate-rich food like asparagus, which also possess anti-inflammatory properties, may help relieve the pain and ease the overall poor functioning in the body associated with arthritis.
10. Improves Mood
Health guru Dr. Oz clearly knows about diet as it relates to both physical and mental health, and he suggests eating more asparagus when you feel depressed. One cup has a whopping 66% of your recommended intake of folate, and low levels of folate in the body have been associated with low mood.
Epilepsy is a chronic disorder that affects the brain and leads to recurrent convulsions or seizures. The brain transmits abnormal signals as a result of irreversible changes in the brain tissues. The roots of asparagus can be used as an anti-epileptic and helps in curing the symptoms of epilepsy.
12. Anti-Aging Benefits
Asparagus is rich in vitamin E, which is also a lipid-soluble antioxidant and therefore highly beneficial for your skin. It helps to protect tissue cells from mediated oxidant injury, which basically means that it keeps your skin looking young and healthy.
Preparation and Serving Methods
Asparagus shoots are one of the most sought-after vegetables during the spring season.
Fresh spears preferred in cooking. To prepare, wash them in cool running water with gentle scrub. Thin tender spears can be cooked directly. Thick stalks, however, may need peeling before being used in the recipes.
In general, its spears need to be cooked briefly. In some households, traditional pots are employed to cook asparagus wherein its stalks immersed in boiling water while tips just allowed to steam cook.