By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
When was the last time you picked up a fresh bunch of asparagus in the store? Asparagus is often seen as a luxury food choice but it tastes divine and what’s more, it’s amazingly good for you. Asparagus is low in calories but packs a punch in terms of vitamins and nutrients. American-grown asparagus appears on the shelves in late February and is a good buy in April and May, although imported varieties – asparagus comes in white, green or purple – are available year-round. Find out why asparagus is not only tasty but good for your health.
Nutritional Benefits of Asparagus
Asparagus has less than four calories per spear and almost no fat or cholesterol. This vegetable is also low in sodium so it is helpful for those on a low-sodium diet.
Asparagus contains a good amount of potassium (400mg per 5.3oz), 3g of fiber per serving, plus folic acid, thiamin, vitamin B6 and rutin. In order to preserve the most nutrients, use asparagus within two or three days of purchase and choose asparagus that has been refrigerated. If you need to keep it, store the asparagus upright in a glass or bowl of cold water.
How to Eat Asparagus
Asparagus is simple to prepare – snap off the tough ends and rinse the spears. Then you can cook the vegetable as you like – boil for five minutes in a heavy pan, steam in an asparagus steamer or a tall pot for five minutes, stir fry, oven roast, grill, or cook in a microwave.
This vegetable is easy to cook and versatile. Asparagus tastes great with some heart-healthy olive oil drizzled over the spears, or you can use it in soups, salads, in low-fat pasta sauce, or with scrambled eggs.
We looked at the most recent scientific studies to show you how exactly asparagus benefits your health, and why it should be a part of your healthy diet.
1. Asparagus is a Great Source of Folic Acid
One serving (5.3 ounces) of asparagus provides 60 percent of the recommended daily amount of folic acid (folate), making it one of the best vegetable sources of this essential B vitamin.
Folate is essential for the formation of blood cells and it has been shown in many studies, such as a 1993 study from the Boston University School of Medicine, to play a significant role in the prevention of neural tube defects in unborn babies. Pregnant women need a good supply of folate in order to prevent these birth defects – get a good amount from asparagus.
2. Rutin in Asparagus Strengthens Weak Capillaries
Rutin is a flavonoid that plays an important role in strengthening the capillaries, the small blood vessels that supply the body.
Weak capillaries result in everything from varicose veins and rosacea, to easy bruising, eye discoloration and liver damage.
Rutin helps to restore the strength of weakened capillary walls, according to studies in the 1940s and 50s, and recently a 2004 study from Taipei Medical University regarding the capillary-strengthening mechanism of rutin. Asparagus is a good source of essential rutin.
3. Find Prebiotic Fructo-oligosaccharides in Asparagus
Fructo-oligosaccharides are found in asparagus. These starches benefit the body by nourishing the friendly bacteria in the gut.
Fructo-oligosaccharides are not fully digested by the body and are therefore good food for this good bacterium. They are often known as prebiotics.
A 2008 study by the Center for Infant Nutrition, Macedonio Melloni Hospital, University of Milan, Italy showed that fructo-oligosaccharides reduced the incidence of allergy symptoms and infections in babies under the age of six months.
4. Prevent a Hangover with Asparagus?
Did you put the asparagus on ice to deal with the inevitable headache following a night out with friends or a big New Year’s Eve party? According to a 2009 study by the Institute of Medical Science and Jeju National University in Korea for the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), asparagus may help to speed up the body’s processing of alcohol, which results in less pain the morning after. Asparagus extract contains minerals and amino acids, scientists say, which protect liver cells from toxicity and also prevent hangovers.
5. Cut Diabetes Risk with Asparagus
According to ongoing research from Diabetes UK at Imperial College London, a simple way people can help reduce weight and maintain a healthy weight, plus prevent type 2 diabetes, is to eat foods like asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory and garlic.
Asparagus and friends provide fermentable carbohydrates that release gut hormones that cut appetite and enhance insulin sensitivity.
6. Asparagus Can Help Protect Against Osteoporosis
Find good levels of essential vitamin K (in the form of K1) in asparagus, as well as in green leafy vegetables like kale and turnip greens.
Researchers suggest that vitamin K may be helpful in preventing osteoporosis – a bone disease that causes bone brittleness and increases the risk of fracture. Many studies state the link, including 1996 research from the University of Limburg, The Netherlands.
7. Anti-Cancer Asparagus?
Recent press on the power of asparagus to cure cancer may be overblown, but it seems there is a possibility that asparagus has a positive effect on liver cancer cells – a 2009 study from China Pharmaceutical University, Nanjing showed that a chemical isolated from asparagus had an anticancer effect when added to liver cancer cells.
However, this experiment was on cells only, and the evidence for asparagus having a particularly strong anti-cancer effect is lacking. Eating asparagus along with plenty of other fresh vegetables may have benefits because a diet high in fruit and vegetables has been shown to prevent cancer.