Asparagus’ health benefits
Amongst the first veggies that signal the ‘outbreak of spring’ is, of course, the appearance of fresh asparagus at grocery stores. Just as spring is a time of a brand new earth cycle, the asparagus is one of those ubiquitous foods that I love to experiment with during this gorgeous time of the year.
Not only is asparagus delicious, but it is also packed full of health benefits. Here are some of them:
1. The asparagus is loaded with nutrients
An asparagus spear is a very good source of: folates, dietary fiber, protein, amazing B vitamin-content (B1, B2, B6, B12), then vitamins C, A, E and K, selenium, copper, manganese, phosphorus, niacin, potassium, choline, zinc, iron, pantothenic acid, as well as chromium – a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells.
2. The asparagus can help fight cancer
This herbaceous plant (along with the avocado, kale and Brussels sprouts) is a particularly rich source of glutathione – a detoxifying compound that helps break down carcinogens and other harmful compounds such as free radicals. For this reason, eating asparagus in any form may help protect against (and fight) certain forms of cancer, including: bone, breast, colon, larynx, lung and liver cancers (cancer cells from the liver are best-studied in this regard).
Leukemia is a type of cancer which involves the bone marrow and its production of white blood cells. In leukemia, white blood cells are not produced in a normal way and do not behave in a normal way, and for these reasons are called leukemia cells. One unusual aspect of leukemia cells is their need to obtain a specific amino acid, called asparagine, from other cells or from the fluid portion of the blood. If leukemia cells can be prevented from obtaining asparagine, they can sometimes have difficulty to survive.
3. The asparagus is packed with antioxidants as well
It is one of the top-ranked fruits and vegetables for its ability to neutralize cell-damaging free radicals in the body. This, according to preliminary research, it helps to slow down premature aging processes.
4. Even the inorganic asparagus is a brain-function booster
Another anti-aging property of this delicious spring veggie is that it may help our brains fight cognitive decline. Like other leafy greens, the asparagus delivers folate, which works with vitamin B12 [otherwise found in fish, poultry, meat and dairy]to help prevent cognitive impairment.
A study, done by the Tufts University, showed that older adults with healthy levels of folate and B12 performed better on a test of response speed and mental flexibility.
Note: If you are 50+, make sure you are getting enough of the vitamin B12 since your ability to absorb it proportionally decreases with age!
5. The asparagus is an all-natural diuretic
It has a natural diuretic ability because it contains high levels of the essential amino acid asparagine, which acts as a natural diuretic in the body. An increased urination not only flushes out those extra fluids from your body, but it also helps get rid the body of excess salts. This is especially beneficial for people who suffer from edema (or an accumulation of fluids in the body’s tissues) and those who suffer from high blood pressure (HBP) and other heart-related diseases.
While we have yet-to-see, large-scale dietary studies that scan chronic diseases in humans and asparagus intake, we would expect asparagus intake to show reduced chronic disease risk in 2 particular areas, namely, heart diseases and type 2 diabetes.
Heart diseases and type 2 diabetes are both considered chronic diseases that evolve in relationship to chronic, excessive inflammation and oxidative stress. The outstanding antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrient composition of asparagus would seem to make it a no-brainer for inclusion as a risk reducer in both of these chronic-disease areas. We expect future studies to establish asparagus as a standout for lowering our risk of cardiovascular and blood sugar problems.
The answer to a frequently-asked question as to why eating asparagus causes a strong urinary odor is this:
The asparagus veggie contains a unique compound that, when metabolized, gives off a distinctive smell in the urine. Young asparagus’s sprouts contain higher concentrations of the compound, so the odor is stronger after eating these vernal shoots. However, there are no known harmful effects, either from the sulfuric compounds or the odor! While it is believed that most people produce these odorous compounds after eating asparagus, only a few people have the ability to detect the smell!
Helpful cooking tips
The most common type of asparagus is the green type, but you might see 2 other types in supermarkets and restaurants as well: the white type, which is more delicate and difficult to harvest, and the purple type, which is somewhat smaller and fruitier in flavor. But no matter what type of asparagus you choose, you will find it tasty, versatile vegetable that can be cooked in a myriad of fashions or enjoyed raw in early spring salads!
The asparagus’ stalks should be rounded, and neither fat nor twisted. Look for firm, thin stems with deep green or purplish closed tips. The cut ends should not be too woody although a little woodiness at the base prevents the stalk from drying out. Once trimmed and cooked, the asparagus loses about half its total weight. Use the asparagus within a day or two after purchasing it for best flavor and texture. Store it in the refrigerator with the ends wrapped in a damp paper towel.
Experienced chefs and cooks use these methods to preserve the antioxidants in the asparagus and to keep their preparations both delicious and healthy for their guests:
– Thin asparagus does not require peeling. But an asparagus with thick stems should be peeled because the stems are usually tough and stringy. Remove the tough outer skin of the bottom portion of the stem (not the tips) with a vegetable peeler. Rince the asparagus under running cold water to remove any sand (or soil) residues. It is best to cook asparagus whole, not shredded.
– These 3 quick-cooking, waterless methods will preserve the fabulous nutritional content and antioxidant power of the asparagus:
1.Bake your asparagus,
2. Grill your asparagus, or
3. Stir-fry your asparagus.
You can use these quick serving ideas as well:
- Add cold asparagus to your favorite salads.
- Toss freshly cooked pasta with asparagus, olive oil and your favorite pasta spices. I especially enjoy thyme, tarragon and rosemary.
- Chopped asparagus makes a flavorful and colorful addition to omelets.
- Combine a healthy asparagus sauté with garlic, shiitake mushrooms and tofu or chicken for a complete dish.
Cheesy Baked Asparagus Recipe
The asparagus is a treat on its own, but you can make it even more delicious with this easy-cheesy recipe. You can have it as a main dish if you are on a diet or as a side dish if you are an epicure.
- 1 bunch of asparagus with woody ends trimmed
- 3 tablespoons of melted butter
- 1 tablespoon of grated parmesan cheese
- 3/4 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese
- a spoonful of Italian seasoning
- ½ tsp. of your own seasoning (for example: equal parts of garlic powder, onion powder and pepper)
Line a baking sheet with some tinfoil. Place the asparagus on the baking sheet and drizzle with the melted butter. Abundantly sprinkle the house seasoning and parmesan cheese over the top of asparagus.
Bake in oven heated to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (circa 200 degrees Celsius) for about 15 minutes. Remove when it gets crusty (to hold the topping), and top it with the mozzarella cheese and a little sprinkling of Italian seasoning.
Return to the oven for an additional 5-7 minutes to melt the cheese and let it begin to brown.
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