History says it has been cultivated for more than 2,000 years. And there is a good enough reason for that – much of which has got to do with what asparagus can do for you.
What can it do for you? Nope. Not here. Read on and find out for yourself.
Table Of Contents
- What Is Asparagus?
- What Are The Types Of Asparagus?
- What Is The History Of Asparagus?
- Asparagus Nutrition Facts
- What Are The Benefits Of Asparagus?
- How To Select And Store Asparagus
- How To Clean Asparagus
- How To Cook Asparagus
- How To Incorporate Asparagus Into Your Diet
- Any Popular Asparagus Recipes?
- Any Fun Facts About Asparagus?
- Any Side Effects Of Asparagus?
What Is Asparagus?
A member of the lily family, asparagus (scientifically called Asparagus officinalis) gets its name from the Greek word that means ‘sprout’ or ‘shoot’. This vegetable is widely cultivated today and is believed to have originated about 2,000 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean region.
Under ideal conditions, this plant can grow 10 inches in just 24 hours. This is one of the most nutritionally well-balanced vegetables you will find in the market.
Oh yes, this vegetable comes in different types too.
What Are The Types Of Asparagus?
The most common type is the green asparagus, which also is called the American and British variety. But in the market, you will also find white (also called the Spanish and Dutch variety), which is more delicate and a little difficult to harvest, and the purple variety that is smaller and fruitier (called the French variety).
Other less common types include:
Jersey series, which is a vigorous type of asparagus. It is resistant to most of the diseases.
Purple passion, which is an ultra-sweet purple veggie. The color fades as it is cooked, though.
Apollo, which grows well in both cold and warm weather conditions.
UC 157, which is a hybrid asparagus that grows well in warmer climates.
Atlas, which is another vigorous type that grows well in hot climates.
Viking KBC, which is a newer hybrid variety that produces large yields.
Fancy names, aren’t they? The history is fancier.
What Is The History Of Asparagus?
This vegetable is native to most of Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia. When first cultivated more than 2,000 years ago, it was used as a natural medicine. Its goodness was identified and appreciated in its earliest years itself.
In fact, Emperor Augustus of Rome created the ‘Asparagus Fleet’ – with the vegetable being hauled to the Alps to freeze it for the winter. Guess what – the oldest surviving recipe book from the 3rd century contains a recipe of asparagus.
The French began cultivation in the 1400s, while the English and Germans noticed it in the 1500s. It was around 1850 when asparagus entered the United States.
As of today, China is the largest producer of asparagus in the world. In the United States, California, Michigan, and Washington are the leading producers of this veggie.
The reason asparagus was recognized as a super veggie way back then is its nutritional profile.
Asparagus Nutrition Facts
|Asparagus (A. officinalis), raw,Nutrition value per 100 g.ORAC value 2150(Source: USDA National Nutrient data base)|
|Principle||Nutrient Value||Percentage of RDA|
|Total Fat||0.12 g||0.5%|
|Dietary Fiber||2.1 g||5.5%|
|Pantothenic acid||0.274 mg||5%|
|Vitamin C||5.6 mg||9%|
|Vitamin A||756 IU||25%|
|Vitamin E||1.13 mg||7.5%|
|Vitamin K||41.6 µg||35%|
What makes asparagus impressive is the negligible amounts of calories and literally no fat – 5 spears contain just 20 calories. It contains no sodium and just 4 grams of carbs, along with 2 grams of protein.
These are the nutrients in 1 cup of asparagus (134 grams):
- 70 micrograms of folate (17% of the daily value)
- 58 micrograms of vitamin K (70% of the daily value)
- 5 milligrams of vitamin C (13% of the daily value)
- 2 milligrams of thiamin (13% of the daily value)
- 1 milligrams of vitamin B6 (6% of the daily value)
- 1013 IU of vitamin A (20% of the daily value)
- 3 milligrams of copper (13% of the daily value)
- 9 milligrams of iron (16% of the daily value)
- 2 milligrams of manganese (11% of the daily value)
Brimming with nutrition, isn’t it? Now let’s see what this nutrition is going to offer you!
What Are The Benefits Of Asparagus?
The soluble fiber in asparagus (inulin) offers great benefits to the digestive health, and even protects one from colon cancer and cardiovascular disease. The folate in the vegetable benefits brain function and can help decrease birth defects during pregnancy. And the vitamins C and E benefit skin and hair health.
1. Aids Weight Loss
The number one reason is inulin, a soluble fiber in asparagus (1). We don’t have to discuss the importance of fiber for weight loss. One study suggests that just 6 grams of inulin are as filling as a 260-calorie meal.
The veggie is quite low in calories – and this means you can happily add it to your weight loss diet. It helps you maintain your weight (2).
2. Helps Fight Cancer
Several reviews published in a report by the American Cancer Society talk about the importance of asparagus in easing cancer symptoms (3). The report, called the Cancer Survivors Network, talks about personal experiences of cancer patients and how they had benefited from asparagus intake.
Certain compounds in asparagus, called saponins, were found to induce cancer cell death in another study. These compounds had inhibited the further growth of cancer cells (4). Another compound in asparagus, called sulforaphane, is currently being studied for its chemopreventive properties.
The folate in asparagus deserves some recognition too. This B vitamin can cut the risk of cancers of the pancreas, colon, and esophagus (5).
However, certain reports challenge the direct link between asparagus and cancer prevention. Hence, we can conclude that asparagus sure might aid cancer treatment, but it cannot be a treatment in itself.
3. Improves Urinary Tract Health
Urinary tract health means the health of the bladder, kidneys, and the urethra – and asparagus protects all of them. Thanks to its antibacterial properties, the green veggie inhibits the growth of bacteria that might cause an infection.
The vegetable works as a natural diuretic, which is why it is used along with other fluids in ‘irrigation therapy’. This therapy increases urine output and treats different urinary tract infections.
The diuretic properties of asparagus also help flush waste out of the kidneys and help prevent kidney stones (6).
4. Fights Inflammation
The high levels of antioxidants in the vegetable make it a power food to fight inflammation. Asparagus also contains substances that ease the kind of inflammation that might lead to heart disease (7).
Further studies have revealed that the anti-inflammatory properties of asparagus can help relieve pain and other issues like headaches, backaches, rheumatism, and gout (8).
Asparagus is a good source of vitamin K, which helps the body with blood clotting.
5. Supports Heart Health
The vitamin K in asparagus plays a protective role in heart health. The vitamin prevents the hardening of the arteries. It also keeps calcium out of the artery linings.
The irrigation therapy we spoke about also aids in lowering blood pressure, and this means a healthy heart. The soluble fiber in the veggie cuts the risk of cardiac disease. Fiber intake has also been linked to lowered blood pressure and serum cholesterol levels (9).
Asparagus also contains thiamine, another B vitamin. This nutrient regulates the levels of the amino acid homocysteine. Excess of homocysteine in the blood can pose a risk to heart health.
Another study talks about the phytocomponents in the asparagus root – namely, phytosterols, saponins, polyphenols, flavonoids, and ascorbic acid – all of which help eliminate excess cholesterol from the blood and improve heart health (10). And the folate in asparagus also prevents heart disease (11).
6. Boosts Brain Health
Asparagus is a good source of vitamins E and C, and as per studies, the two nutrients make for a powerful combination to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s (12).
Asparagus has been found to prevent cognitive impairment and cognitive decline in the elderly (13).
This green vegetable has also been found to aid depression treatment. The folate in this veggie may be able to lift your spirits and help treat irritability. Studies have established a link between low folate levels and depression.
Asparagus is shown to help people with epilepsy or seizures, and we need to thank folate for that.
7. Aids Digestion
Fiber is known to aid digestion (not protein) by helping to move food through the gut. The inulin, another unique dietary fiber in asparagus, improves the digestive process.
In addition to fiber, asparagus is also rich in water – and this helps prevent constipation and improves the health of the digestive tract.
Asparagus is a prebiotic as well. Prebiotics are plant fibers that nourish the good bacteria in the gut and also create a balance between the good and bad bacteria (14).
Talking about bloating, asparagus works wonders. We already saw its diuretic properties. It might make your urine smell for a while, but it does flush out all the excess water and relieve bloating.
8. Improves Bone Health
Low levels of vitamin K have always been linked to bone fractures. And by the way, asparagus is replete with this nutrient – one cup of asparagus gives you over half of the daily recommended intake of vitamin K.
Adequate intake of vitamin K also enhances calcium absorption. It also reduces the amount of calcium excreted in urine, ultimately contributing to bone health and decreasing risk of diseases like osteoporosis. Vitamin K also regulates bone mineralization and helps maintain bone density.
And the iron in asparagus strengthens the bones and joints.
We just saw asparagus is prebiotic – and according to one study, prebiotics can also improve calcium absorption (15).
9. Builds Immunity
Another important compound in asparagus we must know about is glutathione, which is a detoxifier that helps destroy carcinogens. This compound has been found to play a role in immune function.
Asparagus is also known for the energy boost it offers – naturally obvious, because of its B vitamin content. It improves energy levels by converting the food into fuel and also has fiber that steadies blood sugar – thereby preventing post-meal crashes.
Certain sources say asparagus also improves muscle health – but there is no concrete evidence supporting this statement.
10. Helps Treat Diabetes
Asparagus can achieve this by making the blood sugar levels stay steady. It also boosts the output of insulin at the same time, which is the hormone that helps the body absorb glucose (18).
Another study had shown that asparagus could lead to an 81 percent rise in glucose uptake by the body’s muscles and tissues, thereby contributing to lower blood sugar and improved diabetes symptoms (19).
11. Is Good For Pregnancy
Thanks to folate, again. This nutrient aids the proper development of the fetus and cuts the risk of birth defects. Pregnant women must get at least 400 micrograms of folate every day. With the combination of supplements and the right foods (like asparagus), this shouldn’t be a problem (20).
Asparagus is also known to boost fertility, thanks to the glutathione the vegetable contains, which improves egg quality. And the folate also has an important role to play in fertility.
12. Improves Vision Health
The vitamin A in asparagus does a great job here (21). This vitamin helps your retinas absorb light and enhances eye health in the process. And it is an antioxidant as well – which is why it can help prevent other vision-related issues like macular degeneration.
Asparagus is also rich in vitamin E and the super powerful antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin (22). Vitamin E boosts vision while lutein and zeaxanthin protect your eyes from diseases like cataract (and also macular degeneration).
13. Can Ease A Hangover
Consuming alcohol often leads to cellular toxicities, and studies have shown how asparagus can alleviate these effects (23). It achieves this by quickly breaking down the alcohol in your system and lessening the horrible after effects in the morning.
Also, the reason anyone has a hangover is that they lose minerals and amino acids post drinking. Alcohol has the ability to do that to you. Asparagus replaces these lost minerals and amino acids, which can otherwise lead to headaches (24).
The amino acids in asparagus also guard the liver against toxins, relieving the unpleasant effects of a hangover.
14. Can Improve Menstrual Health
During their periods, women feel tired and more lethargic – and this is when B vitamins can help. Asparagus is rich in B vitamins and can take care of this need.
Certain reports suggest the medicinal use of asparagus to treat menstrual disorders (25). It might even ease premenstrual syndrome. However, there is limited evidence in this aspect.
Asparagus is also known to produce estrogen and treat the symptoms of menopause. There is not a lot of research here, though.
15. Treats Tuberculosis
The roots of the asparagus plant have often been used as a remedy for tuberculosis (26). But we would like to state that asparagus can be used as an additional treatment (after consulting with your doctor of course), and not as a replacement to the ongoing treatment.
16. Improves Skin And Hair Health
Applying asparagus extract to your skin can cleanse it. It also can help treat acne. The vitamins C and E improve the skin tone as well. Vitamin C, especially, nourishes the skin and prevents skin dryness.
Though there is no concrete research, the folate and vitamin C in asparagus can improve hair health as these nutrients are essential for your tresses.
17. Acts As An Aphrodisiac
Though some sources say that asparagus was used as an aphrodisiac in the ancient times, there is not enough evidence to back this up. No harm in giving it a try, though!
Ah, well, these are the benefits you would be blessed with if you include these wonder spears in your diet. But there’s something else we need to check out – how to pick and store these wonder spears.
How To Select And Store Asparagus
- Look for stalks that are firm, straight, and smooth. They should be rich green with a little white at the bottom. A dull green hue or wrinkles indicate old age.
- The stalks must stand up straight; they shouldn’t be limp. The spears must be compact and tightly closed. They shouldn’t spread out or sprout.
- The bottoms of the stalks must stay moist during storage, but the remaining parts of the vegetable must not get wet.
- Do not wash asparagus before storing. And never soak it.
- Before placing them in the refrigerator, trim half an inch from the ends of the spears and stand them upright in a jar (with an inch of cold water at the bottom). Cover them with a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator for about four days. Frozen asparagus can last for up to a year.
You can get asparagus from your nearest supermarket store. And, with asparagus, we need to go beyond just selecting and storing.
How To Clean Asparagus
- Rinse the spears under cold water. This removes any grit.
- Snap the bottom inch of the spears using your fingers.
- Roll the spears between two kitchen towels and dry them.
- In case the asparagus is really thick, you can peel the thick outer coating with a vegetable peeler.
And yes, we need to go beyond cleaning as well.
How To Cook Asparagus
There are different ways, but all of them are quite simple.
- You can coat the spears with olive oil, sprinkle some salt, roast in the oven until the outside of the vegetable is browned.
- You might also steam the spears or even poach them in boiling salt water.
But the most popular way of cooking asparagus is in the oven. We will see that in detail now.
- 1 pound of asparagus
- Olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Baking sheet
You Need To
- Snap the dry ends off the asparagus. Heat the oven to 425o F.
- On the baking sheet, spread the asparagus spears in a single layer. Drizzle lightly with the olive oil. You can toss the spears to coat them with the oil evenly.
- Generously sprinkle salt and pepper.
- You can roast them on the top rack of the oven for about 8-10 minutes.
- Serve with a poached or hard-boiled egg on the top.
Roasted asparagus has a delicious taste of its own. But be wary of over roasted asparagus. It doesn’t taste as good.
You can also bake asparagus in the oven until it turns tender – or for about 15 minutes.
By now, you would have understood how incredible this green veggie is. But how do you include more of it in your diet?
How To Incorporate Asparagus Into Your Diet
Adding asparagus to your diet couldn’t have been simpler!
- You can add a handful of fresh asparagus to your omelet or scrambled eggs.
- Add chopped asparagus to your evening salad.
- Steam the spears whole for 5 minutes, post which you can drizzle with olive oil and minced garlic. You can also use pan-fried asparagus for this purpose.
- Even bacon wrapped asparagus is a wonderful way of downing this veggie through your throat.
- Sliced asparagus can be added to your evening bowl of soup as well.
- You might also want to sauté asparagus in a small amount of extra virgin olive oil and minced garlic. Season with black pepper and sprinkle some Parmesan cheese.
Or there is another way you can include asparagus in your daily routine. Check these recipes out!
Any Popular Asparagus Recipes?
These fresh asparagus recipes are sure to satisfy your palate.
1. Simple Grilled Asparagus Recipe
What You Need
- 1 pound of fresh and trimmed asparagus spears
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Preheat the grill on high heat.
- Lightly coat the asparagus spears with olive oil. Season with the salt and pepper.
- Grill over high heat until you achieve the desired tenderness.
2. Spring Asparagus And White Bean Salad
What You Need
- 3 spears of asparagus cut into 1-inch pieces
- 5 thinly sliced radishes
- 1 peeled and minced medium shallot
- 1 ½ cups of canned cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 2 oz of crumbled goat cheese
- 1 tablespoon of fresh mint
- For the dressing, you need 2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, ¼ teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of grated lemon zest, 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil, and ½ teaspoon of black pepper
- Steam the asparagus (covered) for 2 minutes until it becomes tender. Rinse it with cold water and drain.
- Gently combine the asparagus, beans, radishes, goat cheese, and mint in a serving bowl.
- Make the dressing by mixing all the corresponding ingredients.
- Pour the dressing over the asparagus mixture and toss gently to coat.
How about something light and interesting about asparagus?
Any Fun Facts About Asparagus?
- Oceana County in Michigan is the self-proclaimed asparagus capital of the world.
- Asparagus plants display sexual differentiation.
- Everyone produces the ‘asparagus pee’, but not everyone can smell it.
- California grows about 70% of the asparagus in the United States. More than 50,000 tonnes of the vegetable are grown in the state every year.
- It takes asparagus three years from seed to harvest.
- Asparagus is related to onions, garlic, and leeks.
There is something else about asparagus you must know. Because though it is nutritious and all, we should be wary of certain things.
Any Side Effects Of Asparagus?
- Might Cause Allergies
In case you are allergic to onions or leeks or other related plants, you could be allergic to asparagus as well.
Asparagus can also cause reactions in some people when used on the skin. In such an eventuality, stop using it and talk to your dermatologist.
- Issues During Pregnancy And Breastfeeding
Asparagus extracts have been used in the past for birth control, so taking it during pregnancy in excess can affect the hormonal balance in the body. Stick to normal amounts during pregnancy. And even before that, please do consult your doctor.
Not enough is known about taking this veggie during breastfeeding. So, avoid its use.
Eat it daily – because asparagus is worth all the fuss. And yes, tell us what you liked the most in this post. Leave a comment below.
Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions
What is an asparagus fern?
This is a common houseplant that grows pretty fast. But keep your pets away from the fern as it may contain toxins harmful to them.
What vegetables go well with asparagus?
Greens go well, but you can also add other colorful vegetables.
Can you eat raw asparagus?
Yes. But it said that asparagus is better when cooked – as that is when its anticancer properties improve.
Why does asparagus make your pee stink?
Asparagus contains a sulfurous compound called mercaptan, which, when broken down by the digestive system, releases the strange smell that makes your pee stink.
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