Nothing heralds the onset of spring like crisp, fresh asparagus. While these fleshy spears are valued for their tender texture and succulent taste, asparagus also packs in a lot of nutritional value to boot. Just check out these seven health benefits of asparagus!
Health Benefits of Asparagus
Vitamins and Minerals
Asparagus is loaded with good stuff: vitamins A, C, E and K; minerals such as folate, iron, potassium and manganese; fiber; and even protein.
Asparagus contains rich amounts of glutathione, sometimes referred to as “the mother of all antioxidants.” Glutathione attracts toxins and free radicals to it, then carries them out of the body. In addition to glutathione, asparagus also contains other antioxidants such as beta-carotene, selenium and some of the vitamins and minerals mentioned above.
In addition to its antioxidant content, asparagus also contains high levels of anti-inflammatory compounds such asparanin A, sarsasapogenin, protodioscin and diosgenin. Chronic inflammation can lead to health problems such type 2 diabetes and heart disease, so a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce the risk of developing these problems.
Thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, asparagus offers some level of protection against cancer. Although few studies have been conducted on the effects of asparagus on cancer in humans, preliminary research has shown that asparagus extracts can change the metabolic activity of cancer cells in such a way as to protect the body.
Many of the nutrients found in asparagus play an important role in keeping our hearts healthy. Fiber and B vitamins—of which asparagus contains many, including folate—can help lower the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. B vitamins help regulate homocysteine, an amino acid that can be a precursor to heart disease if levels are too high. Asparagus’ anti-inflammatory properties can also aid in heart disease prevention.
Eating asparagus can also help with blood sugar management. In addition to keeping our hearts healthy, B vitamins help regulate the metabolism of sugars and starches, and a diet rich in fiber and anti-inflammatory nutrients can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Asparagus also contains a compound called inulin, which aids digestion. Unlike other carbs, inulin passes all the way through our digestive system intact until it reaches the large intestine, where it provides food for good bacteria.
Fresh asparagus doesn’t last long. Asparagus’ respiration rate—the amount of time after picking that a vegetable continues metabolic activity such as taking in oxygen, breaking down sugars and starches, and releasing carbon dioxide—is two to five times higher than other vegetables, meaning that it will perish faster. Fresh asparagus is best consumed with 48 hours of purchase, although tricks such as wrapping the ends in a damp towel or placing the thick end in a glass of cold water in the refrigerator can extend this vegetable’s life.
Enjoy the many health benefits of asparagus by digging into these scrumptious asparagus recipes.
Pasta with Asparagus and Spring Herbs
Grilled Scallions and Asparagus
Asparagus Soup with Chives
Pickled Asparagus with Lemon, Tarragon and Garlic
Green Curry Asparagus
Asparagus in Raspberry Vinaigrette
Images: Photo By Yevgeniya Shal/Courtesy Fotolia; Photo By Liz West/Courtesy Flickr
Susan Melgren is the Web Editor of Mother Earth Living. Find her on Google+.