Asparagus, scientifically known as Asparagus officinalis is a vegetable. There are two types; green and white asparagus. It belongs to the family of Asparagaceae. It is an herbaceous, perennial plant growing to about 60 inches tall, while the sub specie prostrates (Dumort) Corb grows only to about 28 inches in height. It is cultivated as a vegetable crop mostly in Europe, Western Asia and Northern Africa. There are several species; Asparagus umbellatus, Asparagus prostrates, Asparagus scoparius etc. Generally asparagus is available in three varieties; green, white and purple. Purple colored variety of asparagus has a sweet taste as this variety is high in sugar content compared to other two varieties.
Beneficial Aspects of Asparagus
There are many health benefits of asparagus as it contains rich amounts of vitamins like B1, B2, B3 B6, C, E and K and minerals like Iron, Calcium, Potassium, Zinc, Magnesium, and Manganese etc. It is also rich in Dietary fiber, Carbohydrates, Sugar, Protein and Fat. Asparagus is also low in sodium and calories. Asparagus plant is also rich in amino acid. It is best consumed as an appetizer or as a vegetable side dish. It can also be marinated and preserved for several years.
Health benefits of Asparagus
There are many proven health benefits of asparagus. It is known to have cleansing and healing properties. Studies have shown that asparagus is rich in antioxidants, has a low calorie source of potassium and folate; a key ingredient helpful in reducing heart disease. Researches have indicated that sufficient levels of folate in the body may prevent Alzheimer's disease. Folate is also essential for pregnant women. Major benefits derived from asparagus are listed below.
Heart Care : Asparagus provides about 3 gm of dietary fiber per cup which helps in reducing risk of heart related diseases. The rich source of multivitamins in asparagus regulates homocysteine and hence is critical in heart care. Both heart disease and type 2 diabetes are the result of excessive inflammation and oxidative stress. The excellent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of asparagus reduces the risk of both the diseases.
Blood Sugar Regulation : Asparagus is a rich source of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B2 and folic acid along with B vitamins choline, pantothenic and biotin. These vitamins help in blood sugar metabolism, hence asparagus is considered competent in blood sugar management.
Anti Inflammatory Benefits : Asparagus provides saponins which include; asparnin A, sarsasapogenin, protodioscin and diosgenin which are considered as anti inflammatory nutrients. Flavonoids, quercetin, rutin, isorhamnetin and kaempferol are other anti inflammatory nutrients found in asparagus.
Anti-Oxidant Benefits : Asparagus is rich in antioxidant nutrients. These include vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and glutathione; minerals zinc, selenium and manganese. Glutathione consists three amino acids- glycine, cysteine and glutamic acid-combined in to one molecule. A study has shown that the fresh asparagus contains about 28 mg per 3.5 ounces of glutathione.
Anti Cancer Benefits : Chronic oxidative stress and chronic inflammation are considered as risk factors for many types of cancer. These are again connected to insufficient intake of anti inflammatory and anti oxidant nutrients. Asparagus help overcome this due to its rich content of these nutrients.
Benefits for digestion : Another health benefit of asparagus is that it is considered as a digestive support food because it contains considerable amounts of nutrient inulin. Healthcare experts consider this inulin as prebiotic because it contains a type of carbohydrate called as polyfructon. Inulin helps certain types of bacteria to grow in the large intestine. These bacteria are known to reduce the risk of colon cancer. Asparagus is rich in fiber content (about 2 gm of insoluble fiber and 1 gm of soluble fiber in a cup) along with about 5 gm of protein per cup. Both these ingredients; fiber and protein help in stabilizing digestion.
Anti-aging benefits : Asparagus has proved to prolong the process of aging by keeping muscle tissues healthy. Being rich in folate, potassium, glutathione and vitamin A, asparagus acts as an anti-aging food. It keeps the body free of free radicals. It also fights cognitive decline in the brain.
Benefits for the skeletal system : High vitamin K content present in asparagus helps in keeping bone density high and preventing problems such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. The vitamin helps in formation of bones and in repairing damages due to wear and tear. Asparagus is the biggest source of vitamin K.
Benefits for pregnant women and fetus : High folate content present in asparagus helps in promoting fetal health in the womb, thus preventing birth defects in the baby. It is also good for women who are trying to conceive. Deficiency of folate can lead to damages in the spinal cord of the baby and to a condition called anencephly, which is a defect of the neural tube. Asparagus helps in good formation of nerve cells in the fetus and is also known to prevent premature births.
Other health benefits of asparagus : Green asparagus is a good source of vitamin C. it contains substances which neutralize ammonia in the body, act as a diuretic and protects small blood vessels from getting ruptured. Asparagus fibers help in treating constipation. Water used for cooking asparagus helps in treating blemishes on the face. Cooked asparagus helps in dissolving uric acid deposits. It is very useful in treating hypertension caused due to the presence of more sodium than potassium in the blood.
Usage, Selection and Storage of Asparagus
Asparagus is consumed in many ways. Asparagus can be eaten cold or hot. Cold asparagus can be added to salad. Best way to cook asparagus is to cook it whole. Asparagus can be cut easily after they are cooked. Top portion of asparagus does not need peeling. Healthiest way to cook asparagus is to sauté to retain flavor and nutrition. Flavor of Omelette is enhanced when added with chopped asparagus
Select dry asparagus stalks with tight tips which are odorless. Do not go for limp or wilted stalks. Look for round but not fat stalks without any twists. Stems must be firm and thin with deep green or purple colored close tips. At the base, the cut ends should not appear too woody. Keep in a plastic bag after wrapping the ends of asparagus in a damp paper napkin and store in the refrigerator. Do not store for more than four days
When not to use Asparagus
Leukaemia cells responsible for blood cancer depend on asparagines, a particular type of amino acid, for survival. Even though there is no conclusive study to prove the relationship, amino acid "asparagines" present in asparagus may aggravate the condition of blood cancer. Purines contained in asparagus may be broken down in to uric acid. Excessive intake of purine can result in gout and formation of kidney stones. Hence individuals with kidney problems or gout should avoid consuming asparagus.
Health benefits of asparagus are several. At the same time, it also has few disadvantages too. But the advantages of asparagus far outweigh its negative aspects. It is beneficial in controlling heart problems, type 2 diabetes and many types of cancer. Additional advantages of asparagus are its anti oxidant and anti inflammatory properties. It can also be used to correct digestive problems. The best part is that asparagus is not a medicine as such but a vegetable.