Asparagus is a commonly eaten vegetable in many parts of the world; it is well known for its unique, savory taste. It can be eaten raw or cooked.
In this article, we take an in-depth look at the possible health benefits of asparagus and its nutritional breakdown.
We also discuss how to incorporate more asparagus into your diet and any potential health risks associated with its consumption.
Possible health benefits of asparagus
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions.
Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like asparagus decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and overall mortality while promoting a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy and overall lower weight.
Asparagus ranks among the top 20 foods in regards to its ANDI score (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index); this score measures vitamin, mineral, and phytonutrient content in relation to the caloric content.
To earn a high ANDI rank, food must provide a high amount of nutrients for a small amount of calories.
Asparagus is one of the best natural sources of folate. Adequate folate intake is extremely important during periods of rapid growth such as pregnancy, infancy, and adolescence.
1) Decreased risk of birth defects
Women are recommended to take folic acid supplements during pregnancy as it helps protect the growing child against miscarriage and neural tube defects. Recent research has also shown that a father's folate status before conception may also be important.
In a study from McGill University, paternal folate deficiency in mice was associated with a 30 percent increase in various birth defects compared with offspring with no paternal folate deficiencies.
2) Lowered risk of depression
Folate may also help ward off depression by preventing an excess of homocysteine from forming in the body; homocysteine can block blood and other nutrients from reaching the brain.
Excess homocysteine also interferes with the production of the feel-good hormones serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which regulate not only mood but sleep and appetite, too.
3) Maintaining a healthy heart
Excess homocysteine levels are a marker for coronary artery disease. People with above-normal levels of homocysteine are 1.7 times more likely to develop heart disease and 2.5 times more likely to suffer a stroke.
4) Osteoporosis prevention
Poor vitamin K intake is linked with a higher risk of bone fracture. Just one cup of asparagus provides 70 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin K.
Consuming an adequate amount of vitamin K plays a role in bone health by improving calcium absorption and reducing urinary excretion of calcium. The iron in asparagus also helps maintain the strength and elasticity of bones and joints.
5) Cancer prevention
Low levels of folate intake have been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer in women. Adequate intake of dietary folate (in food) has also shown promise in protecting against colon, stomach, pancreatic, and cervical cancers.
Although the mechanism of protection is currently unknown, researchers believe that folate's protective effects have something to do with its role in DNA and RNA production and the prevention of unwanted mutations. There is no evidence that folate supplementation provides the same anti-cancer benefits.
Asparagus is high in both fiber and water content, this helps to prevent constipation, maintain a healthy digestive tract, and lower the risk of colon cancer.
Adequate fiber promotes regularity, which is crucial for the daily excretion of toxins through the bile and stool. Recent studies have shown that dietary fiber may also play a role in regulating the immune system and inflammation, consequently decreasing the risk of inflammation-related conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity.
According to the Department of Internal Medicine and Nutritional Sciences Program of the University of Kentucky, high fiber intake is associated with a significantly lower risk of developing coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and certain gastrointestinal diseases.
Increased fiber intake has also been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and enhance weight loss for obese individuals.
Nutritional breakdown of asparagus
According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one cup of raw asparagus contains approximately:
- 27 calories
- 0 grams of fat
- 5 grams of carbohydrate
- 3 grams of sugar
- 3 grams of fiber
- 3 grams of protein
That same cup will also provide the following percentage of daily needs:
- 70 percent vitamin K
- 20 percent vitamin A
- 17 percent folate
- 16 percent iron
- 13 percent vitamin C
- 13 percent thiamin
Plus, smaller amounts of vitamin E, niacin, vitamin B6, and potassium.
How to incorporate more asparagus into your diet
You can find asparagus in green, white, and even purple varieties. Look for stalks that are dry and tight and avoid those that are soft, limp, or wilted.
Asparagus can be kept fresh by wrapping the stem ends in a wet paper towel and storing in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Asparagus can be eaten raw or cooked.
Young asparagus stems can be eaten whole, however, larger, thicker asparagus may need to have the bottoms removed, which become tough and woody as they age.
Quick tips to incorporate more asparagus in your daily diet:
Add a handful of fresh asparagus to an omelet or scramble.
Sauté asparagus in a small amount of extra virgin olive oil and minced garlic. Season with freshly ground black pepper and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Add chopped asparagus to your next salad or wrap.
Place asparagus on a large piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle olive oil and lemon juice over the asparagus, wrap up the foil and bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit or until asparagus reaches desired tenderness.
Try these healthy and delicious recipes developed by registered dietitians:
- Speedy scallop and asparagus sauté
- Healthy pasta primavera
- Pearled barley risotto with fresh asparagus and mushrooms
- Balsamic roasted asparagus
- Simple crustless asparagus quiche
Potential health risks of consuming asparagus It is the overall diet and eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with a variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
If an individual is taking blood-thinners such as Coumadin (warfarin), they should not to suddenly begin eating an increased or decreased quantity of foods containing vitamin K, which plays a significant role in blood clotting.