Extensive research into asparagus nutrition has resulted in this funny-looking vegetable being ranked among the top fruits and vegetables for its ability to reduce the effect of cell-damaging free radicals.
What are the benefits of eating asparagus? Asparagus is a nutrient-dense food that is high in folic acid and is also a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, vitamin A and vitamin C, and thiamine.
Packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, asparagus has been used as a medicinal vegetable for 2,500 years. Today, asparagus is considered a valuable source of phenolic compounds in the human diet.
The list of asparagus nutritional benefits is long, as it’s been shown to help protect your heart, digestion, bones and even cells. And according to the American Institute for Cancer Research, asparagus can be a valuable part of a diet that reduces cancer risk.
These were was once classified in the Liliaceae plant family, which also includes onions, leeks, garlic and chives, but according to most sources, this has since been changed.
Asparagus is native to most of Europe, western Asia and northern Africa. Asparagus was first cultivated about 2,500 years ago in Greece, and it’s a Greek word that means stalk or shoot.
There are three main varieties of asparagus: American and British, which is green; French, which is purple; and Spanish and Dutch, which is white. The most common type of asparagus is green; the white asparagus is more delicate and is difficult to harvest; the purple asparagus is smaller and fruitier in flavor.
Some of the many types of asparagus in existence today include Jersey Giant, Jersey King and Mary Washington. Purple asparagus in particular is also a great source of anthocyanins, the same beneficial phytochemicals found in berries and red wine.
White asparagus is actually grown in the absence of sunlight to prevent chlorophyll from developing. Some studies have found the highest antioxidant activity to be in green asparagus and the lowest in white asparagus.
Below is asparagus nutrition information for one cup of raw asparagus, according to the USDA:
Is asparagus a superfood? Asparagus nutrition is impressive because it contains virtually no fat and remains very low in calories, with only 20 calories for five spears, yet it’s packed with vitamins and minerals. Otherwise, it contains two grams of protein, only four grams of carbohydrates and zero sodium.
How does asparagus affect the body? When first cultivated, asparagus was used as a natural medicine. It became known for its diuretic properties, and enjoyed because of its delicate and distinct flavor. Today we know that some of many asparagus benefits include supplying glutathione that defends against oxidative stress, helping to maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol, protecting against infections in the urinary tract, and much more.
Which is Healthier: Broccoli or Asparagus?
How does asparagus and broccoli nutrition compare? When you compare a one-cup serving of each, both vegetables have similar amounts of calories, fiber, protein and carbs. Broccoli is a bit higher in vitamin A, K and C, although both are good sources. Asparagus is a better source of iron and copper, while both provide some folate and potassium.
Something that makes broccoli different than asparagus is that as a member of the brassica family of cruciferous vegetables — the same family that includes other greens like bok choy, cabbage and kale — it’s an excellent source of a family of phytochemicals called isothiocyanates, in addition to sulforaphanes and indoles.
Broccoli consumption has been linked with an improvement in the body’s ability to fight cancer in a variety of ways, including by increasing antioxidant status, regulating enzymes, and controlling apoptosis.
Asparagus is high in vitamin K, which is the primary blood clotting vitamin. Many studies have found that vitamin K can also improve our bone health, since it works with vitamin D to facilitate bone mineralization, cell growth and tissue renewal.
Studies have also demonstrated that vitamin K can not only increase bone mineral density in osteoporotic people, but it can actually reduce fracture rates.
Vitamin K is also a key player in supporting heart health, as it helps to prevent hardening of the arteries, including keeping calcium out of your artery linings and other body tissues, where it can cause damage.
Asparagus is full of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients that help to reduce common chronic health problems including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer.
Two classes of antioxidants found in asparagus called phenolics and flavonoids (including quercetin, isorhamnetin and kaempferol) are especially important for disease prevention.
Asparagus also contains saponins, ascorbic acid and fructooligosaccharides, contributing to its anti-tumor effects. Some animal studies suggest that asparagus is useful in preventing hypertension and preserving renal function due to its functional components.
The antioxidant glutathione, which is found in many green veggies, oranges, garlic and some other plant foods, is also thought to slow the aging process and break down free radicals; it can also help to protect your skin from sun damage and pollution. Glutathione is considered to be the “master antioxidant” and the most-important regulator that controls inflammatory processes.
Something that makes asparagus nutrition unique is that this veggie contains chemicals that make it act as a natural diuretic, which means asparagus promotes the production of urine and can help fight bloating. This increases the excretion of water from the body, in particular ridding the body of excess salt and fluid. It’s diuretic properties, as well as potassium, allow asparagus to help regulate blood pressure, according to certain studies.
Asparagus is rich in the amino acid asparagine and is used along with lots of fluids as “irrigation therapy” to increase urine output. This is especially beneficial for people who suffer from edema, which is the accumulation of fluids in the body’s tissues. It’s also beneficial for people who have high blood pressure or other heart-related diseases. Additionally, asparagine has been found to have has calming properties.
Researchers have concluded that another benefit of asparagus nutrition is that it can be also used to treat urinary tract infections and other conditions of the urinary tract that cause pain and swelling. Is asparagus good for the kidneys? Yes; it’s been shown to help prevent kidney stones and stones in the bladder for forming. However in excessive amounts, it can irritate the kidneys.
Asparagus contains prebiotic compounds and significant amounts of the nutrient inulin, which does not break down in our digestive systems, but passes undigested to our large intestines where it becomes a food source for good and healthy bacteria. Having enough “good bacteria” in your gut is linked with enhanced nutrient absorption, a lower risk of allergies, and a lower risk of colon and pancreatic cancer, among other health benefits.
Researchers now know that asparagus nutrition can help maintain a healthy pregnancy. There is a significant amount of folate in asparagus, making asparagus an important vegetable choice for women of childbearing age. Asparagus may also help anemia due to folate deficiency, which is common among pregnant and postpartum women.
Folate can decrease the risk of neural-tube defects in fetuses, so it’s essential for women who are looking to become pregnant to get enough of it. Folate works along with vitamin B12 and vitamin C to help the body break down, use and create new proteins. It also helps form red blood cells and produce DNA, the building block of the human body, which carries genetic information.
Eating low-carb vegetables like asparagus is a great way to obtain enough fiber, which is digested slowly and keeps you feeling full, without consuming excess calories. One serving of asparagus contains more than a gram of soluble fiber, which has been shown to lower our risk of heart disease.
Soluble fiber dissolves in our bodies into a gluey mass that works to trap fat, sugars, bacteria and toxins, and move them out of the body. Because soluble fiber attracts water and turns to gel during digestion, it slows our digestion.
Something you may not know about asparagus nutrition? The three grams of dietary fiber found in asparagus can lower our risk of type 2 diabetes. Insoluble fiber found in asparagus doesn’t dissolve; instead, it’s stiff components scrub the digestive tract lining, removing mucoid plaque, trapped toxins and other material.
Fiber also releases organic acids in the body that help the liver to function, and rid our bodies of pathogens and added cholesterol. Increased fiber intake may also protect against gastrointestinal disorders including gastroesophageal reflux disease, duodenal ulcer, diverticulitis, constipation, and hemorrhoids.
Is asparagus good for losing weight? Individuals with high intakes of dietary fiber appear to be at significantly lower risk for developing obesity along with coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, and certain gastrointestinal diseases.
Increasing fiber intake also lowers blood pressure and serum cholesterol levels (7). If you follow a low-carb diet, you’ll be happy to know there are little carbs in asparagus, making it a nutrient-dense option that is filling and may help with reaching satiety.
Like most of the B-vitamins, thiamine plays a role in how our bodies use energy from food and is vital for cellular function. Thiamine specifically helps the body convert carbohydrates to energy, which is important for metabolism, focus and strength.
B vitamins support the metabolism of sugars and starches, so they are critical for blood sugar management. They are also needed to regulate homocysteine, which is an amino acid that can lead to heart disease if it reaches excessive levels in our blood. This makes asparagus a great option for heart health, too.
One of the most important asparagus benefits for men is that extracts derived from asparagus have been found to help defend against prostate cancer; certain studies suggest that extract of Asparagus laricinus exhibits selective cytotoxicity on cancer cells but not on non-cancerous cells.
Another surprising aspect about asparagus nutrition is that it’s rich in glutathione, a detoxifying compound that can help destroy carcinogens. Researchers believe glutathione is so pivotal to our health that the levels in our cells are becoming a predictor of how long we will live.
Glutathione plays a crucial role in immune function. This means that asparagus may help fight or protect against certain cancers, including bone, breast, lung and colon cancers. Persistent inflammation and chronic oxidative stress are risk factors for many cancer types, and both of these issues can be deferred by a dietary intake of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients.
9. Supports Skin Health
Asparagus benefits for skin include protecting against sun damage and even potentially skin cancer. This is due to the presence of vitamin A and various antioxidants.
Vitamins C, E and A, beta carotene (carotenoids) and polyphenols are among the antioxidants many dermatologists recommend including in your diet to help prevent skin related issues. Vitamin A may also help balance out oil production and help manage acne.
When shopping for asparagus, look for the stronger spears that have tight heads. You can test the freshness by making sure that it snaps when bent. When prepping asparagus, trim the bottom ends first. Make sure you wash the spears thoroughly before cooking them.
To store, bundle the spears together, wrap the stem ends of the spears in a moist paper towel, and place the bundle in a plastic bag or in a cup of water.
Can you juice asparagus? As long as you don’t mind the taste, this is a good option for obtaining asparagus’s nutrients. Benefits of asparagus juice include that it’s a great source of folate, beta carotene and vitamin K, although juicing it will remove its valuable fiber.
Drinking some may help relieve bloating since it increases urination. To cut the “funky” taste of asparagus juice, mix it sweet elements like apple or carrot, or make it savory and pair with tomato, cilantro, garlic and salt.
Asparagus is a perennial, which means it comes back year after year, in the early spring time while it’s still somewhat cool. It thrives in any area where the ground freezes during winter or goes through dry seasons, and it’s difficult to grow the crop in mild or wet areas.
Asparagus plants are monoecious, meaning that each plant is either male or female. Male plants harvest more shoots/spears because they don’t have to invest energy in producing seeds; they have stronger root systems and can be up to three times more productive than female plants.
Here are some tips for growing asparagus, according to the Farmer’s Almanac:
There are so many ways to cook asparagus, whether sautéing some in a pan with water, lemon and olive oil, grilling over medium heat, or roasting in the oven. You can even cook some in the microwave if you are short on time.
One of the best ways to cook asparagus is by briefly steaming or blanching it, since this is fast and also preserves nutrients. To make blanched asparagus: bring 8 cups water to a boil, season with 2 tablespoons coarse salt, and add asparagus, then boil until tender, 3 to 4 minutes before draining.
It can also be roasted quickly, which takes only about 10 minutes. It’s best to serve or cook asparagus with a little olive oil or coconut oil, since some of the nutrients found in this veggie are absorbed better when eaten alongside some fat.
Does cooking affect the nutrition of asparagus? It can, since some antioxidants and vitamins are sensitive to heat. Try not to overcook this veggie, since that will cause it to be mushy and also lower in certain nutrients.
Although the flavor of asparagus is delicious all by itself, you can always spice it up a bit. Try adding garlic, lemon, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. You can add asparagus to a healthy meal or eat it as an appetizer or side dish. Have it with your meat of choice, add it to a salad, or try it with an over easy eggs.
Try these healthy asparagus recipes to include this veggie in your diet more often:
What types of asparagus side effects are possible? Asparagus is safe when eaten in food amounts, but there still isn’t enough information available to know if asparagus is safe when used in larger medicinal amounts. It may cause allergic reactions when eaten or used on the skin if you have a food sensitivity or intolerance. This is especially true among people who have had allergic reactions to other members of the Liliaceae family.
Asparagus works like a water pill or diuretic. Eating large amounts of asparagus or using a supplement might decrease how well the body gets rid of lithium. This could increase how much lithium is in the body and result in serious side effects. Lithium affects the flow of sodium through nerve and muscle cells in the body. It’s sometimes used to treat the symptoms of manic depression, like aggression, hyperactivity and anger.
What does asparagus do to your pee? After eating asparagus, some people report their urine gives off a strange odor. The odor, once suspected of being a product of a defective metabolism, is actually harmless — it’s produced because of the asparagus sulfur compounds that your body did not absorb.
Research shows that individual differences exist in both odorant production and odor perception after eating this veggie. One study showed that 10 percent of 307 subjects tested were able to smell the odor in urine at high dilutions, suggesting a genetically determined specific hypersensitivity.