Asparagus Health Benefits

May 17, 2017
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

If you ask your pharmacist for a super-healthy dose of vitamins A, C, E, K, and B6, with a side of folate, iron, copper, calcium, protein, and fiber, don’t be surprised if they hand you a bundle of fresh-cut asparagus spears.

Spring has sprung, and the green, purple, and white spears are springing out of the ground, promising some of the healthiest, tastiest dining delights you’ll find anywhere.

The different colors don’t make much of nutritional difference, by the way, though the white spears are slightly less loaded with goodness than the others.

So grab whichever colors you want. You can’t go wrong.

Asparagus—the can-do veggie

If you try to think of a health threat that asparagus can’t push back against…you won’t be able to.

Asparagus can help you lose weight.

It’s low in fat and calories (one cup=just 32 calories).  And it’s rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber, which your body digests slowly, giving you that satisfied, “full” feeling that stops you overeating at mealtime, and wards off hunger for between-meal snacking.

Fiber can also help lower cholesterol, and relieve or prevent constipation.

Asparagus contains high levels of the amino acid asparagine—a natural diuretic that helps flush excess fluids and salts from your body. Throw a few spears at your urinary tract to ward off UTIs by getting rid of bad bacteria.

It’s loaded with antioxidantsThe purple version in particular is full of anthocyanins, a potent antioxidant flavenoid that generously gives fruits and veggies their gorgeous red, blue, and purple hues—with double the antioxidant power of vitamin C.

Antioxidants, of course, are tireless front-line defenders against the free radicals that cause inflammation, anywhere and everywhere—the root cause of nearly every disease we know, including heavy hitters like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, cognitive decline, and more.

Asparagus contains vitamin E. Another powerful antioxidant, vitamin E takes out additional free radicals that the anthocyanins didn’t already catch, helping your immune system protect every cell in your body against every health threat the world can throw at it.

Take that, free radicals. Your days are numbered.

Vitamin B6 and folate give asparagus natural aphrodisiac powers, which can help stimulate arousal and desire. And asparagus comes with a bonus: its vitamin E stimulates sex hormones, including estrogen in women and testosterone in men.

It’s a hangover preventer and remedy.  When a greasy, meaty, morning-after chow-down seems like your only hope, try asparagus instead.  Better still, try an asparagus-rich dinner the night before the morning after. Asparagus contains the two key enzymes that speed up the breakdown of alcohol, both before and after consumption, and protect liver cells from alcohol toxins.

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Asparagus promotes overall digestive health.  In addition to its fiber content, it keeps your digestive system running smoothly, top to bottom, with generous helpings of the billions of beneficial bacteria, or probiotics, that our bodies need to aid digestion and fight off bad bacteria.  Efficient digestion is essential to health, of course, but also plays a huge role in just plain feeling comfortable—like by reducing the discomfort of gas and bloating, and un-bulging that distended belly.

it’s rich in folic acid, especially important for women who are or intend to be pregnant.  Just 4 spears deliver 22 percent of the recommended daily allowance for this essential nutrient, which can help reduce the likelihood of premature birth.

Like its esteemed leafy green partners in health, asparagus is filled with vitamin K. It’s essential for coagulating blood at the site of a cut or other trauma, and helps your body absorb calcium to keep your bones strong and healthy.

It can help lower blood pressure.  This one is up for grabs in the research community. Some say yea, some say nay.  I give it a conditional, but almost certain, yea. Like nearly all fruits and veggies that are rich in so many nutrients, it’s more likely they’ll cover more health bases than fewer.

It’s a feel-good food.  Folate plays the hero-in-a-spear-o again, lifting your spirits, making you less likely to be cranky and irritable.  Indeed, research has linked low levels of folate and vitamin B12 with depression. Asparagus also contains high levels of tryptophan, an amino acid similarly linked to improved mood. When Charles Lamb, the 18th century British poet and essayist, said “Asparagus inspires gentle thoughts,” he nailed it. (Speared it?)

It prevents/cures cancer?? This claim has spurred a classic, noisy split in the research community. Some use the M-word, for “myth.” Others remind us that asparagus contains a whole bunch of nutrients, some of which find their way into regimens that do, indeed, help cure or prevent cancer.

A 2010 study, for example, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, found that vitamin B6, when combined with folate and methionine, can reduce the chances of lung cancer by as much as two-thirds.

Asparagus, as we’ve seen, contains both vitamin B6 and folate. The amino acid methionine is available from meat, poultry, fish, cottage cheese, peanuts, beans, eggs, garlic, lentils, onions, yogurt, and sesame seeds.

So some of the ingredients of at least an apparent lung cancer “cure” are present in asparagus. And plenty of antioxidants are of vital importance in preventing and curing…you name it.

But to me, that doesn’t constitute a cure.  I suspect more research will clear this up.

Seek, and ye shall dine

There are countless delicious ways to prepare these wonderful veggies. You can go for the ultimate in simple—raw in shaved strips, steamed or lightly boiled. You can go for grilled, sauteed, or roasted, as a side dish with fish, meat, or tofu—or part of a full-meal spring salad, with some of the other glorious veggies in season.

However you prepare it, be careful not to overcook or undercook it—overdoing it reduces some of its nutrient potency.

I recommend roasting your spears with a drizzle of olive oil and just the tiniest pinch of salt and pepper. The famed, super-healthy fat helps us absorb all that vitamin E, in particular, and all the other nutrients asparagus has to offer.

Bon appetit—and take good care.

References

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