Asparagus is a nutrient-dense food that is high in folic acid and is also a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, vitamins A and vitamin C, and thiamine. 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.
Packed with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, asparagus has been used as a medicinal vegetable for 2,500 years. The list of asparagus nutritional benefits is long, for it helps your heart, digestion, bones and even cells.
Asparagus Nutrition Facts
Asparagus nutrition is impressive because it contains virtually no fat and remains very low in calories, with only 20 calories for five spears, yet asparagus is packed with vitamins and minerals. Otherwise, it contains two grams of protein, only four grams of carbohydrates and zero sodium.
Asparagus nutrition facts, listed in recommended daily values:
- 20 calories per cup
- 2 grams of protein
- 60% folacin
- 38% vitamin K
- 20% vitamin C
- 15% vitamin B1 Thiamin
- 10% vitamin B6
- 8% vitamin A
- 6% vitamin B2 Riboflavin
- 5% vitamin B3 Niacin
- 2% calcium
- 4% magnesium
- 4% copper
Health Benefits of Asparagus
1. Good Source of Vitamin K
Asparagus is high in vitamin K, which is the blood clotting vitamin. Many studies have found that vitamin K can also improve our bone health. These studies have also demonstrated that vitamin K can not only increase bone mineral density in osteoporotic people, but it can actually reduce fracture rates (1).
Vitamin K is also a key player in supporting heart health. 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.
2. Contains Anti-inflammatory and Antioxidant Properties
Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients help to reduce common chronic health problems including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Asparagus is full of anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants, both of which make it a great food for preventing disease.
3. Serves as a Natural Diuretic
Something else to know about asparagus nutrition is that the unique chemical properties of asparagus make it act as a natural diuretic, which means asparagus promotes the production of urine. This increases the excretion of water from the body, in particular ridding the body of excess salt and fluid.
Asparagus 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 helpful for people who have high blood pressure or other heart-related diseases.
Additionally, 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.
4. Nourishes the Digestive Tract
Asparagus contains significant amounts of the nutrient inulin, which does not break down in our digestive tract. Instead, it passes undigested to our large intestines, where it becomes a food source for good and healthy bacteria. Good bacteria are responsible for better nutrient absorption, a lower risk of allergies, and a lower risk of colon cancer (4).
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.
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. Folate helps form red blood cells and produce DNA, the building block of the human body, which carries genetic information (5).
6. Good Source of Fiber
The fiber in asparagus helps to improve digestion because it moves food through the gut. 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 (6).
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 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 provide us fuel, cleanse the digestive tract, help the liver to function, and rid our bodies of toxins, pathogens, added cholesterol and extra sugar.
Dietary fiber intake provides many health benefits, but sadly the average fiber intakes for US children and adults are less than half of the recommended levels.
Individuals with high intakes of dietary fiber appear to be at significantly lower risk for developing coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity and certain gastrointestinal diseases. Increasing fiber intake lowers blood pressure and serum cholesterol levels (7).
7. High in Vitamin B1 Thiamine
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 also play a key role in regulating 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 study showed that older adults with healthy levels of vitamin B12 performed better on a test that measured speed and mental flexibility.
Vitamin B is commonly known as the “energy vitamin” because it can definitely improve your energy and help you overcome fatigue and exhaustion. It improves energy by supporting thyroid function and cellular methylation (9).
8. Helps Fight Cancer
A 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 (10).
The History of Asparagus
There are three 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.
Asparagus was once classified in the lily family, along with onions and garlic, but it’s now considered part of the Asparagaceae family. Asparagus 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 because they don’t have to invest energy in producing seeds.
Asparagus was first cultivated about 2,500 years ago in Greece, and it’s a Greek word that means stalk or shoot. Asparagus is native to most of Europe, western Asia and northern Africa.
Early on, the benefits of asparagus nutrition were noticed and appreciated. 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.
Emperor Augustus of Rome created the “Asparagus Fleet,” when the asparagus was hauled to the Alps in order to freeze the vegetable for the winter. There is even a recipe for asparagus in the oldest surviving book of recipes from the third century AD.
The French began cultivating asparagus in the 1400s, and the English and Germans began noticing this nutritious vegetable in the 1500s. Asparagus became known in the United States around 1850.
Today, the top asparagus importers are the United States, the European Union and Japan. China is the world’s largest producer, and United States production is highest in California, Michigan and Washington.
How to Pick out and Prepare Asparagus
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 your asparagus, trim the bottom ends first. Make sure you wash the spears thoroughly before cooking them.
How to Cook Asparagus
There are so many ways to cook asparagus: It can be cooked in a pan with water, lemon and olive oil; it can be grilled over medium heat (which is my favorite); it can be roasted in the oven or even cooked in the microwave if you are short on time.
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 egg.
Total Time: 15 minutes
- 3 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 bunch asparagus
- 5 cloves garlic, chopped
- Melt the coconut oil in a skillet on medium high heat.
- Add the garlic and asparagus to the pan. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Continue to cook until desired tenderness is achieved.
Photo: Garlic Asparagus Recipe / Dr. Axe
Total Time: 40 minutes
- 2 large red bell peppers, cored & seeded
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 tbsp. coconut oil
- 3 – 4 tbsp. red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup fresh basil
- 1 lb. asparagus, trimmed
- 1/2 cup water
- Coarsely chop red peppers.
- Cook peppers and garlic in oil over low heat for 30 minutes.
- Puree mixture in food processor or blender. Add vinegar, basil, salt and pepper.
- Bring water to boil in the skillet; add asparagus spears. Return water to boiling; simmer, covered about 5 minutes or until asparagus is crisp-tender.
- Spoon red pepper sauce on platter; arrange asparagus on top of sauce.
- Garnish with red pepper and basil, if desired.
Photo: Asparagus Tapas with Red Pepper Sauce Recipe / Dr. Axe
Asparagus is safe when eaten in food amounts, but there still isn’t enough information regarding asparagus nutrition to know if asparagus is safe when used in larger medicinal amounts. Asparagus can cause allergic reactions when eaten as a vegetable or used on the skin if you have a food sensitivity or intolerance.
Asparagus may cause an allergic reaction in people who are sensitive to other members of the Liliaceae family, which includes onions, leeks, garlic and chives.
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.
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.
One study showed that 10% of 307 subjects tested were able to smell the odor in urine at high dilutions, suggesting a genetically determined specific hypersensitivity (11).
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