Asparagus belongs to the lily family, which includes onion, garlic and leeks. It is derived from the Greek word which means ‘sprout’. There are over 300 species of asparagus but only a few are edible. Asparagus is usually available in three colours white, green and purple. The white once are grown away from sunlight, that’s the reason why it lacks the green pigment. The purple ones are loaded with anthocyanins and phytochemicals which provides it with the unique blend of purple colours. Asparagus is available all year round and mostly found in spring and harvested when it’s about 6 to 8 inches tall.
Asparagus is a great source of protein but low in calories and carbohydrates. It’s packed with antioxidant, nutrients and a great source of vitamins A, B1 (thiamine) B2 (riboflavin) B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B-6, C, E (alpha-tocopherol) and K (phylloquinone). Asparagus is also rich in other minerals like iron, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc, selenium and potassium. Asparagus is very low in sodium and cholesterol, but a great source of dietary fiber.
Health Benefits of Asparagus
- Pregnant woman: Asparagus is rich in folate. There are several evidence that taking folic acid before and during pregnancy can greatly reduce the chances of birth defects. If you are trying to conceive, it is usually recommended that you start taking prenatal vitamin with folic acid. A particular study proved that women who took folic acid for at least one year before getting pregnant cut down their chances of delivering early by 50%. With all these evidence and since asparagus is rich in folic acid, it makes total sense to take it before and during pregnancy.
- PMS Symptoms: Premenstrual water retention causes bloating and a heavy feeling the week or two before your period begins. Although the causes may be unclear but asparagus has diuretic effect that helps relive premenstrual swelling and bloating. Its magnesium content also help relieve irritability, fatigue and depression.
- Cataracts:Cataract is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens, which lies behind the iris and the pupil. For people who have cataracts, seeing through cloudy lenses is more like looking through a frosty or fogged-up window. Since asparagus is a rich source of vitamin A and also due to the presence of antioxidant which helps in protecting the retina from the damage caused by the oxygen-free radicals. The amino acid glutathione present in asparagus also helps in reducing the risk of eye ailments like cataracts and night blindness.
- Rheumatism: Rheumatism arthritis is a disease marked by inflammation and pain in the joints, muscles, or fibrous tissue. Several studies has shown that consuming food rich in folate helps in relieving the pain associated with arthritis due to its anti-inflammatory property. They good news is that asparagus is rich in folate acid.
- Diabetes: A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition states that eating asparagus can help control type 2 diabetes. Also researchers from Karachi University in Pakistan found that regular consumption of the Asparagus can keep blood sugar levels in check and increase insulin production in the body. Another research where diabetes-induces rats with low levels of insulin and high blood sugar where divided into two half’s, one half was fed an extract from asparagus each day for the period of one month while the other half was treated with type 2 diabetes drug, Glibenclamide. The research result showed that high dose of asparagus boost blood sugar-regulating hormone by the pancreas. Asparagus owe its diabetics fighting property to the presence of a mineral chromium, which plays a vital role in regulating blood sugar level.
- Hangover: A research conducted in Chicago by the Institute of Food Technologists shows that amino acid and minerals found in asparagus can be used to relive the effect of excess alcohol on the liver. Also another research published in the journal of food science, a Korean researcher found that extracts from asparagus boosted the enzymes responsible for breaking down alcohol after drinking. With this said you can easily avert the symptoms of hangover by simply eating the vegetable before and after your Friday night out.
- Prevent Cancer: Asparagus is a rich source of Glutathione. Glutathione is an important anti-carcinogen which contains rutin and protects small blood vessels from rupturing and may also protect against the damaging effects of radiation. It also helps in the breaking down of carcinogens and warding off free radicals. Regular consumption of asparagus can play a major role in aging and preventing of several chronic disease like anemia, cancer and several other cardiac disorders. Asparagus also contains a variety of phytonutrients known as saponins. Some studies on this has shown that saponins obtain from asparagus possess anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Blood Cholesterol: Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are mostly prescribed in the treatment of high blood pressure. But the issue with ACE inhibitors is that they have potential side effect likes kidney failure, dizziness, headache, fatigue, liver damage and depression. The good news is that researchers discovered a natural ACE inhibitor in asparagus is a safer alternative in lowering blood pressure. Another research published in the journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that when rats were fed with diet containing 5 percent asparagus for 10 weeks their blood pressure dropped significantly compared to rats fed a non-asparagus diet. Also a study in humans revealed that consuming six grams of asparagus powdered daily for 10 weeks leads to significant reductions in blood pressure among 28 healthy volunteers.
- Urinary tract infections: UTIs usually occurs anywhere along urinary tract, like the bladder, kidney and urethra. It is usually accompanied with symptoms like fever, inflammation of the urinary tract, pain in the pelvic area and a burning sensation. People suffering from UTI will greatly benefit from taking asparagus supplements (get one here) because of its antibacterial property. One particular research revealed that asparagus possess anti-urolithiatic. (Urolithiasis refers to the solid non-metallic minerals in the urinary tract. This is the third most common condition of the urinary tract after urinary tract infection and pathologic condition of prostate). Which helps to cure urinary tract infection. Due to it diuretic properties, consumption of asparagus increases the frequency of urination, which in turns helps to detoxify and flush toxic waste out of the body.
- Fertility: During the medieval times asparagus was used to treat infertility. It has being shown to help increase sperm count. Asparagus is also used to regulate hormones and cure male and female disorders. It is believed that Asparagus has anti-anxiety properties which helps in curing physical and mental debility in males. It also helps in enhancing libido and boost sperm count. It has also been shown to be very effective in menopausal syndrome and anemia and in improving the quality of breast milk, while also boosting the appetite of nursing mothers.
To prepare asparagus, steam it lightly rather than boiling it. Boiling asparagus helps preserve sodium and other important minerals. Asparagus shouldn’t be cooked with iron pot, because the tannins in the asparagus reacts with iron pots and most times the stalk becomes discoloured by this. Asparagus is also great when juiced and it goes quite well with vegetables like carrot, apples and lemon. When buying asparagus always go for the straight, firm stalks with tight tips. If you wish to store it, start by drying it up and keep them in dry and tightly wrapped in a plastic bag for up to three days in the refrigerator.