Asparagus is a commonly eaten vegetable in many parts of the world and is well known for its unique, savory taste.
Asparagus ranks among the top 20 foods in regards to ANDI score (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index), which 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.
In this article we take an in-depth look at its possible health benefits of asparagus and the nutritional breakdown of the vegetable. 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 ofobesity, diabetes, heart disease and overall mortality while promoting a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy and overall lower weight.
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
Folic acid is essential for pregnant women to protect their infants against miscarriage and neural tube defects. Recent research has also shown that a father’s folate status before conception may be just as important. In a study from McGill University, paternal folate deficiency in mice was associated with a 30% higher number of various birth defects than in offspring with no paternal folate deficiencies.1
2) Lowered risk of depression
Folate may help ward off depression by preventing an excess of homocysteine from forming in the body, which can block blood and other nutrients from reaching the brain. Excess homocysteine interferes with the production of the feel-good hormones serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which regulate not only mood, but sleep and appetite as well.2
3) Maintaining a healthy heart
Excess homocysteine levels are also 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 high risk of bone fracture. Just one cup of asparagus provides 70% of your vitamin K needs for the day. Consuming an adequate amount of vitamin K daily, improves bone health by improving calciumabsorption and reducing urinary excretion of calcium. The iron in asparagus also plays a crucial role in maintaining the strength and elasticity of bones and joints.6
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, which 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 intakes are associated with significantly lower risks 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 ofcarbohydrate, 3 grams of sugar, 3 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein.
That same cup will also provide 70% of your daily vitamin K needs, 20% of vitamin A, 17% of folate, 16% of iron, 13% of vitamin C and thiamin as well as 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. You can keep asparagus 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.
Asparagus can be eaten raw or cooked. A handful of asparagus works well in an omelet.
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.
Potential health risks of consuming asparagus
It is the total diet or overall 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 you are taking blood-thinners such as Coumadin (warfarin), it is important that you do not suddenly begin to eat more or fewer foods containing vitamin K, which plays a large role in blood clotting.