Asparagus is the ultimate spring vegetable, but did you know that it is loaded with nutrients and that it bestows powerful health benefits?
Asparagus, originating in the eastern Mediterranean countries, has been consumed for over 2000 years. In ancient Greece it was considered to be a sacred plant and an aphrodisiac.
Asparagus comes in different colored varieties — white, green and purple. While in the US mainly the green variety is consumed, in Europe the white variety is very popular, particularly in salads.
Asparagus is low in calories, high in nutrients and it provides important health benefits.
Helps to Prevent Heart Disease
Asparagus is a nutrient dense vegetable. To give you an idea of how nutrient-packed this vegetable is, just half a cup of cooked asparagus provides the following:
- Calories: 20
- Protein: 2.2 grams
- Fat: 0.2 grams
- Fiber: 1.8 grams
- Vitamin C: 12% of the RDI
- Vitamin A: 18% of the RDI
- Vitamin K: 57% of the RDI
- Folate: 34% of the RDI
- Potassium: 6% of the RDI
- Phosphorous: 5% of the RDI
- Vitamin E: 7% of the RDI
As you can see, asparagus is very high in vitamin K, an important nutrient for heart health as it helps to prevent blood clotting and it reduces your risk of heart disease.
Asparagus contains a good amount of potassium, a mineral that helps to lower high blood pressure. It is also a natural diuretic, which means it increases urination and helps to eliminate excess fluid and salts from the body, also beneficial for those with high blood pressure.
Adding to these impressive heart-health benefits asparagus contains vitamin B6, folate, calcium, iron, copper, protein and fiber.
Source of Antioxidants
Asparagus is an excellent source of antioxidants, including vitamin C, vitamin E and glutathione—one of the body’s most important antioxidants and often referred to as the master antioxidant.
Due to its vibrant color, purple asparagus is very high in antioxidants — purple foods contain anthocyanins, the plant compound which gives fruit and vegetables their red, blue or purple color. Anthocyanins are potent antioxidants that prevent free-radical damage in the body and fight inflammation.
Improves Digestive Health
Asparagus is high in fiber, in particular insoluble fiber, which supports regular and healthy bowel movements—which naturally improves digestive health.
Asparagus contains inulin, a prebiotic that promotes good bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics travel through the small intestine undigested until they reach the large intestine, where they fertilize and populate the gut providing plenty of food for the good bacteria to thrive. Consuming prebiotic fiber is an excellent way to improve the balance of healthy bacteria in the gut.
You may be thinking, “that sounds great, but why does it make my pee smell?”.
If you notice a distinct odor in your pee after eating asparagus you’re not alone. It is your body’s reaction to the natural plant chemicals found in asparagus stalks.
Asparagusic acid, found only in asparagus, is the culprit of this distinctive odor. When we digest asparagus the asparagusic acid is broken down by our body into a group of sulfur-containing compounds. In fact you may notice that the smell in your urine is sulfur in nature thanks to these compounds. This is a normal reaction by our body and certainly nothing to be concerned about.
Strange odors aside, asparagus is an incredibly nutritious vegetable that contains plant phenols that can fight oxidative stress, help to prevent heart disease and improve digestive health. Lightly cooking asparagus, either steaming or sautéing, helps to maximize nutrient absorption. Enjoy!