5 Powerful Health Benefits of Asparagus You Probably Didn’t Know
By Cheryl Forberg, R.D., March 23, 2016 - 11:03am
One of the first foods that signals the start of spring is the appearance of fresh asparagus at local farmers’ markets and grocery stores. Just as spring is a time of new beginnings, asparagus is one of those veggies that I love to experiment with during this time of year.
And not only is asparagus delicious—it's also packed with health benefits:
1. It’s loaded with nutrients: Asparagus is a very good source of fiber, folate, vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells.
2. It can help fight cancer: This herbaceous plant—along with avocado, kale and Brussels sprouts—is a particularly rich source of glutathione, a detoxifying compound that helps break down carcinogens and other harmful compounds like free radicals. This is why eating asparagus may help protect against and fight certain forms of cancer, such as bone, breast, colon, larynx and lung cancers.
3. Asparagus is packed with antioxidants: It's one of the top ranked fruits and vegetables for its ability to neutralize cell-damaging free radicals. This, according to preliminary research, may help slow the aging process.
4. Asparagus is a brain booster: Another anti-aging property of this delicious spring veggie is that it may help our brains fight cognitive decline. Like leafy greens, asparagus delivers folate, which works with vitamin B12—found in fish, poultry, meat and dairy—to help prevent cognitive impairment. In a study from Tufts University, older adults with healthy levels of folate and B12 performed better on a test of response speed and mental flexibility. (If you’re 50-plus, be sure you’re getting enough B12: your ability to absorb it decreases with age.)
5. It's a natural diuretic: It contains high levels of the amino acid asparagine, which serves as a natural diuretic, and increased urination not only releases fluid but helps rid the body of excess salts. This is especially beneficial for people who suffer from edema (an accumulation of fluids in the body's tissues) and those who have high blood pressure or other heart-related diseases.
And finally, to answer a question I often get regarding why eating asparagus causes a strong urinary odor: asparagus contains a unique compound that, when metabolized, gives off a distinctive smell in the urine. Young asparagus contains higher concentrations of the compound so the odor is stronger after eating these vernal shoots. There are, however, no harmful effects, either from the sulfuric compounds or the odor! While it is believed that most people produce these odorous compounds after eating asparagus, few people have the ability to detect the smell.
The most common type of asparagus is green, but you might see two others in supermarkets and restaurants: white, which is more delicate and difficult to harvest, and purple, which is smaller and fruitier in flavor. No matter the type you choose, asparagus is a tasty, versatile vegetable that can be cooked in myriad ways or enjoyed raw in salads.
Keep in mind these cooking tips to preserve antioxidants and keep your preparation healthy:
- Roast, grill or stir-fry your asparagus. These quick-cooking, waterless methods will preserve the fabulous nutritional content and antioxidant power of asparagus. (Click here for how-to details on the best asparagus prep and cooking directions.)
Recipes to Try: Asparagus with Curry Butter & More Simple Asparagus Side Dishes
More from EatingWell:
- Healthy Spring Salad Recipes
- Spring-Clean Your Diet: 4 Foods to Ditch Right Now
- See How to Make Creamy Asparagus Pasta
- 10 Spring Dinners in Under 30 Minutes
- Mini Asparagus Lasagnas