Asparagus is a great-tasting vegetable with many health benefits due to its high folic acid content and other valuable vitamins and minerals.
Asparagus is a member of the lily family and the edible vegetable comes in green, white and purple colors. The spears we buy in the store are actually the shoots from an underground crown. It takes up to 3 years for crowns to develop enough to begin producing shoots, but once they do, they can produce for up to 20 years.
Asparagus is an excellent source of folic acid, which is known to reduce birth defect and may also help control homocysteine, a risk factor for heart disease and cancer. It is also a good source of Vitamin C, thiamine and vitamin B6. Asparagus is high in rutin, a flavonoid that is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties, strengthens blood vessels, and prevents against oxidative damage.
This nutrient-packed vegetable is also high in glutathione, an antioxidant that protects cells from damage. Protodioscin is a plant chemical found in asparagus that has been found among other benefits, to reduce bone loss.
Asparagus contains inulin, a carbohydrate that is not digested but promotes friendly bacteria in our large intestine. It also contains fructo-oligosaccarides (FOS), these promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the colon.
Asparagine, a phytochemical in asparagus, gives it a diuretic effect. Natural diuretics promote the formation of urine in the kidneys, aiding in detoxification and cleansing.
A 2006 study reported in the British Journal of Medicine that extract of asparagus significantly increased the action of insulin by producing an eighty-one percent increase in glucose uptake in fat cells.
When folate levels are low, blood levels of homocysteine can rise, which can significantly increase the risk of heart disease by promoting atherosclerosis (a build-up of fatty deposits in artery walls). The high folate content of asparagus makes it easy to obtain this valuable chemical.
Tips on Using Asparagus
- Choose bright green asparagus with closed, firm tips.
- If the tips are slightly wilted, freshen them by soaking them in cold water.
- It is not necessary to peel asparagus, but the fibrous base of the vegetable should be removed before cooking.
- Clarke R, et al. Hyperhomocystenemia: an independent risk factor for. New Eng J Med 324 (1991):1149-55.
- Mathews JN, Flatt PR, Abdel-Wahab YH. Asparagus adscendens (Shweta musali) stimulates insulin secretion, insulin action and inhibits starch digestion. Br J Nutr. 2006 Mar;95(3):576-581.
- Berg MJ. The importance of folic acid. J Gend Specif Med 1999 May-Jun;2(3):24-8 1999.