10 Asparagus Health Benefits – And Health Risks – Explained
- What Is Asparagus? Where Does Asparagus Come From?
- How To Grow Your Own Asparagus
- Nutritional Content Of Asparagus Explained
- Top 10 Benefits And Risks of Asparagus
- 1. Asparagus For Urinary Tract Help Explained
- 2. Asparagus For Heart Health Explained
- 3. Asparagus For Antioxidants Explained
- 4. Asparagus Allergies Explained
- 5. Asparagus For Mental Health: Can Asparagus Boost Your Brain?
- 6. Asparagus Drug Interactions Explained
- 7. Can Asparagus Help You Fight Cancer?
- 8. Asparagus For Reducing Bloating Explained
- 9. Can Asparagus Help You Lose Weight?
- 10. Asparagus Causing Gas Explained
We all know vegetables are good for you. But some are just so incredible that we want to scream it from the rooftops and let the world know. And asparagus, or asparagus officinalis as it’s scientifically known, is definitely one of those lucky vegetables. But because I live in a 30-story apartment building and it would be difficult and dangerous to get to the roof, I’m going to tell you about it here, instead. Plus, you’ll probably hear me better this way.
Asparagus has a tremendous amount of health benefits. It can help you manage your weight, boost your immune system, lower cholesterol levels, and even help prevent neural tube defects in babies. Keep on reading to learn all about the health benefits, as well as the health risks, of asparagus.
What Is Asparagus? Where Does Asparagus Come From?
Next time you’re eating asparagus, know that you’re eating a meal fit for a king – literally. In the sixteenth century, this delicious veggie was the delight of the royal family and court. It was only a couple of centuries later that asparagus became a readily available food.
Asparagus has history from well before the sixteenth century, though. There are records of it dating back at least 2,000 years, and it’s thought to have originated in the Mediterranean.
You probably think of it as being a green vegetable, but there’s also white asparagus (which is the preferred variety in many European countries) and purple asparagus. Asparagus is part of the lily family, so it’s cousins with onions, garlic and leeks (but more like second cousins once removed; onions, garlic and leeks are part of the Amaryllidaceae family).
How To Grow Your Own Asparagus
When I searched “how to grow”, the first option that Google offered was “how to grow asparagus”. I can certainly understand why; it’s delicious! If you want to grow your own fresh asparagus, you should start ASAP – because you won’t be able to reap the fruits (well, veggies) of your labor for 2-3 years.
- Before you start planting, remove all weeds and grasses from the planting site. This is vital because if there are any weeds or grasses, you can pretty much say goodbye to your asparagus.
- Prepare the site. Dig a trench 1 foot by 1 foot wide, and place shovels full of rock phosphate, compost and all-purpose organic fertilizer every 18” in the trench.
- Mix the fertilizer-compost mixture with a bit of soil and place the crowns on top of each mound (every 18”), with the roots draping over the sides. Then, cover the roots and crowns with around 2″ of soil and water your patch thoroughly.
- Keep adding soil as your stems keep growing, until the bed is completely filled (level with the ground or top of your raised garden bed).
- Once filled, add a 4″-8″ layer of mulch and water your asparagus religiously.
- In the first year, your plants are still maturing and aren’t yet ready to be harvested.
- In the spring, trim the old fern growth.
- From the second year onwards you can start harvesting, but be selective. Only harvest the thicker asparagus spears (thicker than a pencil) that are 5”-7” in height and whose tips haven’t started loosening. The harvest season lasts around 2-3 weeks, or even up to 6 weeks after your plant has been around for a few years. Once the harvesting is over, allow the ferns to grow.
Nutritional Content Of Asparagus Explained
There’s a reason you want to be planting your own asparagus and having plenty of it in your diet. This vegetable packs a powerful nutritional punch, with Vitamins A, C, E, K, and B Vitamins – B1, B2, B3 (niacin), B5 and Vitamin B6- as well as choline, a vitamin-related nutrient.
But the amazing nutrition facts don’t stop there. Asparagus is also a source of flavonoids, fibre, protein, and folic acid (which is helpful in reaping the benefits of the vitamin B12 and in creating new red blood cells). And it contains a wealth of minerals – calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, copper, selenium, phosphorus and potassium. Pretty impressive for a veggie of its size!
Top 10 Benefits And Risks of Asparagus
1. Asparagus For Urinary Tract Help Explained
Let’s hope you don’t know how not-fun a urinary tract infection can be. If you are more familiar with UTI than you’d like to be, you probably want to know what you can do to avoid getting another one. Enter: the asparagus.
Firstly, I should start by saying that if you have symptoms of a UTI, see your doctor. You may likely need antibiotics, and waiting around only makes symptoms worse and more dangerous. However, there is evidence to suggest that eating asparagus or asparagus capsules can have a soothing effect for a UTI.
- Anti-inflammatory – fights against free radicals that are causing inflammation because of antioxidants like glutathione (a detoxifying compound)
- Fights bacteria – it’s full of antioxidants and bacteria fighting nutrients, which is important since UTI is generally caused by bacteria like E. coli, which travels from the gut to the urinary tract
- Soothing for the urinary tract, and is a diuretic – asparagus has a calming effect on your urinary tract and contains the amino acid asparagine, which supports your kidneys in flushing E. coli bacteria out of your system
- Boosts immune system – asparagus contains inulin, which promotes the health of good bacteria in the large intestine, and other immune-boosting nutrients like Vitamin C.
2. Asparagus For Heart Health Explained
If you’re like most people and want to improve your heart health, consider adding asparagus to your diet.
This food is high in Vitamin K, which helps with blood clotting (and can also improve bone health!). According to the USDA, the average adult should aim for 90 mcg of Vitamin K each day. Plus, asparagus’ Vitamin B helps your body regulate homocysteine. This is an amino acid which in large quantities can lead to heart issues such as coronary artery disease and even stroke.
The soluble fiber in asparagus also lowers your body’s risk of heart disease. And another amino acid, asparagine, helps remove extra salt from your body.
Lastly, the anti-inflammatory properties of asparagus, as well as its antioxidants, are also great tools in combatting heart disease.
3. Asparagus For Antioxidants Explained
You’ve probably realized by now that asparagus is a superfood. It’s positively teeming with powerful antioxidants, not to mention other nutrients like Vitamin K, calcium and fibre, as well as minerals like zinc, iron and manganese, to name a few. Some of the antioxidants it contains are:
- Folate – helps strengthen your DNA
- Vitamin C – protects and encourages healthy growth of hair, bones, teeth, and nails; fights against free radical damage
- Vitamin A – vital for your immune system and your reproductive system
- Vitamin E – protects cells from free radical damage
- Asparagine – maintains balance in your nervous system
- Anthocyanins – anti-inflammatory (which prevents against many dangerous diseases)
- Rutin – strengthens blood vessels
- Glutathione – widely considered the “master” or “mother” of antioxidants, since it supports the function of other antioxidants like Vitamins C and E.
So yes, asparagus should definitely be on your menu plan for the week!
— Health (@Health_phoneba) October 14, 2017
4. Asparagus Allergies Explained
While not very common, it is possible to develop an allergy to asparagus, the same as you can develop an allergy to any other food. Luckily, the symptoms aren’t too severe. But if you do have an asparagus allergy, you should take care to avoid it. After all, allergies tend to get worse with each and every reaction.
Asparagus allergy symptoms include inflammation of the eye and related itchiness, swelling and redness. You might also experience a runny or stuffed nose, a dry cough, throat irritation, and trouble breathing.
Yet the symptoms can vary. An allergic reaction to asparagus can lead to hives, rashes, dizziness, nausea, headaches and lightheadedness. If you notice any of the above symptoms after eating asparagus, get yourself to a doctor or to an allergy specialist.
5. Asparagus For Mental Health: Can Asparagus Boost Your Brain?
Asparagus can help fight against mental disorders like depression, as well as diseases like Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia.
It’s been noted that low levels of folate significantly increase your chance of suffering from depression, so it’s a good idea to be eating foods that will ensure you are getting enough of this essential nutrient. Folate can also help with information processing and memory – and I don’t know about you, but I could do with a memory boost sometimes!
And folate comes to the rescue with senior folks, too. Folate helps to lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that, in high levels, can contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. And we can’t forget about the vitamins. Vitamin K is vital when it comes to holding off Alzheimer’s disease, and Vitamin A deficiency leads to slower thinking processes and increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Glutathione, being an antioxidant, protects your brain from free radical damage, which is what causes cognitive decline. So all in all, asparagus is one brain-friendly food, both for now and for later on down the line.
6. Asparagus Drug Interactions Explained
While there are many health benefits of asparagus, there are also things to be aware of if you want to consume asparagus while you are taking certain medications.
Be wary about eating asparagus while on anti-hypertensive drugs. One of the effects of asparagus, typically considered to be a plus, is lowering high blood pressure. Yet if you eat a food that leads to lower blood pressure while combining this effect with the effects of anti-hypertensive medications, your blood pressure might drop too much. Low blood pressure can be dangerous too, so consult with a doctor about your diet if they prescribe you this medicine.
Asparagus might also not be a great option if you are taking diuretic drugs. These medications are typically prescribed to individuals experiencing renal issues or edema conditions. Because asparagus is a natural diuretic, combining it with these drugs can have negative effects on the body. Check in with your physician to see if it’s okay for you to continue eating asparagus.
7. Can Asparagus Help You Fight Cancer?
While it isn’t going to cure cancer; because of its abundance of anti-cancer nutrients, asparagus certainly has its place as part of a cancer patient’s diet.
It goes without saying that antioxidants can only be a positive when fighting cancer, and as we said, asparagus might just be the king of antioxidants. It’s loaded with Vitamin C and glutathione, which reduce damage caused by oxidative stress (hence the name “antioxidants”).
The body’s natural reaction to perceived harm is inflammation, but an over-reactive system can lead to too much inflammation, which can lead to diseases like cancer. Since asparagus has known anti-inflammatory compounds (saponins), it’s definitely a good food to be eating for a person who is at risk of developing cancer. It can also be beneficial to people who are already fighting cancer since saponins can slow the progression of cancer.
It contains other nutrients, too; namely, methionine (an amino acid), folate, and polysaccharides (a plant carbohydrate) which includes inulin; all of which are believed to have anti-cancer benefits.
Having said all that, the research regarding asparagus is limited and divided between those who support it and those who don’t believe it. Cancer patients should be in touch with a medical professional, and not rely on asparagus as a cure. However, they can enjoy eating asparagus without worry – with all those antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, it can only be doing good things for their body.
8. Asparagus For Reducing Bloating Explained
When you’re bloated you might feel like you don’t want to eat, but asparagus might be just the thing to help you! That’s because asparagus makes you have to go to the bathroom, helping your body to remove extra water. And with the extra water gone, you’re sure to be less bloated and more comfortable and confident.
Asparagus also possesses prebiotics. Prebiotics promote the growth of good bacteria in the body. Consequently, eating asparagus can help you retain a good balance in your digestive system and minimize gas.
And don’t forget about the soluble fiber in asparagus, which is just plain good for your digestive health!
9. Can Asparagus Help You Lose Weight?
Oh, the struggle that is weight loss. For any of you who have ever tried to lose a pound or two (or three…), you’ll know how hard it is – and how many foods are suddenly big no-no’s. Luckily, there are plenty of delicious diet-friendly foods available. And while asparagus will never taste like chocolate, it does taste pretty good when prepared well. It makes for a healthy snack, side dish, or salad addition.
Ten spears of asparagus are just 32 calories. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, let’s do a comparison. Ten salted pretzel sticks (and, who are we kidding, we ain’t stopping at just ten) are around 228 calories. A single doughnut stick (no toppings and unsugared) is around 217 calories. Now you can appreciate what 32 calories for 10 spears means!
Besides being low in calories, asparagus is a wonderful source of fiber (especially inulin), meaning that if you choose asparagus as a between-meals snack, you’ll be full ‘til your next meal – and that means less snacking (especially on unhealthy foods) and hence, less weight gain.
Do you know that your next meal won’t be for a while and you’re not gonna last that long before snacking? Try topping your asparagus with a fried egg. The mix of fiber and protein will keep you full for hours. It will give you energy, and let’s be real, it tastes a whole lot better that way.
The B Vitamins in asparagus work to regulate your blood sugar levels, so they don’t spike as they might when you choose a sugary snack. The Vitamin K content can help to reduce bloating, and the asparagine supports the cells that break down fat in your body. So all in all, asparagus is definitely a dieter’s friend – and one of the best-tasting ones, too. And all of these effects have the added benefit of reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes.
10. Asparagus Causing Gas Explained
Foods which contain a lot of carbs, and especially dietary fiber, cause gas.
That being said, asparagus is a good source of raffinose. This is a complex carbohydrate which possesses three different sugar variants- glucose, galactose and fructose. The human body does not have the enzyme needed to break down this carbohydrate. Therefore, the carbohydrate is fermented by bacteria, consequently causing the creation of a surplus of gas.
This extra gas caused by the fermenting process must come out somehow, traditionally in the form of burping or farting. So while this food is yum, yum, yum and healthy to the max, you’ll likely want to make sure to limit yourself to one serving of asparagus at a time. Or eat it while you’re alone.
There are so many delicious asparagus recipes out there. You can eat it stir-fried, roasted with some olive oil, or boiled and served with hollandaise sauce…..mmmm. You can even steam asparagus super easily. Just put some wet paper towels around the spears and place them in the microwave. Or mix it with some avocado and other veggies in a delicious salad. We all know that it’s important to keep your body healthy and make smart diet choices – but you might not know just how smart those choices are!
Your midday snack could literally be saving your life by fighting off diseases, boosting your mental health, and not to mention, helping you shed those extra pounds. So next time you pass the asparagus section in your supermarket, think of all they can do for your health and body – and make sure you don’t pass them up!