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Asparagus a nutritional powerhouse

Being told to add vegetables to your diet is great and all, but not all vegetables are created equal. The spring vegetable, asparagus, can be considered a powerhouse food, containing many essential vitamins and nutrients inside this one vegetable, working to keep you healthy and preventing common ailments.

1. Asparagus is a Great Source of Folate and a Good Choice for Pregnant Women

During fetal development, the first few weeks are a crucial period. Most birth defects occur within the first 3 to 4 weeks, when your baby’s brain and spinal cord begin developing, so it is important that you start your pregnancy off with a healthy diet. (1)

Folate, and its synthetic variation, folic acid, is a vitamin that plays a vital role in fetal development. A pregnant woman’s deficiency could lead to neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, or pregnancy termination. Women of childbearing age are encouraged by the CDC to increase their folate intake. (2, 3)

While most prenatal vitamins contain the much-needed folic acid, you can also make some changes to your diet to get more natural folate. Dark leafy greens and vegetables like asparagus are a great source for folate. In four stalks of asparagus, you can get 89 mcg, about 22% of your daily recommendation. (4)

Bottom Line: With its high folate content, asparagus can help prevent serious birth defects when consumed during pregnancy.

2. Asparagus Provides an Abundance of the Essential Vitamin K

Vitamin K is best known for the role it plays in helping your blood to clot. Without it, you would probably bleed out as a result from a simple paper cut. It also works hand in hand with calcium, keeping your bones strong and preventing osteoporosis. Most people are deficient to some degree, only receiving enough to ensure proper clotting, but not enough to avoid other potential health issues.

As a general rule, the darker green the vegetable, the more vitamin K it contains. Just one cup of asparagus (raw) provides 56 mcg of vitamin K. That is about 46% of the recommended daily intake for men and 62% for women. (5, 6, 7)

Bottom Line: Asparagus contains large amounts of vitamin K, helping your blood to clot properly and keeping your bones strong.

3. Asparagus is an Additional Source for Vitamin C

Vitamin C plays an essential role in many of our bodies’ functions. It helps to repair and regenerate tissues, keeping your body healthy and young. It aids in your cardiovascular system, lowering bad cholesterol and protecting against heart disease. It is also necessary to help your body absorb iron, helping you avoid iron-deficient anemia. This vitamin, surprisingly, also has antioxidant properties. It helps to combat free radicals that have been known to cause damage to the body and potentially lead to cancer.

While deficiencies are uncommon, they are not impossible. Common symptoms of a vitamin C deficiency include fatigue, muscle aches and weakness, and bleeding gums. Extreme cases can also lead to scurvy, a condition in which all of these symptoms are magnified. (8, 9)

While it does not have the same level of vitamin C that oranges do, asparagus can still be an additional source for getting this vitamin into your regular diet. In a serving size of 100 grams, you can receive up to 9% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C. (10)

Bottom Line: Asparagus can be an additional source of vitamin C in your diet.

4. Asparagus Can Keep You Regular with Dietary Fiber

Fiber comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble. Both are necessary for a healthy, balanced diet, and should not be underestimated. A lack of fiber is the leading cause of obesity in the United States. It helps you to feel full, and, therefore, if you do not receive enough, you can tend to overeat and put on many unwanted pounds. (11)

Vegetables, like asparagus, are an excellent source of dietary fiber. Insoluble fiber, found in plant materials, is not broken down by your digestive system. This helps to keep you regular, as the fiber assists in moving material through your digestive tract. (12) In just one serving (100 g), you can receive 2.1 grams of fiber. (13)

Bottom Line: An excellent source of dietary fiber, asparagus can keep your digestive system working properly, leaving you feeling more comfortable.

5. Asparagus Keeps Your Bones Strong and Prevents Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by fragile, porous bones, and it affects over 10 million Americans, 80% of which are women. It is the leading cause of fractures, with 1.5 million estimated each year (particularly in the wrist, hip, or vertebrae). The cause can be attributed to low consumption or poor absorption of calcium, which causes the bones to slowly break down. (14)

In addition to calcium and vitamin D, vitamin K is essential to maintaining skeletal integrity. In increases calcium absorption into the bones and decreases the amount that is urinated out. One cup of asparagus can yield up to 70% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin K. (15)

Bottom Line: Asparagus can keep your bones strong and prevent osteoporosis with its vitamin K content.

6. Asparagus is a Great Anti-Inflammatory

Inflammation is commonly associated with rheumatoid arthritis, but, in reality, it is the primary contributing factor to all disease. Inflammation triggers cell changes that create tumors and allow to them to progress in growth. In addition to rheumatism, inflammation can trigger urinary tract infections, and neural issues, like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”.

Asparagus has been used to treat many of these ailments, working as an anti-inflammatory. Chinese and Korean medical practices have long used asparagus to treat inflammation and the diseases it causes, and many modern studies have backed up this practice. (16) It is rich in saponins, such as asparanin A, sarsasapogenin, protodioscin, and diosgenin, which are known to have anti-inflammatory properties. (17, 18)

Bottom Line: Asparagus can reduce inflammation in your body, and, therefore, reduce your risk from developing various illnesses.

7. Asparagus Has Cancer Fighting Properties

There are many contributing factors to the development of common cancers, making it difficult to pinpoint a cure or knowing what precautions to take to avoid getting them altogether. However, there are some commonalities between several types of cancer which can be focused on when trying to prevent from getting cancer yourself.

Diet plays a huge role in cancer prevention. Our bodies are constantly breaking down and creating new cells, releasing free radicals which can have a negative effect if they are not balanced out or destroyed. Eating an unhealthy diet can lead to more free radical damage, whereas eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can give your body much-needed antioxidants to fight free radical damage.

Asparagus has a high concentration of glutathione, one of the strongest antioxidants available. While it is readily produced by our bodies in our prime years, production begins to die off as we age, and we need to supplement with dietary intake.

There has been a lot of research that shows the effect that glutathione has on fighting cancer, immunizing against bone, breast, colon, lung, cervical, and pancreatic cancers. It can destroy carcinogens in the body that would otherwise cause major cell damage, and detoxes and boosts immunity.

Asparagus also has high levels of polysaccharides (plant carbohydrates), which have been known to have anti-cancer properties as well, particularly anti-tumor. A recent study even showed, when used in conjunction with chemotherapy, that asparagus polysaccharides were particularly affective against liver cancer, inhibiting tumor growth and cell death. (19, 20)

Bottom Line: Asparagus provides glutathione, a substance that works as an antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic, which can prevent you from developing some common cancers.

8. Asparagus Helps You Shed Unwanted Pounds

A healthy diet, coupled with exercise, is the ultimate recipe for a lean, fit body, and some foods can be considered “power foods”, giving you even better results if you add them into your regular diet. Asparagus can be considered one of these foods.

Asparagus is rich in fiber, particularly inulin, a soluble plant fiber, which promotes healthy digestion. It has also been known to suppress appetite, which can keep you from overeating or snacking. The B vitamins present in asparagus work together to help regulate your blood sugar, helping you avoid crashes and binge eating. Vitamin K also helps to reduce bloating, working as a natural diuretic to help you feel and look your best. (21, 22)

Bottom Line: Asparagus, coupled with an overall healthy diet and exercise, can help you shed those unwanted pounds.

9. Asparagus is Great for Fighting Anxiety

Mental health disorders, namely anxiety disorders, are becoming increasingly common amongst the general population. About 18% of the United States’ population (40 million people) suffer from anxiety or depression, which often go hand in hand. Sadly, only about a third of these are seeking treatment, choosing to live and deal with their condition on their own.

While there are many cases that do require medical treatment, there is also something to be said for changing up your diet. Vitamins and nutrients that may be lacking in your diet have been linked to anxiety, such as low levels of folate. The number of antioxidants in your body can also have an effect on your mental state if you are not getting enough. (23, 24)

Your hormones also need to be in balance for proper mental health. High levels of homocysteine can prevent your brain from getting the nutrients and blood circulation it needs. This can suppress your brain’s ability to produce hormones like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which work together to regulate your mood, sleep, and appetite. Without proper balance, and without proper sleep, you are prone to increased stress levels and a damaged mental state. (25)

The good news is asparagus can help you regulate all of these important hormones and nutrients. With powerful antioxidants and high levels of folate, you can combat depression and anxiety by including asparagus in your regular diet.

Bottom Line: Asparagus can help you fight anxiety disorders by regulating hormones and ensuring proper blood flow.

10. Asparagus Regulates Your Blood Sugar Levels

The development of diabetes is on the rise. As of 2012, about 9% of the American population suffered from diabetes, and it can be estimated that the number has only grown since then. (26) While no one is immune (type 1 diabetes being the result of the body’s attack on the pancreas for unknown reasons), the majority of cases seen are type 2 (usually resulting from obesity and a sedentary lifestyle), accounting for over 90% of all diabetic cases. (27, 28)

Through various studies, asparagus has been found to be a great preventer and treater of diabetes. The fiber and antioxidants help to moderate glucose absorption in the body, and B vitamins help to balance blood sugar levels, both of which are effective in preventing diabetes. In lab cases using rats with type 2 diabetes, it was found that consumption of the vegetable helped to control blood sugar and boost the body’s production of insulin. (29, 30)

Bottom Line: Asparagus can reduce your risk for diabetes by regulating blood sugar levels and helping your body produce insulin.

11. Asparagus Gives Your Skin a Healthy Glow

Everyone is always looking for a way to look younger and prevent aging from wreaking havoc on their skin. Asparagus, with its various vitamins and nutrients, may be able to help you do just that.

Asparagus is a great source for vitamins A and E, both of which are essential for healthy hair, skin, and nails. It also has a compound called niacin, which is good for fighting acne. Various studies have also some that vitamin C is effective against the development of wrinkles and dry skin.

Free radicals are also to blame for the aging process our bodies endure. Glutathione, a powerful antioxidant found in asparagus, can combat these free radicals, promoting younger, healthier skin.

Not only is the consumption of asparagus a great way to keep your skin healthy, but there may also be benefits to topical application as well. By boiling asparagus in water, some of these essential nutrients remain in the water. You can then use this leftover water once it is cooled as a face wash, which will help your skin’s complexion. (31, 32, 33)

Bottom Line: Eating asparagus, or using asparagus water as a facial wash, can give your skin a healthy glow.

12. Asparagus is Good for Your Eyes

It is important that you keep your eyes healthy, and a well-balanced diet can help you do just that. Adding asparagus to your regular vegetable intake can be the first step to improving the health of your eyes.

B vitamins have been known to prevent age-related macular degeneration. Vitamins A and C are also essential for eyes health, working as antioxidants to prevent free radical damage that can lead to cataracts. The antioxidant glutathione, found in asparagus, has also been found to be effective in this sense as well. (34, 35, 36)

Bottom Line: Keep your eyes young and healthy by adding some asparagus to your diet.

13. Asparagus Keeps Your Heart Healthy and Reverses Hypertension

When it comes to protecting your heart, there are many factors to consider. If you do not keep control of your blood pressure and your cholesterol levels, you could end up developing heart disease, which could lead to something far worse. Asparagus offers many vitamins and nutrients that can combat heart disease and keep your heart healthy.

Homocysteine is a substance that, if allowed to build up, can damage blood vessel walls and allow plaque buildup. The B vitamins in asparagus can help to lower homocysteine levels in the body which can reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke. (37)

Magnesium in asparagus can help to lower blood pressure. Hypertension is directly related to strokes, causing over half of all cases. Eating asparagus can lower your chances of having a stroke by 8%.

Asparagus has large amounts of dietary fiber. A diet rich in dietary fiber can lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, which is a major contributor to heart disease. (38)

Bottom Line: Asparagus can keep your heart healthy by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, and prevent plaque buildup in your arteries.

14. Asparagus Can Keep Your Brain Sharp

There have been many studies that show the direct relationship between folate levels and the development of dementia and other age-related mental conditions, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Lower levels of folate, not merely deficiencies, have been found to increase the likelihood of developing one of these diseases late in life, according to a Korean study. (39)

Folate works hand in hand with vitamin B12 to keep your brain sharp and alert, fighting cognitive decline. Asparagus, if a great source of folate, offering over 66% of your recommended daily intake. You will need to boost your vitamin B12 intake, which is found in animal products like meat, eggs, and dairy. However, if you are over the age of 50, you may want to ask your doctor about vitamin B12 supplementation, since your body does not absorb it as easily at this age. (40, 41)

Bottom Line: Eating asparagus can reduce your risk of developing dementia and other cognition-related illnesses.

15. Asparagus Give You a Much-Needed Energy Boost

Need an energy boost? Asparagus offers many essential nutrients to keep you going. Vitamin B keeps your thyroid functioning properly, ensuring a balance of hormones. Magnesium can prevent chronic fatigue syndrome. And copper helps with ATP synthesis, the body’s main source of energy. (42)

Bottom Line: Enjoy some asparagus instead of coffee if you are looking for a midday energy boost.

Recipes

There are countless ways to add some more asparagus to your regular diet, so why not start with some of these recipes?

1. Pesto Shrimp Asparagus Pasta

Made with the freshest ingredients, this pasta recipe will be a great choice for your next family dinner.

First, you want to make your pesto. Toast a half cup of pine nuts in a pan over medium heat. They can burn quickly, so keep an eye on them, turning them frequently. Transfer the toasted pine nuts to a food processor, adding 2 ounces of fresh basil, a half cup of grated parmesan cheese, ¼ cup of olive oil, 3 cloves of garlic, and salt and pepper. Blend until you can use it as a sauce or spread, not completely smooth, as you still want a little bit of a chunky consistency.

Cook 10 ounces of pasta (your choice). While your pasta is cooking, toss a little bit of your pesto in an oiled pan with ¾ pound of shrimp (with shells and veins removed) until they are coated. Season with salt and pepper. Cook on each side for about 2 minutes, until they are pink and firm.

Remove the shrimp from the pan and set aside. Oil the pan again and add a pound of trimmed asparagus. Cook for about two minutes, until tender, and add a cup of heavy cream, bringing it to a boil. Stir in your remaining pesto and remove from heat. Combine shrimp and pasta with the asparagus-pesto mix, adding a cup of halved cherry tomatoes and ¼ cup of grated parmesan cheese.

Serve warm.

2. Panko Parmesan Crusted Asparagus

Why snack on fattening French fries when you can enjoy these guilt-free asparagus spears.

Preheat your boiler, and move your oven rack up, making sure it is about 6 inches from the heat source. Grease a baking sheet with olive oil or cooking spray. Prep about 14 asparagus spears by cutting off the tough ends (about an inch).

In a bowl (large enough for your asparagus spears to dip into), whisk together one egg, 1 ½ tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard, ¼ teaspoon of salt, ¼ teaspoon of garlic powder, and 1/8 teaspoon of black pepper. In a separate bowl, mix together 1/3 cup of finely grated parmesan cheese and 3 tablespoons of panko bread crumbs.

Dip the asparagus spears into the eggs mixture, making sure they are coated, then coat them with the bread crumb mixture. Line your breaded spears on your greased baking pan and spray with olive oil. Broil for about 8 minutes, until golden.

Serve as a snack or side with lemon wedges to squeeze over the top.

3. Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Chickpeas, Asparagus, and Arugula

Full of protein, fiber, and an abundance of vitamins, these stuffed potatoes are a great addition to any healthy diet.

Preheat your oven to 400°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Scrub 4 large sweet potatoes and prick them with a fork all over. Place them on the baking sheet and bake for about 50 minutes to an hour, until they are tender enough to be cut open.

While your potatoes are cooling, open a can of chickpeas and spread them out over a paper towel, patting the tops dry. Transfer them to a baking sheet, drizzling olive oil and sprinkling with ½ teaspoon each of salt, chili powder, and cumin. Roast the chickpeas in the oven for about 20 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Once you remove your chickpeas from the oven, line a baking sheet with ½ pound of trimmed asparagus spears, seasoning with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for 10 minutes, until tender, then remove from the oven and set aside.

In a bowl, you are going to make your dressing: mix together 2 tablespoons of tahini paste, lemon juice, and water, 2 teaspoons of maple syrup, and a ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

Slice the sweet potatoes open lengthwise, and push the ends together to open them up (should look slightly like a boat). Drizzle a bit of the dressing inside each potato (about 1 tablespoon), and stuff each evenly with fresh arugula, chickpeas, and asparagus. Drizzle the remaining dressing over each.

They can be eaten either as a side or a meal on their own.

4. Asparagus Caprese Salad

Mix up your usual Caprese salad by adding some asparagus with this recipe.

In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add a pound of trimmed asparagus and cook for about 3-4 minutes.

In the meantime, combine 2 tablespoons of minced fresh basil and parsley, 1 tablespoon of lemon zest, and a clove of minced garlic. Mix and set aside.

Remove your asparagus from the pot, draining the excess water and rinsing with cold water before patting dry. Place your asparagus in a large bowl, and add a cup of halved cherry tomatoes, 8 ounces of mozzarella balls, and your basil mixture.

Toss together with salt and pepper, and serve chilled or warm.

5. Avocado Pasta with Asparagus

With the creamy goodness of avocado and the freshness of woody asparagus, this pasta recipe is sure to be a favorite.

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook 8 ounces of pasta (your choice). Right before the pasta is finished, add a pound of asparagus (chopped into 1-inch pieces) and cook for about 3 minutes. Drain your pasta and asparagus, saving about a cup of pasta water.

In a food processor, combine a medium-sized avocado (pitted), a clove of garlic (peeled), ¼ cup of plain Greek yogurt, ¼ cup each of fresh garlic and basil, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Blend until smooth.

In a large pot, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add ¼ cup of thinly sliced green onion. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes then add two cups of fresh arugula and a cup of frozen peas, cooking for about another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in pasta and asparagus. Pour over the avocado sauce, tossing gently and adding a bit of the saved pasta water if everything starts to clump together.

Garnish with fresh parsley and basil, and serve warm.

6. Mushroom Leek Asparagus Quiche

Bring some asparagus to your brunch with this quiche recipe.

For this recipe, you are welcome to make your own crust, or you may use a premade, chilled crust to save time.

Preheat your oven to 400°F. Meanwhile, in an oiled or buttered pan, cook a cup of sliced leek (white or light green part only) until it is tender. Add 4 ounces of sliced mushrooms (your choice) at this time, and cook until the mushrooms are golden in color. Remove from heat and set aside.

Steam 8 ounces of trimmed asparagus for about 3 to 4 minutes, or until tender. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine 4 ounces of shredded Swiss cheese and 2 tablespoons of flour, tossing the cheese until it is coated. Transfer the cheese to your pie shell, and top with your mushroom and leek mixture, seasoning with salt and pepper.

In another bowl, beat 3 large eggs with ¾ cup of half and half, 1 tablespoon of fresh dill, and some hot sauce (to your preferred taste), and pour the mixture into your pie crust, over the leeks, mushrooms, and cheese. Add your asparagus, and place in your preheated oven. Allow to cook for about 30 minutes, then lower the heat and allow to cook for another 20 to 25 minutes, until crust is golden in color and filling has set up.

Serve warm.

7. Black Pepper Chicken Asparagus Stir Fry

Add a bit of Asian flair to your asparagus with this stir fry recipe.

Dice 3 large chicken breasts, and season with cracked black pepper and a teaspoon of garlic powder. Set aside, and make your sauce in a pan, mixing together 4 tablespoons of rice vinegar, 8 tablespoons of soy sauce, and 1 ½ teaspoons of cornstarch. Once the cornstarch is completely incorporated, add 2 teaspoons of oyster sauce, 1 teaspoon of onion powder, 2 teaspoons of garlic powder, and 1 to 2 teaspoons of cracked black pepper.

Place your pan on your stove top and cook for about 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring the whole time. Remove from heat and set aside, allowing the sauce to thicken as it cools.

In a wok, over high heat, drizzle some sesame oil, and once the oil is heated, add diced asparagus (about a bundle’s-worth). Cook for about 3 to 4 minutes, then remove from the wok and set aside.

Heat some more sesame oil in your pan and cook your chicken in about 2 to 3 batches, adding sesame oil in between.

Once your chicken is cooked through, turn the heat down to medium-high, and add 3 cloves of finely chopped garlic. After about 30 seconds, add your asparagus and about half of your sauce, stirring everything together as it cooks just long enough for everything to be well incorporated and heated through.

Serve over rice or noodles, and top with remaining sauce as desired.

8. Roasted Garlic and Asparagus Soup

There is nothing better on a cool autumn day than a cup of heartwarming soup, and this recipe is sure to hit the spot.

Preheat your oven to 450°F, and line a baking sheet with foil. Trim about 2 pounds of asparagus and smash 10 cloves of garlic, then toss both with olive oil, salt, and pepper, ensuring they are fully coated. Transfer to you baking dish, arranging the asparagus and garlic in a single layer, and roast in your preheated oven for about 12 minutes (until asparagus is soft), stirring halfway through.

Remove the asparagus and garlic form the oven and place in a blender, adding 3 cups of vegetable broth and 1 cup of milk. Blend until smooth, then transfer to a pot.

Heat your soup over medium-high heat, adding broth as needed to thin it out. Season with salt and pepper to your preferred taste.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with fresh parsley.