Nutritious Asparagus Can Put a Spring in Your Step


The quintessential vegetable of spring, asparagus has been credited in folklore with curing everything from toothaches to infertility. In more recent Internet lore, asparagus has been touted as a remedy for hangovers and a cure for cancer.The quintessential vegetable of spring, asparagus has been credited in folklore with curing everything from toothaches to infertility. In more recent Internet lore, asparagus has been touted as a remedy for hangovers and a cure for cancer.It is an unusually nutritious vegetable, packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein-all in fat-free spears containing only about three calories apiece. One cup of cooked asparagus (about eight medium spears) provides two-thirds the Daily Value (DV) of folate, a B vitamin that promotes cell division. Researchers have investigated whether, by reducing blood levels of an amino acid called homocysteine, folate might reduce the risk of heart disease, atherosclerosis and dementia.A cup of asparagus also provides 114% of the DV for vitamin K, an essential nutrient for bone formation and blood clotting. Tufts researchers have found that vitamin K may reduce the risk of insulin resistance, thereby helping to protect against diabetes, and that it may protect against inflammation associated with chronic diseases such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.Asparagus is high in potassium- 400 milligrams per cooked cup, nearly 12% of the DV-while low in sodium (25 milligrams). Those tasty spears are a good source of vitamins C and A, thiamin, riboflavin, manganese, vitamin B6, copper, niacin and phosphorus. One cup provides more than 4 grams of protein and 3.6 grams of dietary fiber.Besides these familiar nutrients, asparagus stands out as one of the best food sources for lesser-known compounds such as rutin, which strengthens capillary walls. The 7.4 grams of carbohydrates in a cup of asparagus include inulin, a group of naturally occurring polysaccharides (several simple sugars linked together) that humans cant digest-but the friendly bacteria in your large intestine can. (Inulin can also promote intestinal gas, so dont go on an asparagus binge.)What about those cancer claims? While numerous studies have found that people who eat more vegetables tend to have lower cancer rates, asparagus is not a cure for cancer.The Internet may have it right about hangovers, though. Researchers in South Korea found that the minerals and amino acids in asparagus extract alleviate the cellular toxicities associated with drinking too much alcohol. Without further research, however, you should probably be skeptical about any food-specific hangover cures; its better instead not to overdo alcohol.Another cautionary note concerns the sauces that often accompany asparagus. Eating asparagus thats slathered with butter, Hollandaise, sour cream, cheese or other toppings high in saturated fat and sodium will detract from the healthy nutritional benefits of the unadorned vegetable.Aside from the threat of intestinal gas, eating asparagus appears to have only two possible downsides- both scientifically controversial. Asparagus is among the vegetables highest in purine, a compound that increases the bodys uric acid, leading in turn to gout and kidney stones. Some experts advise limiting dietary purine if youre at risk for these conditions. But a large 2004 study found no increased risk of gout associated with moderate intake of purine-rich vegetables. High consumption of meat, especially organ meats, and certain seafoods appears to be a more important factor in dietary purine. Then theres the rather delicate matter of the smell of a persons urine after eating asparagus-a problem apparently not experienced by all asparagus eaters or all noses. In an exhaustive analysis published in 2001, molecular toxicologist Steve C. Mitchell of Imperial College School of Medicine in London concluded that sulfur compounds in asparagus-likely asparagusic acid, unique to asparagus- are to blame. The asparagus is a member of the lily family, and we all know what other sulfur compounds do in its cousins the onion and garlic plants.Mitchell cites studies on both sides of the question of whether all individuals excrete the distinctive asparagus odor, or whether its a genetic trait. The ability to smell the odor does appear to be genetic, with large majorities in some populations such as the Chinese immune to the smell. Lucky them, able to enjoy asparagus and its nutritional bounty without the aftereffects!

Spear Carrying
Select bright green asparagus with closed, compact, firm tips. Thick or thin spears is a matter of taste and how you plan to cook them. Contrary to popular belief, thin spears are not the tender shoots of younger plants; actually, they come from plants that are older or planted closer together. Large spears grow on younger, more vigorous plants.Store asparagus in a dark part of the refrigerator, wrapped in a moist paper towel, and use as soon as possible. If tips become slightly wilted, freshen with a brief soak in cold water.Trim the woody stems-or simply snap them off-before eating. Trimmings can be cooked and pured for soups and sauces.Cook asparagus quickly and just to tender- crisp to preserve its nutrients. Steaming and microwaving are better than boiling, which leaches nutrients into the cooking water. Asparagus can also be stir-fried, and thicker spears can be roasted, broiled or even grilled.Dont defrost frozen asparagus before cooking. Nutritionally, frozen asparagus is similar to fresh: slightly lower in some nutrients such as folate, but higher in others, such as vitamin C, that deteriorate with storage.White asparagus comes from the same plant as green, but is grown out of the sun so it doesnt develop chlorophyll. Its lower in nutrients including protein, vitamin C, thiamin, niacin and calcium.Purple asparagus contains 20% more sugars and has a sweeter taste. The color comes from antioxidant pigments called anthocyanins.


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