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Power Foods: Asparagus

For such a small vegetable, asparagus demands a whole lot of patience. After all, the plant needs to grow for at least three years before you can harvest it. But the wait is always worth it, because in early spring, a time of year when very few green things emerge from the ground, the roots send up shoots that can reach up to 7 inches in as little as a day.

Even better, the tasty spears help fight cardiovascular disease, strengthen bones, and may even boost the libido.

Recipes
Asparagus with Shitakes, Shallots, and Peas
Roasted Asparagus and Eggs

Health Benefits
When it comes to asparagus, some chefs claim the thicker the better, while others prefer them shoestring-thin. A few even trumpet the virtues of the mild white asparagus, which gets its color (or lack thereof) from growing completely underground. Nutritionally speaking, size doesn't matter. Color does, though, and the white variety pales in comparison to its verdant counterpart.

What do green stalks bring to the table? Most notably, this member of the lily family contains the most folate of any vegetable. Folate helps rid the body of the amino acid homocysteine, associated with cardiovascular disease. It also may aid in the production of histamine, which is necessary for achieving orgasm -- making asparagus's legendary aphrodisiac powers not quite so far-fetched.

Additionally, the stalk is full of vision-promoting vitamin A, kidney-supporting potassium, and selenium, a trace mineral that helps regulate the thyroid for a normal metabolism, strengthens immune function, and may protect against heart disease and some cancers. Asparagus also makes an excellent source of vitamin K, which promotes bone health and blood clotting, and vitamin C, an antioxidant known for supporting the immune system and protecting against free radical damage.

If you're looking to ward off signs of aging, don't skimp on these spears. Asparagus offers high levels of glutathione, an antioxidant we produce on our own but in decreasing quantities as we grow older. This vital nutrient helps ward off skin damage from sun exposure, protects and repairs DNA, and promotes healthy cell replication.

How to Buy
Choose firm stalks with tightly closed heads. The base should be well-hydrated, not dry. Kept in the fridge, asparagus should last several days; either tightly wrap the stalks in plastic wrap or stand them upright in a small amount of water, covering them with a plastic bag.

Cooking Tip
Instead of cutting of the fibrous base, hold a stalk loosely and snap off the bottom. The stalk will naturally break where it starts to get tough. Cooking leaves most of asparagus's nutrients intact. To enjoy the vegetable raw, shave it lengthwise with a vegetable peeler or thinly slice it on an angle, then toss with a favorite salad.

Do You Know?
It can take your body as little as 15 minutes to produce "asparagus pee" (the sulfuric-smelling urine that occurs after eating the veggie). But not everyone has experienced this odd side effect. Studies suggest that some can't detect the scent, while additional research reveals that others are genetically immune to the chemical reaction.

Nutrition Breakdown
Per 8 spears cooked, 1/2-inch base

Calories: 26 kcal
Fat: 0.26 g
Fiber: 2.4 g = 10 percent* of DRI**
Vitamin A: 60 mcg*** = 9 percent of DRI
Vitamin K: 60.7 mcg = 67 percent of DRI
Vitamin C: 12 mg = 16 percent of DRI
Folate: 179 mcg = 45 percent of DRI
Selenium: 7.3 mcg = 13 percent DRI

* Percentages are for women 31 to 50 years old who are not pregnant
** DRI, Dietary Reference Intakes, is based on National Academy of Sciences' Dietary Reference Intakes, 1997-2004
***Retinol activity equivalents (RAES). 1 RAE = 1 mcg retinol or 12 mcg beta-carotene

Text by Zoe Singer; recipes by Sandra Gluck

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Comments

Comments (6)

  • 13 Feb, 2010

    I heard from a Swiss friend that eating raw asparagus is toxic. Is this true?

  • 3 Jun, 2008

    i love asparagus - my favourite way to eat it would be sprinkle it with sea salt, pepper and olive oil and slightly grill it on the bbq. i love when its still cruncy but a little soft at the same time.

  • 20 May, 2008

    I love raw asparagus chopped and tossed in my salads and would like to know the nutritional breakdown of raw compared to cooked.

  • 19 May, 2008

    When I have a big batch of these tasty morsels, whatever I don't eat for dinner, I marinate in Greek dressing with extra feta and seasonings on it. Makes a few tasty lunches with some good crusty bread.

  • 19 May, 2008

    Really interesting facts- I have just eaten a plate of asparagus gently fried in olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar, sea salt

  • 19 May, 2008

    There are so many ways to make these tasty little spears. I'm grateful for them.

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