Asparagus is to spring what strawberries are to summer and apples are to fall. A member of the lily family, asparagus grows easily in home gardens, planted right in the flowerbed. It is a perennial that can yield a harvest for decades. Asparagus can be planted as seeds or roots any time. It prefers a soil with excellent drainage and can grow 10 inches in a 24-hour period under ideal conditions.
Asparagus has been touted to cure everything from hangovers to toothaches to cancer — but what are the proven health benefits and what is the nutritional content of asparagus?
High-tech shipping has placed asparagus on our tables virtually year-round, but most of us still associate it with spring. And with the arrival of spring, many people want to “detox” their bodies — bring on the cod liver oil! Asparagus is sometimes identified as having potent detox qualities; however, most detoxification diets are based on junk science. The body has multiple systems in place that do a perfectly good job of eliminating toxins from the system within hours of consuming foods. Our liver, kidneys and gastrointestinal tract all work together to detox our system.
The most common type of asparagus is green, but white and purple varieties are also available. Larger stalks are not necessarily better tasting. White asparagus is the most delicate and difficult to harvest and the purple variety is the smallest and fruitiest.
In a one-cup serving, asparagus packs a whopping 288 mg of potassium, 3 grams of fiber, very little sodium and only 40 calories. Asparagus contains the enzyme inulin, a starchy substance that is not digested or absorbed in the stomach. Instead it goes to the bowels where beneficial bacteria use it to grow, helping us to ward off bacterial infections.
Asparagus is high in glutathione, higher than any other fruit or vegetable analyzed to date. Glutathione is a small protein made up of three amino acids: cysteine, glutatamic acid and glycine, and is involved in true detoxification. It binds to fat-soluble toxins such as heavy metals, solvents and pesticides, and transforms them into a water-soluble form that can be excreted in the urine. Some people may experience a strong odor in their urine after eating asparagus. It is a result of the chemical breakdown that occurs after digestion.
Asparagus contains purines. If you are on a MAO inhibitor medication for depression or have been diagnosed with a purine sensitivity, consume asparagus spears in moderation.
A serving of just five stalks of asparagus is an excellent source of folic acid, a B vitamin that is associated with a decreased risk of neural tube birth defects. Asparagus is also a good source of caretenoids and vitamin C. Foods high in caretenoids protect cells from the damage of free radicals and enhance the function of our immune system. Numerous population studies show lower rates of many forms of cancer in people who consume a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
Quick cooking, such as steaming, best preserves the distinctive taste and nutritional benefits of asparagus.
Rolled Chicken and Asparagus
Makes 4 servings
This asparagus dish can be served hot or cold. When preparing asparagus, cut off the fibrous ends and rinse the tips in water to remove any dirt.
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast
24 to 30 asparagus spears
2 tablespoons lemon juice
6 green onions, chopped
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350F. Cut chicken breast into eight or 10 strips, each about 1 inch by 5 inches long. Wrap each strip in a corkscrew fashion around two or three uncooked asparagus spears. Fasten with toothpicks. Place in a baking dish that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle the chicken with lemon juice, green onions, salt and pepper.
Cover and bake 25-30 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink. Remove toothpicks. Serve hot with brown rice or refrigerate and serve cold.
Each serving: 150 calories, 2 grams total fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 65 milligrams cholesterol, 82 milligrams sodium, 6 grams total carbohydrate, 3 grams dietary fiber, 28 grams protein