5 Reasons Why Asparagus is Great For You!


Spring marks the tantalizingly brief 8 week season of British asparagus from the end of April to the end of June. It’s time to eat English asparagus now! As a person not native to England, I very quickly fell in love with this local, seasonal offering that seems to taste better here in season, than anywhere else at any time of year.

Asparagus deteriorates relatively quickly after picking, so it’s best to eat it as soon as possible. Luckily for me, my mother-in-law grows it in her garden:


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A Brief History


Earliest records of asparagus cultivation trace it back to Greece some 2,500 years ago. The Greeks believed that asparagus possessed medicinal properties and recommended it as a cure for toothaches. It was highly prized by the Romans who grew it in high-walled courtyards. Asparagus has been grown in England since the sixteenth century (it is not widely cultivated anywhere else in the UK) and during the nineteenth century it caught on in North America and China.

Not only is asparagus delicious, it is seriously good for you! Here are five top health benefits about asparagus that you probably didn’t know:

1. Asparagus is packed full of nutrients

Asparagus is a very good source of vitamins A, C (an immune system booster), E and K (essential for healthy blood clotting and strengthening bones), as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells. 

2. It can help fight cancer

Asparagus (along with avocado, kale and Brussels sprouts) is a particularly rich source of glutathione, a detoxifying compound that helps break down carcinogens and other harmful compounds like free radicals. This is why eating asparagus may help to protect against and fight certain forms of cancer, such as bone, breast, colon, larynx and lung cancers.

3. Asparagus is full of antioxidants

It's one of the top ranked fruits and vegetables for its ability to neutralize cell-damaging free radicals. It is also known to protect the skin from sun damage, pollution and the effects of aging.

4. Asparagus is a brain booster

Another anti-aging property of this delicious spring veggie is that it may help our brains fight cognitive decline. Like leafy greens, asparagus delivers folate, which works with vitamin B12 (found in fish, poultry, meat and dairy) to help prevent cognitive impairment. A Tufts University study found that older adults with healthy levels of folate and B12 performed better during a test of response speed and mental flexibility than those with lower levels of folate and B12.

5. Asparagus aids digestion and bloating

Asparagus contains a unique dietary fiber and prebiotic associated with improved digestion called inulin. It remains undigested until it reaches the large intestine where it helps to absorb nutrients better.  It also contains protein, which along with the fiber, helps move food through the gut and provide relief from discomfort during digestion.

Now comes the big question:

Why does eating asparagus cause a strong urinary odour?

According to Smithsonian magazine, asparagus is the only food to contain a chemical called asparagusic acid. When it is digested, it breaks down into sulfur-containing compounds, which have a strong, distinctive smell in the urine. Most evidence seems to suggest that not everyone can smell the odour, though some scientists think that not everyone produces it. Either way, there are no harmful effects to producing, or smelling, the odour in urine. 

Top Tips

Buying
Look for firm but tender stalks with good green colour and closed tips. Smaller, thinner stalks are not necessarily more tender; in fact thicker specimens are often better.  The most common type of asparagus is green, but you might see two others in supermarkets and restaurants: white, which is more delicate and difficult to harvest, and purple, which is smaller and fruitier in flavour.

Storing
Once picked, asparagus rapidly loses flavour and tenderness, so it really is worth eating it on the day you buy it. If that isn't possible, store asparagus in the fridge with a damp paper towel wrapped around the bottom of the stalks and you can get away with keeping it for a couple of days.

Preparing
Wash in cold water and remove the bottom ends of the stalks (with fresh asparagus they will snap off cleanly). Boil or steam quickly until just tender, around 4 to 7 minutes depending on thickness.


Grilled Parmesan Asparagus

We call this recipe Asparagi Contessa in my family as I adapted it from a favourite Italian restaurant we go to. It is both simple and delicious, highlighting the flavour of the asparagus. You can serve it with fish, chicken or on its own.


Prep Time:  2 minutes

Cooking Time:  5 minutes

Yields:  4 servings

Ingredients
 
  • 250g bunch asparagus
  • 10g butter
  • parmesan
  • salt and pepper
 
Directions
 
  1. Preheat grill to high
  2. Prepare asparagus by breaking off stems and rinsing. The stems should break off easily if the asparagus is fresh.
  3. Pat dry and steam for 4 minutes.
  4. Remove from steamer and mix in bowl with butter. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Lay asparagus flat in one layer on a roasting sheet. Pour over any remaining butter from mixing bowl.
  6. Grate fresh parmesan on top until asparagus is covered in a light coating.
  7. Grill for about 1 minute. It will go quickly so keep your eye on it!
  8. Remove with spatula onto plate and serve!

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