Asparagus is a long-lived perennial vegetable that belongs to the Lily family (Liliaceae) – the same family as onions, leeks and garlic. Asparagus is believed to be originated in the west coasts of Europe, where its name was derived from the Greek word ‘aspharagos’ meaning “sprout” or “shoot”, a reference to all tender shoots.
The edible asparagus shoots are commonly called “spears”. The spear rises from an underground stem called a crown, which are 20cm underground. It takes up to 3 years for crowns to develop, but once they develop, they can produce shoots for up to 20 years.
There are three main varieties of asparagus: White asparagus, green asparagus and purple asparagus. Green asparagus is the most common type of asparagus. White asparagus is exactly the same variety as green asparagus but it has a milder taste and is more tender than the green variety. Purple asparagus is a different variety to white and green asparagus. Its purple color comes from the high levels of anthocyanins (potent antioxidants) in the spears. Purple asparagus is much sweeter and more tender than green or white asparagus.
Asparagus is a popular vegetable that can be served in various ways, such as steamed, grilled, raw and fried, but the best way is to steam or eat it raw as salad, because this can preserve the nutrients in it.
Asparagus is a nutrient-dense food that is rich in many nutrients like vitamin A, C, E and K, folate, fiber, Iron, Manganese, Magnesium, Niacin, Phosphorus, Potassium, as well as chromium. It also contain no fat, no cholesterol and is low in sodium, which makes it a wonderful vegetable to consume regularly. The health benefits of asparagus are as follows:
- Reduce diabetes risk
Asparagus contains high levels of anti-inflammatory compounds, which can help to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. The B vitamins in asparagus are also able to control blood sugar levels by promoting proper insulin function.
- Prevent heart disease
Being high in B vitamins including folate, asparagus is very essential for cardiovascular health. It can help lower the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.
- Strengthen bones
Asparagus is a good source of vitamin K that is necessary for strengthening the bones. Studies have showed that low levels of vitamin K have been linked to a decrease in bone density.
- Relieve arthiris and rheumatism
Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, asparagus helps to relieve arthritis and rheumatism.
- Fight cancer
Asparagus contains glutathione and research has shown this antioxidant plays an important role in the prevention of certain cancers, including breast cancer, colon cancer and lung cancer.
- Prevent Cataract
High in antioxidants and glutathione, asparagus has been found to be effective in preventing eye problems, like cataracts.
- Slow aging process
The glutathione in asparagus can also protect the skin from sun damage and the effects of aging.
- Boost immune system
Asparagus is also a rich source of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that is known to boost the immune system and reduce inflammation.
- Reduce birth defects risk
Asparagus is high in folic acid which is known to be helpful in reducing the risk of birth defects and low birth weight.
- Prevent kidney stones
Asparagus is also known to have diuretic properties. Drinking asparagus juice regularly may help to prevent or eliminate kidney stones. It helps dissolve oxalic acid crystals that form in the kidney.
- Relieve PMS symptoms
The diuretic effect of asparagus juice may also help relieve premenstrual swelling and bloating. Asparagus also contains a good amount of magnesium, which may help with other PMS symptoms, such as mood swings and tension.
- Aid digestion
Asparagus contain a compound called inulin. Inulin is considered a prebiotic, a substance that passes undigested to the large intestine, feeding the good bacteria which is necessary for a better nutrient absorption.
When buying asparagus, look for ones that are firm to the touch and bright in color with tight tips. If selecting green asparagus, choose ones with deep green or purplish tips. For best flavor, eat asparagus the same day you buy it because they lose flavor and tenderness very quickly.