How one under-rated vegetable can lift mood, improve digestion and pamper the heart
The asparagus’ long, greenish stalks and tightly-packed, segmented tips give this vegetable an unusual, even homely, appearance - making it difficult to believe that it belongs to the same botanical family as the graceful lily. But appearances aren’t everything. Asparagus stalks might look odd, but they are flavorful, with a pleasing, mild taste when nibbled raw and a nutty, sweetish flavor when cooked.
When it comes to nutrition, asparagus delivers vitamins to spare - with a half-cup serving containing 12 percent of the recommended adult daily intake for vitamin C, 18 percent of the RDI for vitamin A, and 57 percent of the RDI for vitamin K. And, did anyone say “minerals?” Asparagus has you covered there, too, offering healthy amounts of potassium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, manganese, and zinc. In addition to asparagus’ stellar nutritional profile, this tasty veggie can promote health and well-being in three unexpected ways.
Asparagus promotes a healthy “ticker”
Asparagus is packed full of antioxidants – such as beta-carotene, vitamin C, and selenium - which can help scavenge harmful free radicals that may otherwise contribute to oxidative damage to the heart. However, the “crown jewel” of asparagus’ lineup of antioxidants is its high glutathione levels. Considered the body’s most crucial detoxifier, this antioxidant enzyme is an all-around defender against pathogens, oxidative stress, and toxins.
Asparagus also helps lower blood pressure through its potassium content, which relaxes blood vessels and helps to rid the body of excess salt. A half-cup of asparagus also contains over a third of the day’s requirement for folate, a B vitamin critical to heart health that has been linked to reducing risk of strokes. Finally, asparagus’ content of vitamin K plays a role in escorting calcium out of the blood, helping to keep arteries clear and prevent atherosclerosis. There’s no doubt about it - asparagus is a “major player” in supporting a healthy heart.
Fiber in asparagus promotes healthy weight, benefits microbial balance in the digestive tract
Moreover, asparagus is an excellent food to eat to support a weight-loss journey. A half-cup contains only 20 calories - but delivers nearly 2 grams of beneficial dietary fiber. This helps create a feeling of satiety, or fullness, that can help you avoid binge eating and food cravings.
Even better, asparagus contributes two valuable types of fiber with their own benefits. The insoluble fiber in asparagus adds bulk to stools and supports healthy elimination, while soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance in the digestive tract, which may help to “trap” toxins and carcinogens. (In fact, an influential population screening published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that higher-fiber diets can lower the risk of colorectal cancer).
And soluble fiber has yet another “nifty trick” that can support healthy metabolism and weight. It is prebiotic, providing fuel for “friendly” bacteria in the gut such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. By helping to balance gut bacteria, the prebiotic fiber in asparagus can promote healthy metabolism and weight.
Cheer up: Asparagus may reduce risk of depression
Asparagus has one more pleasant surprise in store. Scientists say it may promote a more positive mood and discourage depression, as its rich supply of the B vitamin folate can help prevent the accumulation of an amino acid known as homocysteine.
Excessive homocysteine can block blood and nutrients from reaching the brain, interfering with the production of “feel-good” hormones - such as serotonin and dopamine - needed for stable mood and restful sleep. So, if you feel the need for a boost in mood, it can’t hurt to nibble on some asparagus.
Endlessly versatile asparagus can be prepared in several ways
You can enjoy asparagus boiled, sauteed, roasted, stir-fried, steamed, grilled, and baked. While classic asparagus with butter, lemon, and black pepper are hard to beat, you may find it also partners well with less traditional seasonings such as red pepper flakes, paprika, cumin, cilantro, ginger, tarragon, or chili powder. Of course, don’t overlook garlic, oregano, and basil - or the satisfying pairing of asparagus and melted cheese. You can also add asparagus to omelets, frittatas, and pasta.
In addition to conventional green asparagus, you can find this veggie in purple and white varieties. When selecting asparagus, avoid those with limp, flabby stems, and make sure tips are tightly closed and unblemished. Older, thicker stems may need the bottoms trimmed, as they can be tough and woody.
As with other vegetables rich in vitamin K, you should discuss your asparagus consumption with your doctor if you take blood thinners.
Another “perk” of asparagus is that the Environmental Working Group lists it among the top 15 foods least likely to be contaminated with pesticides. However, you should still rinse asparagus thoroughly before use.
Flavorful and nutritious, asparagus makes a fantastic addition to your healthy diet.
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