A popular ingredient in gourmet dishes across the world, asparagus scores high for its delicate flavour and appealing form. When in season, it comes packed with health boosting goodness that adding it to your daily diet can help you in numerous ways. Asparagus or garden asparagus, scientifically called Asparagus officinalis, is a member of the Lily family. It is very labour intensive to grow, and perhaps is the reason why it comes with a high price tag.
Garden asparagus was first cultivated in Greece about 2500 years ago and was believed to be a herbal medicine, used for curing toothache and preventing bee stings. It grows underneath the soil and as soon as the tips emerge, it is cut. It is acknowledged to be a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Iron, Potassium and Calcium, among other nutrients.
There are three types of asparagus:
French Asparagus: The French Asparagus is purple in colour but is similar in appearance and taste to the other two types. It is genetically less fibrous thus more supple as compared to the other two types.
British and American Asparagus: The British and American Asparagus is green in colour, considered as the best of all the other types and is available from May to June. It is a bit grassy in taste.
Spanish and Dutch Asparagus: The Spanish and Dutch Asparagus is the pale sibling of green asparagus being white in colour. It has a subtler flavour than the green Asparagus – sweeter in taste with a hint of bitterness.
The top producers of Asparagus in the world are California, Washington and Michigan. A perfect asparagus can be defined as rigid, with bee lined shoots, curled and a perky tip.
Benefits of Asparagus
1. Helps Fight Against Diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes is a major disease affecting the world population today. According to a study published in The British Journal of Nutrition, “Asparagus, a popular vegetable, can keep diabetes at bay by helping blood sugar levels stay under control while boosting output of insulin, the hormone that helps the body absorb glucose.”
“Asparagus has proved to be an effective weapon to help fight against diabetes. The intake of asparagus leads to high urine and salt excretion from the body which help in regulating the blood sugar level,” says Dr. Lochan Arora, Physiotherapist and Nutritionist at Veda Physiotherapy and Nutrition Clinic.
Another article published in The British Medical Journal in 2006 showed asparagus triggered an 81 percent increase in glucose uptake by the body’s muscles and tissues.
2. Great Source of Antioxidants
Asparagus contains high level of antioxidants which help in fighting against free radicals in the body, which have been found to be the risk factors for diseases like cancer, heart trouble, etc. According to Ms. Nidhi Sawhney, Dietitian at Nutri Advice, “Asparagus is a very good source of fiber, folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K and minerals that enhance the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into the cells.”
3. Increases Immunity
Incorporating asparagus in the diet helps in fighting bacterial infections, urine infection and cold which makes the immune system strong. Asparagus is a great source of B-complex vitamins which are essential for energy production and to maintain the nervous system.
4. Could Help Fight Risk of Cancer
“Asparagus contains Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and other powerful antioxidants which are very beneficial to maintain healthy cells and fight risks of cancer,” says Dr. Arora. Asparagus also regulates homocysteine levels in our blood – a strong risk factor for heart disease.
5. Slows the Aging Process
“Asparagus is a vegetable known for its antioxidant content, which has the ability to slow down the aging process,” says Ms. Nidhi.
6. Acts as a Natural Diuretic
“Asparagin, an amino acid, acts as natural diuretics. Asparagin is present in asparagus in high levels which helps the body in releasing the extra salt from the body through urination,” adds Ms. Nidhi. Asparagus provides a useful amount of vitamin K, essential for strong bones and to main blood pressure.
How to Add Asparagus to Your Diet
The best way to consume asparagus is to roast, grill or stir fry it. Quick cooking works well to preserve the nutritional content and the antioxidants present in it. You can also add it to your soups and curries.