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The great taste of springtime


Winter’s snowy coat has melted away. Finally, our environment is turning green with spring plants sprouting buds and leaves. This is the time to take advantage of asparagus season. Enjoy this nutrition-packed spring vegetable, freshly cut, straight from the field.

Asparagus, a perennial plant native to Northern Africa, western Asia and much of Europe, is now grown in much of North America. Historically, asparagus – a distant cousin of garlic, onions and the lily – has been grown both as a vegetable crop and as a medicine. Although Egyptian artifacts dating back to 3000 BC include depictions of asparagus, it was only introduced to North America around 1850.

Well known for its unusual, strong savoury flavour, asparagus is available in many varieties. Whether you prefer the green British and American variety, the white Spanish and Dutch variety, or the purple French variety, the nutrition packed into each serving of asparagus will deliver health benefits throughout your body.

Asparagus can help your body flush out free-radicals through a variety of anti-oxidants, such as: flavinoids, glutathione, a molecule composed of a combination of three amino acids (glycine, glumatic acid and cysteine), manganese, selenium, zinc, Vitamin A (beta-carotene) and Vitamin C, which lowers blood pressure, improves your healthy immune system, and helps your body resist age-related ocular diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration.

Asparagus provides these anti-inflammatory flavinoids: isorhamnetin, laempferol, quercetin and rutin, as well as aspargus saponins, which can reduce the effects of asthma, arthritis and autoimmune diseases. Since chronic inflammation has been linked to a variety of cancers, they may also reduce the risk of developing bladder, bone, breast, colon, larynx, lung, prostate and ovarian cancers. The anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties of asparagus’ saponins may help reduce your blood pressure, regulate your blood sugar, and balance your blood fat levels.

The B-complex group of vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6, pantothenic acid, and folate) found in asparagus helps keep your cellular enzymes and metabolic functions running well. Folate has other benefits, too. It helps maintain blood sugar levels, retains proper DNA formation, and supports your cardiovascular system by regulating your amino acid homcysteine. Folate, interacting with Vitamin B12, helps maintain cognitive functions during the aging process. According to a university study, older people performed better on tests requiring mental flexibility and a quick response when they maintained adequate folate levels.

Asparagus is also good for your bones. Its Vitamin K helps your body synthesize osteocalcin, a protein that strengthens your bones and helps prevent calcium from depositing in other tissue, reducing your risk of developing atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease and/or stroke.

Asparagus aids digestion. Inulin, a carbohydrate in asparagus, encourages the growth of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli – two healthy bacteria found in your digestive tract. These bacteria improve your body’s ability to absorb nutrients and also prevent unfriendly bacteria from settling in.

By helping maintain healthy digestion, asparagus lowers your risk of food allergies and colon cancer. In addition, asparagine – an amino acid found in asparagus, which acts as a natural diuretic, effectively treats swelling, general water retention, arthritis, and rheumatism. According to one medical journal article, the continual flushing process caused by asparagus’ diuretic properties can help prevent the development of kidney stones. They also deliver relatively high levels of these essential minerals: calcium, iron, phosphorus, copper, and potassium.

Considering these facts, asparagus is a good vegetable to include in your diet. Although one cup of asparagus contains only 43 calories, it delivers a significant percentage of your daily requirements in the following: Folate, 66%; Vitamin C, 30%; Vitamin K, 114 %; Protein, almost 10%; and Fiber, 11%. Asparagus’ combination of nutrients, protein and fibre could help you maintain your weight, stabilize your digestion, and curb your appetite, while maintaining stable blood sugar levels and preventing constipation.

If you decide to stock up on some stalks of fresh asparagus, look for straight spears, without twists or bulges. Most bunches consist of 15-25 spears, held together by an elastic. Select bunches with uniform, bright green stems and pointed dark green or purple closed tips.

Asparagus is best eaten immediately, but can be stored well for up to four days. Since it spoils easily, store with care. First, wrap a damp paper towel around the base of the stems to keep them moist. Then, keep the spears clean, covered and cold in the fridge or another cool dry storage area.

Before cooking, rinse well; then, steam, boil or grill. Although thin spears do not require peeling, the tougher, stringy skin of thicker spears can be removed after cooking, along with the tough bottom third of each spear. 

Of course on the road, eating asparagus is much simpler.

Since many restaurants serve fresh asparagus in season, you now have a few months to enjoy farm fresh quality with no fuss!

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Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant, and she can be reached at karen_bowen@yahoo.com.


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