Asparagus – a springtime delight

April 25, 2011


Arriving with the coming of spring is this highly prized vegetable. Its shoots break through the soil and reach their 6-8 inch at harvest length. InCaliforniathe first crops are picked as early as February, however, their season generally is considered to run from April through May.

 Like all vegetables, asparagus doesn’t instantly “die” when it is picked, but instead, continues to engage in metabolic activity. This metabolic activity includes intake of oxygen, the breaking down of starches and sugars, and the releasing of carbon dioxide. The speed at which these processes occur is typically referred to as “respiration rate.” Compared to most other vegetables, asparagus has a very high respiration rate. Asparagus’ very high respiration rate makes it more perishable than other vegetables, and also much more likely to lose water, wrinkle, and harden. By wrapping the ends of the asparagus in a damp paper or cloth towel, you can help offset asparagus’ very high respiration rate during refrigerator storage.  Along with this helpful step, you will want to consume asparagus within approximately 48 hours of purchase.  For this reason, I recommend purchasing asparagus seasonally.  Imported asparagus is usually a bit old. 

 It’s not surprising to see asparagus being heralded as an anti-inflammatory food because it provides a truly unique combination of anti-inflammatory nutrients. Among these anti-inflammatory nutrients are asparagus saponins, including asparanin A, sarsasapogenin, protodioscin, and diosgenin. Alongside of these anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, asparagus provides a wide variety of antioxidant nutrients, including vitamin C, beta-carotene, and the minerals zinc, manganese, and selenium. Asparagus also contains a small amount of vitamin E.

Asparagus is  a digestive support food. One key factor in this regard is its inulin content. Like chicory root and Jerusalem artichoke, asparagus contains significant amounts of the nutrient inulin. Inulin is a unique type of carbohydrate called a polyfructan, and healthcare practitioners often refer to it as a “prebiotic.” Unlike most other carbs, inulin doesn’t get broken down in the first segments of our digestive tract. It passes undigested all the way to our large intestine. Once it arrives at our large intestine, it becomes an ideal food source for certain types of bacteria (like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli) that are associated with better nutrient absorption, lower risk of allergy, and lower risk of colon cancer. While approximately 5% lower in inulin than chicory root and Jerusalem artichoke, asparagus is a food that contains a valuable amount of this unique carb and can help support our digestive health in this unique way.

Along with its inulin content, asparagus is rich in fiber (about 3 grams per cup, including about 2 grams of insoluble fiber and 1 gram of soluble fiber) and also contains a noteworthy amount of protein (about 4-5 grams per cup). Both fiber and protein help stabilize our digestion and keep food moving through us at the desirable rate. By contrast, too much fat can slow down our digestion rate more than desired, and too much sugar or simple starch can speed it up more than desired.

B-vitamin content of asparagus is excellent. Asparagus is an excellent source of folic acid and a very good source of vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6. Asparagus also contains the B vitamins choline, biotin, and pantothenic acid. Because B vitamins play a key role in the metabolism of sugars and starches, they are critical for healthy blood sugar management.

There is the anti-inflammatory/antioxidant factor. Heart disease and type 2 diabetes are both considered chronic diseases that evolve in relationship to chronic, excessive inflammation and oxidative stress. The outstanding antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrient composition of asparagus would seem to make it  a risk reducer in both of these chronic disease areas

How to purchase and store:

Asparagus stalks should be rounded, and neither fat nor twisted. Look for firm, thin stems with deep green or purplish closed tips. The cut ends should not be too woody, although a little woodiness at the base prevents the stalk from drying out. Once trimmed and cooked, asparagus loses about half its total weight. Use asparagus within a day or two after purchasing for best flavor and texture. Store in the refrigerator with the ends wrapped in a damp paper towel.

Cooking suggestion: 

Sauté asparagus. Heat 5 TBSP of broth (vegetable or chicken) or water in a stainless steel skillet on medium heat. Once bubbles begin to form add whole asparagus, cover, and Sauté for 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss  with a mixture of 2 TBSP olive oil, 1 TBSP lemon juice and 1-2 cloves of minced garlic. 

A Few Serving Ideas:

  • Add cold asparagus to your favorite salad.
  • Toss freshly cooked pasta with asparagus, olive oil and your favorite pasta spices. We especially enjoy thyme, tarragon and rosemary.
  • Chopped asparagus make a flavorful and colorful addition to omelets.
  • Sauté asparagus with garlic, shiitake mushrooms and  chicken for a complete meal.

Enjoy springtime with Asparagus.

For more nutrition and health information, contact Dr. Wendy at 231-348-0838 or pattonwendy@gmail.com   Dr. Wendy is available for individual appointments, phone appointments, group sessions, speaking engagements and is now offering a Corporate Wellness Program.     

Also, please visit Dr. Wendy at the Holistic Health & Nutrition Booth at “For The Health Of It” Health Expo Saturday, April 30th 10:00 am – 3:00 pm at North Central Michigan College in Petoskey

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