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Health benefits of asparagus
Spring sees the glorious, yet all-too-short, British asparagus season. For thousands of years, this majestic green vegetable has been revered as a delicacy and highly-prized for its reputed aphrodisiacal and medicinal qualities. From the end of April to mid-June tempting bundles will start to appear in greengrocers, farmers’ markets and often by the roadside of local asparagus growers. Freshness is absolutely key – once picked, the flavour and nutritional value of asparagus deteriorates much more quickly than many other fruit and veg. So don’t leave them around in the fridge: the quicker you can get asparagus from the field to your plate, the better. Look for tight green tips and stiff stalks when buying – anything that looks woody or feels bendy is definitely past its prime. We look at why we should be including these delicious, nutritionally-rich spring vegetables on our menus and in our cooking with our top five health benefits of asparagus.
Health benefits of asparagus
Prevents cell damage
Asparagus is packed with anti-inflammatory phytonutrients and essential antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E and the minerals zinc, manganese and selenium to help combat cell-damaging free radicals and slow the ageing process. It is also a rich source of the detoxifying compound glutathione, to help break down carcinogens and prevent damage to important cellular components.
Helps to flush out the system
With high levels of the amino acid asparagine, this herbaceous plant serves as a natural diuretic that helps flush out excess salt and is beneficial for those with high-blood pressure. With its cleansing, alkaline properties, asparagus is also thought to help dissolve kidney stones and eliminate waste from the system.
Promotes heart health
Asparagus is an excellent source of complex B vitamins and folic acid that help maintain our nervous system and play a key role in our body’s blood sugar management. These B vitamins also help to regulate the levels of the amino acid homocysteine in our blood, which in excess is a strong risk factor for heart disease.
Aids healthy digestion
Asparagus contains the unique carbohydrate inulin – a natural prebiotic that stimulates the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut, helping to soothe the stomach and aid nutrient absorption in our digestive tract. It is also a rich source of soluble fibre which is essential for a healthy digestive system – a reason why asparagus has a long history of being used to help treat digestive problems.
Last but by no means least, asparagus is extremely low in fat and calories (assuming you don’t drizzle too much melted butter over the top!) Each spear contains just four calories, so we can enjoy a real feast of these fine veg even when watching our weight.
How to enjoy asparagus
There are endless ways to cook asparagus – steamed, boiled, griddled, even roasted in a hot oven in a tin foil parcel. All methods are equally delicious as long as the asparagus is fresh enough. Perfect partners include a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice, a sprinkling of salt, shavings of parmesan, a dollop of melting butter or hollandaise sauce, or even a slice of soft, ripe cheese such as Taleggio or the award-winning Hampshire Tunworth.
The addition of lightly blanched and chopped asparagus makes any green salad or risotto instantly special, or for a heavenly lunch or light supper, sprinkle a little salt and oil over a plate of just cooked asparagus and add some toasted almonds or seeds for a bit of crunch. Our favourite way to eat them? Use the spears instead of toasted bread soldiers and dip into a soft-boiled egg – utterly scrumptious.
And don’t forget to include raw asparagus when you are juicing – they work particularly well with carrot and cucumbers. Some research suggests raw asparagus juice may help break down alcohol, so it’s a perfect ingredient to include in a hangover tonic!
- Asparagus contains essential antioxidants that help combat cell-damaging free radicals and slow the ageing process
- Each asparagus spear contains just four calories