Asparagus is infamous for adding a distinct odor to urine, but it has a lot more to offer. The stalky veggie comes in several varieties that offer a range of flavors. Fans of asparagus eat it raw, steamed, and grilled or add it to everything from soups and salads to pasta and frittatas. Asparagus provides a surprising number of health benefits and, if you don’t already eat it often, you might consider incorporating it into your diet.
Low in Calories, High in Nutrients
One of the reasons asparagus is such a healthy vegetable is that it contains several vitamins and other nutrients while delivering a minimal number of calories. Asparagus is one of the best foods available for meeting the recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin K and folate, providing 57% and 34%, respectively. A half-cup of plain, cooked asparagus contains between 20 and 40 calories, 2.2 grams of protein, and 1.8 grams of fiber. It also provides 6% of the RDI of potassium, 5% of phosphorus, 18% of vitamin A, 12% of vitamin C, 7% of vitamin E.
Good for Bones
Most people know how important calcium is for good bone health, but many are surprised to learn that iron, phosphorus, and vitamin K also play a significant role. Asparagus contains over half the daily requirement of vitamin K, some phosphorus, and a small amount of iron. Research shows that this may make it one of the best foods for preventing osteoporosis, a disease that develops when bone density decreases.
Improve Digestive Health
Physicians and dietitians alike often find that their patients’ diets are low in fiber. Dietary fiber is essential for ideal digestive health, and a half-cup of asparagus contains around 1.8 grams or 7% of the daily requirement. Most of the fiber in asparagus is insoluble, meaning it adds bulk to stool and helps food travel through the digestive system. It also has some soluble fiber, which is important for feeding beneficial gut bacteria that strengthen the immune system.
Lots of Antioxidants
A simple way to improve health is to increase the number of foods in your diet that are high in antioxidants. Maintaining an appropriate balance of free radicals and antioxidants is essential, as an excess of the former can pave the way for cancer, heart disease, nervous system disease, and other serious conditions. Antioxidants also combat oxidative stress, which is a leading contributor to aging, inflammation, and diseases like cancer. Asparagus contains the flavonoids isorhamnetin, kaempferol, and quercetin. Studies show that flavonoids have a variety of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and anticancer properties. The pigments that give purple asparagus its color also has antioxidant effects.
Lower Blood Pressure
Over 1.3 billion people in the world have high blood pressure and it is one of the primary risk factors for heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends increasing potassium and reducing salt intake to manage blood pressure. Potassium is effective because it both relaxes the walls of blood vessels and helps remove excess salt through urine. A half-cup of asparagus contains around 6% RDI of potassium, meaning it can contribute to lowering blood pressure. A 2013 study of asparagus’ effects on rats found that rats who ate asparagus had lower blood pressure than the control group.
Asparagus can act as a natural diuretic, which means that it helps flush excess fluid and salt from the body through the urine. This is due to its high levels of the amino acid asparagine. People, especially females, are prone to urinary tract infections (UTI) if they don’t urinate enough. Some experts suggest that adding asparagus to a diet may help prevent UTIs because urinating more often helps flush dangerous bacteria out of the urinary tract.
Easing a Hangover
Medical history is full of claims about various hangover cures, but a 2009 study suggests that asparagus may actually work. Researchers analyzed the components of asparagus shoots and their effects on both human and rat liver cells. Results showed the amino acids in asparagus stimulate enzymes in the liver, increasing the rate at which the body breaks down substances that contribute to hangover symptoms.
Folate or vitamin B9 is an essential nutrient that helps form red blood cells and promotes cell function and growth. Doctors often recommend that women in the early stages of pregnancy ensure they’re getting enough folate for healthy fetal development. Folate also helps protect against certain neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. Half a cup of asparagus can provide 34% of daily folate for non-pregnant adults and 22% for those who are pregnant.
Lower Risk of Depression
Depression is a significant concern for many people. Researchers continue to delve deeper into this common and sometimes debilitating mental health condition; a 2008 study compiled evidence that folate can reduce symptoms of depression. A leading theory is that folate prevents the accumulation of homocysteine, an amino acid that can keep nutrients and blood from reaching the brain. An excess of this compound may prevent the production of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. In general, many studies indicate that a healthy diet can improve feelings of depression.
Antioxidants in asparagus can combat the effects of free radicals and reduce the risk of cancer. However, asparagus could have other cancer-fighting tricks in its bag. Researchers found some links between low folate levels and cancer, though more evidence is necessary to confirm if eating foods that contain folate has any effect. Additionally, a 2015 screening trial found that individuals eating high-fiber diets are less likely to develop colorectal cancer. Asparagus’ folate and fiber content may make it an ideal addition to our cancer-prevention arsenal.