Asparagus is a commonly eaten vegetable in many parts of the world. It is well known for its unique, savory taste. It can be eaten raw or cooked.
It is a good source of folate, vitamin K, iron, and fiber. This makes it valuable during pregnancy and means it can contribute to heart health and the prevention of osteoporosis.Fast facts on asparagus
Here are some key points about asparagus. More detail is in the main article.
- Asparagus is a good source of folate, vitamin K, and fiber, among other nutrients.
- One cup of asparagus contains fewer than 30 calories.
- It can be steamed and drizzled with olive oil and garlic as a side dish or an ingredient in a main dish.
Asparagus is a vegetable that is rich in nutrients and easy to prepare.
According to the United States (U.S.) Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database, one 134-gram (g) cup of raw asparagus contains approximately:
- 27 calories
- 0.16 g of fat
- 5.2 g of carbohydrate
- 1.88 g of sugar
- 2.8 g of fiber
- 2.95 g of protein
- 32 milligrams (mg) of calcium
- 2.87 mg of iron
- 19 mg of magnesium
- 52 mg of phosphorus
- 202 mg of potassium
- 2 mg of sodium
- 0.54 mg of zinc
- 55.7 mcg of vitamin K
- 51 mcg RAE of vitamin A
- 70 mcg of folate
- 7.5 mg of vitamin C
- 0.192 mg of thiamin
It also contains smaller amounts of vitamin E, niacin, vitamin B6, and potassium.
Fruits and vegetables of all kinds are linked with a lower risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions, such as type-2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, some cancers, and overall mortality. It can also boost energy levels, skin complexion, and hair.
Asparagus is one of the top-20 foods listed on the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI). The index aims to give an idea of the overall health benefit of foods by measuring vitamin, mineral, and phytonutrient content in relation to the caloric content.
To earn a high ANDI rank, food must provide a high amount of nutrients for a small number of calories.
1. Supporting fetal development
Asparagus is one of the best natural sources of folate. Adequate folate intake is important during periods of rapid growth such as pregnancy, infancy, and adolescence.
Taking folic acid supplements during pregnancy appears to help prevent pregnancy loss and protect the growing fetus from neural tube defects. A father’s folate status before conception may also be important.
One study has indicated that offspring fathered by mice with a folate deficiency had a 30 percent higher chance of birth defects.
2) Lower risk of depression
Folate may reduce the risk of depression by preventing an excess of homocysteine from forming in the body. Homocysteine can block blood and other nutrients from reaching the brain.
Too much homocysteine may also interfere with the production of the feel-good hormones serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These hormones regulate mood, sleep, and appetite.
3) Maintaining a healthy heart
High levels of homocysteine have been associated with a higher incidence of coronary artery disease.
A homocysteine level that is above normal can make a person 1.7 times more likely to develop coronary artery disease, and 2.5 times more likely to have a stroke. It is unclear, however, if high levels of homocysteine cause the risk or are just a marker.
4) Preventing osteoporosis
A low vitamin K intake is linked with a higher risk of bone fracture. Just one cup of asparagus provides around half of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin K.
A good intake of vitamin K can enhance bone health by improving calcium absorption and reducing the amount of calcium excreted in urine.
The iron in asparagus also helps bones and joints to stay strong and elastic.
5) Cancer prevention
Low levels of folate intake have been linked to a higher risk of breast cancer in women.
An adequate intake of dietary folate, or folate from food sources, has also shown promise in protecting against colon, stomach, pancreatic, and cervical cancers.
How folate protects against these cancers remains unknown, but researchers believe it may be due to folate’s role in DNA and RNA production, and the prevention of unwanted mutations.
There is no evidence that folate supplements provide the same anti-cancer benefits.
Asparagus is high in fiber and water content. This helps to prevent constipation, maintain a healthy digestive tract, and lower the risk of colon cancer.
Adequate fiber promotes regularity. This helps the body excrete toxins through the bile and stool.
Studies have shown that dietary fiber may also play a role in regulating the immune system and inflammation. This means that fiber could help lower the risk of inflammation-related conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity.
High fiber intake is associated with a significantly lower risk of developing coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and certain gastrointestinal diseases.
Increased fiber intake has also been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and enhance weight loss in people with obesity.
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020 recommend an intake of 14 g of fiber for every 1,000 calories consumed.
Asparagus can be green, white, or purple. It should be purchased when the stalks are dry and tight, not soft, limp, or wilted. It can be eaten raw or cooked.
Asparagus can be kept fresh by wrapping the stem ends in a wet paper towel and storing in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Young asparagus stems can be eaten whole, but larger, thicker asparagus may need to have the bottom ends removed, as these can become tough and woody as they age.
Asparagus can be eaten plain, in an omelet, or as an ingredient in various dishes.
Here are some ways to include more asparagus into the daily diet:
- Steam whole for 5 minutes, and drizzle with olive oil and minced garlic.
- Add a handful of fresh asparagus to an omelet or scramble.
- Sauté asparagus in a small amount of extra virgin olive oil and minced garlic. Season with freshly ground black pepper and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
- Add chopped asparagus to your next salad or wrap.
- Place asparagus on a large piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle olive oil and lemon juice over the asparagus, wrap up the foil and bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit or until asparagus reaches desired tenderness.
These healthy and delicious recipes have been developed by registered dietitians:
- Speedy scallop and asparagus sauté
- Healthy pasta primavera with asparagus
- Pearled barley risotto with fresh asparagus and mushrooms
- Balsamic roasted asparagus
- Simple crustless spring-time asparagus quiche with cottage cheese
Anyone who is taking blood-thinners such as Coumadin, or warfarin, should not suddenly increase or decrease their consumption of foods containing vitamin K.
An increase in vitamin K can lead to an unwanted interaction with blood thinners, because vitamin K plays an important role in blood clotting.
Any major changes in diet should be discussed first with a doctor.
It is more important to consume a healthful diet overall than to focus on one ingredient.