Thursday, January 30, 2014

Food Feature: Asparagus

So, I'm on a date tonight and in my sushi roll I had a long segment of asparagus (LOVE iT!). And my date notices and says something to the effect of, "I know I shouldn't say this at the dinner table, but as good as Asparagus is . . . I know it makes your pee stink."
Uh huh. Thanks :)

But I kinda feel that's maybe all we know about this green twig that grows out of the ground like weird looking green . . . sticks. It makes our pee stink.

So what's so great about it, and why should we eat it?

Asparagus "spears" should probably be considered just as protective as a real weapon. Their javelin-like shape can be symbolic for their disease and age-fighting abilities. In fact, Asparagus has been prized as an epicurean delight and for its medicinal properties for almost 2000 years.

First, this veggie is LOADED with nutrients: with its long stringy fibers, you can know right off the bat that it's an excellent source of fiber. Added to that, you've got folate, vitamins A, C, E and K (that's a LOT of great fat-soluble vitamins). But you've also got chromium, which is a trace mineral that enhances the ability of your insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells.

Second, this plant—along with avocados, kale, and Brussels sprouts—is a great source of what is called glutathione, which is a detoxifying compound that aids in breaking down carcinogens and other harmful foreign bodies like free radicals (which AGE us). So, eating asparagus may actually help protect against and FIGHT certain forms of cancer, such as bone (a particularly nasty breed...I know, having lost a friend to it), breast, colon, larynx, and lung cancers.

Third, Asparagus is just jam packed with antioxidants. How packed? It ranks among the top fruits and vegetables for its ability to neutralize cell-damaging free radicals. This, according to preliminary research, may help slow the aging process. Want to live over the age of 98 and still enjoy being alive and with your family like Dr. Ellsworth Wareham? I'm not talking bed-ridden and in pain. I'm talking, enjoying life with your posterity!


Fourth, another anti-aging benefit of this springtime veggie is that it helps our brains fight cognitive decline (again, see Dr. Ellsworth above!). Like all leafy greens, asparagus delivers folate which works with vitamin B12 to help prevent cognitive impairment. In a study from Tufts University, older adults with healthy levels of folate and B12 performed better on a test of response speed and mental flexibility. (So make sure you're taking those B12 supplements every day!)

Fifth, and one more benefit of asparagus...it contains high levels of the amino acid asparagine (yeah, lots of big words today), which serves as a natural diuretic (TMI maybe?). Increased urination not only releases fluid, but helps rid the body of excess salts. This is especially beneficial for people who suffer from edema and those who have high blood pressure or other heart-related diseases!

And finally...the moment you've all been waiting for...why does asparagus make your pee stink? Asparagus contains a unique compound that, when metabolized, gives off a distinctive smell in the urine. Young asparagus contains higher concentrations of the compound so the odor is stronger after eating these shoots. There are, however, no harmful effects, either from the sulfuric compounds or the odor! While it is believed that most people produce these odorous compounds after eating asparagus . . . there are actually few people who actually have the ability to detect the smell. So, don't worry.

The most common type of asparagus is green, which you've probably all seen, but just this year, while visiting my Grandparents in Idaho we had white asparagus. There is also a purple variety, which is smaller and fruitier in flavor. So, just pick a type! Asparagus is a tasty vegetable that can be cooked in a variety of ways or enjoyed raw in salads (or veggie sushi!).

Be sure to keep in mind these cooking tips to preserve the functioning antioxidants and keep your preparation healthy:

Roast, grill, or stir-fry your asparagus. These methods cook it quick and will preserve the nutritional content and antioxidant power of asparagus. If you stir-fry use vegetable broth ... not oil:) Enjoy!
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