The health benefits of asparagus include good cardiovascular health, healthy pregnancy, improved fertility, relief from the pre-menstrual syndrome, and improved bone health. It is also beneficial in managing conditions like diabetes, hangovers, cataract, rheumatism, depression, neurodegenerative diseases, and convulsions. It reduces urinary tract infections and blood cholesterol.
What is Asparagus?
Asparagus, scientifically known as Asparagus officinalis, belongs to the family of lilies and is valued for its therapeutic properties. It is derived from a Greek word meaning ‘sprout’ and about 300 different species of this sprout exist all over the world.
It is available in white, green, and purple colors. White asparagus is grown away from the sunlight and hence, is deficient of the green pigment, chlorophyll. The purple one is loaded with phytochemicals and anthocyanins which provide a unique color to the vegetable.
The medicinal effect of this plant extends from its root to shoot and its usage has been tested and proven in scientific as well as indigenous systems of medicine like Siddha, Ayurveda, and Unani.
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Asparagus Nutrition Facts
Asparagus is a great source of vitamins, minerals, and essential proteins. It is rich in vitamin A, vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), vitamin B6, folate, vitamin C, vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), and vitamin K (phylloquinone). The mineral treasures that are stored in it include iron, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc, selenium, and potassium.
Asparagus contains a very low amount of calories with no cholesterol and is low in sodium as well. Along with this, it is also a rich source of dietary fiber, which is essential for the body.
According to the FoodData Central, a 100 g serving of raw asparagus contains about 20 calories. This makes the stalks a very good dietary option for people looking to shed extra pounds.
Health Benefits of Asparagus
Let us look at the various health benefits of asparagus in detail below.
Maintains Homocysteine Level
Asparagus is rich in B vitamins that help in maintaining healthy levels of homocysteine, which is produced in the blood when an amino acid (methionine) breaks down in the body. Vitamin B, especially folate, B6, and B12 play a key role in converting homocysteine into cysteine, which then gets converted back to methionine as per the normal methylation cycle.
A deficiency of vitamin B in the body can elevate the levels of homocysteine and increase the risk of damage to blood vessels, venous thrombosis in which clotting of blood happens in the veins, atherosclerosis, and other cardiac disorders. In addition to this, vitamin B helps in maintaining healthy levels of blood sugar by ensuring proper metabolism of starches and sugars in the body.
Helps in Pregnancy
Folate is essential for the growth of the fetus. It also helps in reducing the complication of edema or retention of water in the body tissues owing to its diuretic effect. According to a study, the Mediterranean diet, which includes foods like asparagus, has been linked to a lower risk of birth defects, especially neural tube defects (NTDs), which can cause serious health issues for infants.
The high folate content in asparagus aids in reducing the danger of low birth weight and birth defects during pregnancy. Folate is essential for the growth of the fetus. It also helps in reducing the complication of edema or retention of water in the body tissues owing to its diuretic effect.
Another study suggests that taking folate, a type of B-vitamin can help prevent certain birth defects in babies, specifically those affecting the brain and spine.
An asparagus extract can be used effectively for easing pre-menstrual bloating. The presence of essential nutrients helps to combat depression and fatigue, as well as reduce menstrual cramps. It also helps in controlling blood loss and maintaining hormonal balance during menstruation.
Reduces Blood Pressure
Asparagus is a common vegetable, long used as herbal medicine. It is effective in eradicating a plethora of health-related problems. According to a study in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, the bottom-stem consumption of asparagus significantly reduced the subjects’ systolic and diastolic blood pressure. This result supports the possibility that asparagus cladophylls and bottom stems differentially improve hypertension and hyperglycemia.
An animal study showed that eating asparagus can help lower blood pressure by blocking the activity of an enzyme called angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE). This was observed in rats with high blood pressure.
The root of asparagus racemosus is widely appreciated in Ayurvedic therapy and is famously known as Shatavari, which means ‘one who has 100 husbands’. Shatavari has aphrodisiac properties and is used to regulate the hormones and cure male and female sexual disorders. It has anti-anxiety properties and helps in curing physical and mental debility in males. It also helps in enhancing the libido and boosts sperm count and its motility. In females, asparagus has been proven to be effective in menopausal syndrome and anemia. Shatavari has been trusted as a galactagogue and is also valued for its effectiveness in improving the quality and quantity of breast milk while boosting the appetite of nursing women. Research studies conducted on animals have demonstrated positive effects on the genitals and the mammary glands of the female subjects who consumed adequate amounts of asparagus.
Asparagus contains significant quantities of the nutrient inulin, which is a kind of complex carbohydrate, commonly known as prebiotic. It does not get digested until it reaches the large intestine, where it is fed upon by a kind of good bacteria like lactobacilli. Inulin aids in the improved absorption of nutrients.
It is also a good provider of dietary fiber and has laxative properties that help in the smooth functioning of the bowels, keeping bloating and constipation at bay. Along with healthy digestion, fiber also helps in lowering the cholesterol levels of the body. It is widely recommended in Ayurveda therapy for its effectiveness in curing diarrhea, dysentery, and dyspepsia, which is a feeling of abdominal uneasiness including burning sensations or navel pain occurring during or after eating. Studies have shown that asparagus racemosus has been proven to be as effective as the commercially available modern drugs in treating dyspepsia.
Helps in Weight Loss
According to a study in the Phytotherapy Research journal, supplementary intake of Sambucus nigra and Asparagus Officinalis facilitated improvement in the mean weight, blood pressure, physical and emotional well-being, and quality of life of the participants.
According to an animal study Asparagus cochinchinensis (ACE) administration leads to significant weight loss, improved lipid levels, better glucose tolerance, and reduced inflammation and fat production in the liver and adipose tissue.
As per a 2012 study published in The British Journal of Nutrition, asparagus extract has anti-diabetic properties and improves insulin secretion. Also, in another rat study published in the Indian Journal of Experimental Biology, asparagus improves early diabetic nephropathy (a kidney disease).
Asparagus extract contains essential amino acids that may prove effective in curing hangovers. A hangover refers to the unpleasant physiological effect caused due to the substantial consumption of alcoholic drinks. Its symptoms include anxiety, fatigue, and stomach disorders like nausea, vomiting, and dehydration. Research studies have demonstrated that the leaves and shoots of asparagus contain a good amount of inorganic mineral content, which also aids in the protection of the liver cells from the toxic effects of alcohol.
Asparagus is a good source of vitamin A, which is essential for healthy vision. Due to the presence of antioxidants, it helps in defending the retina from the damage caused by the oxygen-free radicals. The presence of the amino acid glutathione in it also helps in reducing the risk of eye ailments such as cataracts and night blindness.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition that causes inflammation of the joints. Studies have shown that the consumption of folate-rich food like asparagus, which also possesses anti-inflammatory properties, may help to relieve the pain and ease the overall poor functioning in the body associated with arthritis.
Rich in Rutin
Asparagus is also a rich source of rutin, a flavonoid that possesses anti-inflammatory properties and is used to treat hemorrhoids and prevent clotting of blood. It enhances the permeability of capillaries, strengthens the blood vessels, and protects them from becoming fragile. Rutin also prevents the hardening of arteries by reducing the viscosity of blood and helps in easing hypertension, reducing cholesterol, and maintaining cardiovascular health.
Scientific research has shown the efficacy of asparagus racemosus as an anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drug. It helps in enhancing the memory, increases the production, and secretion of estrogen, and has a revitalizing and calming effect on the nervous system.
Gives Relief from Epilepsy Symptoms
Epilepsy is a chronic disorder that affects the brain and leads to recurrent convulsions or seizures. The brain transmits abnormal signals as a result of irreversible changes in the brain tissues. The roots of asparagus racemosus may provide relief from the symptoms of epilepsy. A 2016 research published in Epilepsy & Behavior suggests that asparagus racemosus extract may provide relief from PTZ induced seizure and memory issues.
Treats Urinary Tract Infections
Research studies show that asparagus racemosus possess an anti-urolithiatic effect, which helps to treat urinary tract infections. Due to the vegetable’s diuretic properties, the consumption of asparagus increases the frequency and volume of urination. This helps to detoxify and flush the toxic waste out of the body. According to research, the anti-urolithiatic effect can be attributed to the presence of antioxidants and essential vitamins C and E.
It is also known to give a peculiar, pungent smell to the urine, which is completely normal. This is because asparagus breaks down its constituents of ammonia and sulfur into volatile chemical compounds that actually help the body to detoxify.
Maintains Blood Cholesterol Level
Studies have supported the fact that the wealth of antioxidants in asparagus has the potential to treat oxidative stress, along with other disorders such as hyperlipidemia and hypercholesterolemia. These diseases indicate the presence of high fat and cholesterol content in the body, which can further pose a major threat to fatal conditions like cardiovascular diseases and atherosclerosis.
Culinary Uses of Asparagus
Asparagus has a delicate flavor and can be eaten raw, grilled or roasted. It can be added as an ingredient to pickles, salad recipes, and soups. The shoots of this plant are relished as an appetizer and are prepared in different ways around the world. It requires minimal cooking, which gave birth to a famous Roman saying, “As quick as cooking asparagus”, for anything that has to be done quickly.
Side Effects of Asparagus
Asparagus is also referred to as Rasayana herb in Ayurveda and offers an immense range of health benefits with a few exceptions or side effects, which are listed below.
Gas: Asparagus contains a carbohydrate known as raffinose. In order to digest this complex sugar, the human body needs to ferment it. During this process of breaking down the carbohydrate, gas is often produced and subsequently released from the body.
Pregnancy and Lactation: Asparagus alters the hormonal balance and has been traditionally used for birth control. During pregnancy and lactation, it is usually considered safe to consume a normal amount of asparagus, but not to opt for medicinal doses without consulting a doctor.
Kidney Stones: Asparagus contains purines. Purines break down to create uric acid which can accumulate as a result of high purine content in the body. This is not favorable for people suffering from uric acid-related complications like gout or kidney stones. It is recommended to avoid or restrict the intake of purine dense foods like asparagus for patients with those conditions.
Asparagus rejuvenates and acts as a tonic for the nerves. It is also useful in conditions like acne, jaundice, schistosomiasis, and leprosy. It strengthens the immune system and helps in promoting overall physical and mental well-being. Include this food in your diet and enjoy the benefits!