Eat Well to Be Well: Asparagus, a perennial spring favorite – Osage County Online | Osage County News

Eat Well to Be Well: Asparagus, a perennial spring favorite

One of the most sought-after vegetables usually signaling the arrival of spring is asparagus. Farmers markets and supermarkets are brimming with this “king of vegetables,” aptly named by France’s King Louis XIV, who cultivated them in greenhouses so he could enjoy them throughout the year.

This tender perennial stem vegetable belonging to the Asparagaceae family was considered a prized delicacy by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Asparagus is closely related to Liliaceae plants, which also include onions and garlic. Asparagus is believed have originated along the coastal regions of the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor regions, and is considered one of the oldest known vegetables.

Health benefits of asparagus

Asparagus is naturally rich in many healthy nutrients and compounds we can take advantage of. Therefore, this “king of vegetables” is a must-buy not only for its delicious flavor but to obtain its powerful nutritional benefits:

  • Asparagus packs antioxidants helping neutralize cell-damaging free radicals that lead to accelerated aging.
  • Asparagus helps our brain fight cognitive decline.
  • Asparagus contains a rich source of glutathione, a detoxifying compound that helps break down carcinogens.
  • Asparagus has high levels of the amino acid asparagine, a natural diuretic that increases urination and helps rid the body of excess salt.
  • Asparagus is a great source of folate, a B-vitamin important in preventing neural tube defects in infants.
  • One cup of asparagus provides 70 percent of your daily need for vitamin K. Adequate vitamin K helps improve bone health by increasing calcium absorption and reducing urinary calcium excretion.
  • Asparagus contains no fat or cholesterol.
  • Asparagus is very low in sodium.
  • Asparagus contains 3 grams of fiber in a 5.3-ounce serving.
  • Asparagus is a significant source of thiamin and vitamin B6.
  • Asparagus is a rich source of rutin, a plant pigment that strengthens capillary walls.

Interesting side note on asparagus

After eating asparagus, some people will notice a distinctive, funny smell in their urine, detected as early as 15 minutes after eating this spring delicacy. It’s completely normal and has been observed for centuries.

During digestion, the vegetable’s sulfurous amino acids break down into smelly chemical components in all of us. The components are “volatile,” meaning airborne so the odor wafts upward as the urine leaves the body.

But not all people will notice the unique smell as only about 25 percent of all individuals can smell these compounds. They have a special gene allowing them to smell the odor from the compounds – or maybe they just have a really good nose!

Selection and storage of asparagus

Asparagus is found year-round in supermarkets, but the spears are at their peak and most flavorful during the spring. When choosing asparagus, stalks should look firm, straight, smooth, and uniform in size. The color should be dark green with tightly-closed caps. Stalks to avoid are those with wide ridges in the stems and dull-colored, which usually indicates older stalks that will not be as flavorful.

Store asparagus in the refrigerator set at 38-40 degrees F as higher temperatures will cause it to lose natural sugars, vitamin C, and flavor. They will also become tough and decay if kept at room temperature.

For more information about asparagus, including recipes, see www.michiganasparagus.org/nutrition.


Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in dietetics and nutrition from the University of Kansas, and a bachelor’s degree in dietetics and institutional management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for local clinics, an adjunct professor at an area community college where she teaches basic nutrition, and a freelance health and nutrition writer. She is the author of The Nourished Brain: The Latest Science On Food’s Power For Protecting The Brain From Alzheimers and Dementia, The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook and The Heart Disease Prevention Cookbook. Visit her website at www.eatwelltobewellrd.com.


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