One of the first foods that signals the start of spring is the appearance of fresh asparagus at local farmers’ markets and grocery stores. Just as spring is a time of new beginnings, asparagus is one of those veggies that I love to experiment with during this time of year.
Not only is this jolly green giant of vegetables delicious, but it has huge health benefits:
It’s loaded with nutrients: Asparagus is a very good source of fiber, folate, vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells.
It can help fight cancer: This herbaceous plant—along with avocado, kale and Brussels sprouts—is a particularly rich source of glutathione, a detoxifying compound that helps break down carcinogens and other harmful compounds like free radicals. This is why eating asparagus may help protect against and fight certain forms of cancer, such as bone, breast, colon, larynx and lung cancers.
Asparagus is packed with antioxidants: It’s one of the top ranked fruits and vegetables for its ability to neutralize cell-damaging free radicals. This, according to preliminary research, may help slow the aging process
Asparagus is a brain booster: Another anti-aging property of this delicious spring veggie is that it may help our brains fight cognitive decline. Like leafy greens, asparagus delivers folate, which works with vitamin B12—found in fish, poultry, meat and dairy—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. (If you’re 50-plus, be sure you’re getting enough B12: your ability to absorb it decreases with age.)
It’s a natural diuretic: It contains high levels of the amino acid asparagine, which serves as a natural diuretic, and increased urination not only releases fluid but helps rid the body of excess salts. This is especially beneficial for people who suffer from edema (an accumulation of fluids in the body’s tissues) and those who have high blood pressure or other heart-related diseases.
The most common type of asparagus is green, but you might see two others in supermarkets and restaurants: white, which is more delicate and difficult to harvest, and purple, which is smaller and fruitier in flavor. No matter the type you choose, asparagus is a tasty, versatile vegetable that can be cooked in myriad ways or enjoyed raw in salads.
Keep in mind these cooking tips to preserve antioxidants and keep your preparation healthy:
Roast, grill or stir-fry your asparagus. These quick-cooking, waterless methods will preserve the fabulous nutritional content and antioxidant power of asparagus.
Personally, I like to grab 4-6 asparagus spears and wrap them in prosciutto. No need to add salt since prosciutto is cured and will flavor the asparagus. Place on your grill and cook until prosciutto is crisp and asparagus tender. I promise your taste buds will thank you!