Healthy Living: Superfood asparagus is in season

Eva Hill Hamilton

Reporter:

Eva Hill Hamilton

Healthy Living: Superfood asparagus is in season

Superfood that is super yummy: Asparagus is low in calories and a great source of nutrients, including fiber, folate and vitamins A, C and K

Asparagus, that is coming into season now, is truly a superfood and is one of my favourites.

It has so many health benefits that you can forgive the slight funky smell it causes to the urine. It contains a noteworthy amount of Tryptophan - an amino acid that is the raw material for our happy hormone (serotonin) and sleeping hormone (melatonin). It is high in fibre and has rich concentrations of inulin, a prebiotic, that passes undigested all the way to our large intestine where it becomes an ideal food source for beneficial bacteria (like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli) that are associated with better nutrient absorption, lower risk of allergy, and lower risk of colon cancer.

Asparagus is being heralded as an anti-inflammatory food because it provides a unique combination of anti-inflammatory nutrients, called saponins. One of these saponins (sarsasapogenin) has been of special interest in relation to chronic, neurodegenerative diseases. Further anti-inflammatory nutrients are its wide variety of antioxidants, including vitamin C, beta-carotene, and the minerals zinc, manganese, selenium, a small amount of vitamin E, and most importantly, glutathione (GSH) - one of the body's best-studied antioxidants and detoxifier.

With its diuretic asparagine content, it has the capacity to eliminate excess water from tissues, helping water retention and kidney problems. It is an excellent source of folic acid and a very good source of all B vitamins, bar B12 – all of which play a key role in blood sugar management and regulation of homocysteine. (Homocysteine is a natural metabolic by-product, and when it reaches excessive levels in our blood, it is a strong risk factor for cardiovascular diseases.)

In addition, it helps to clear the arteries of cholesterol. While we have yet to see large-scale dietary studies that examine chronic diseases in humans and asparagus intake, the above health-giving properties suggest it may reduce risks in heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

As a result of its strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrient composition, asparagus is suggested as a risk reducer for cancer. Chronic, excessive inflammation and chronic oxidative stress are risk factors for a variety of cancer types, and both unwanted phenomena are related to deficient dietary intake of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients – which are especially plentiful in asparagus. In animal studies and cell studies asparagus and its extracts can change the metabolic activity of cancer cell types. Cancer cells from the liver are best studied in this regard.

Asparagus is best if steamed and then drizzled with olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper. You could also sauté them in a stainless-steel pan with butter and olive oil, adding a good splash of water and seasoning - cover and shake the pan time to time. All it needs is 3 minutes. Serve cooked asparagus with the classic poached egg and Hollandaise – or fish and Bearnaise sauce combination. It is also an excellent part of a Thai-style stir-fry. If you shave thin ribbons of it, you can easily add it to your salads.