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Asparagus, in season in April and May, is a fat-free, low-sodium vegetable that provides lots of nutrients and only three calories per spear.
Nutrients found in asparagus include:
Folate – reduces risk of heart disease, dementia and neural tube defects
Vitamins A and C – reduce risk of heart disease and certain cancers, and protect eye and skin health
Vitamin K – essential for bone formation and blood clotting
Potassium – maintains healthy blood pressure
Rutin – strengthens capillary walls
Inulin – a food source for the good bacteria in large intestine
Asparagus is also known as a natural remedy that can help relieve indigestion and act as a mild laxative and sedative.
Despite all of the benefits, there are a few downsides to eating asparagus. The vegetable is high in purine, which increases the risk of gout and kidney stones, and high in sulfur, which can alter the smell of urine. In addition, inulin, while a good food source for intestinal bacteria, also produces intestinal gas.
There are a few types of asparagus and they’re all a little bit different. White asparagus comes from the same plant as green, but it’s grown out of the sun, so it doesn’t develop chlorophyll, which makes it lower in nutrients. Purple asparagus is sweeter and its color is created by health-promoting antioxidant properties.
When choosing asparagus, pick crisp, round spears with tips that are pointed and tightly closed. Try to select spears similar in diameter for uniform cooking time. Store asparagus in a dark part of the refrigerator, wrapped in a moist paper towel. You may also cut off 1 inch from the end and place upright in 1 inch of water. Use cut asparagus within two to three days. If the tips become wilted, freshen with a brief soak in ice cold water.
Prepare by cleaning under cool, running water. If the tips have sand or dirt in them, dunk the tips in and out of water, then rinse well. Trim off any tough or white ends. Cook quickly until asparagus is tender and crisp. Steaming and microwaving are better cooking methods than boiling, and asparagus can also be stir-fried, roasted, broiled or grilled. Here are some recipes to try.
2 pounds asparagus
1/4 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Trim asparagus and toss to coat with oil. Place on a baking pan in a single layer and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Roast for 5 to 10 minutes.
Canyon Ranch Asparagus Guacamole
2 cups (approximately 1 pound) chopped lightly steamed asparagus*
2¼ teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped onion
1 large tomato, chopped
3/4 teaspoon salt, optional
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic, pressed or minced
Dash hot sauce
1/3 cup light sour cream
*If you're using frozen asparagus spears, it is not necessary to steam them (just thaw them to room temperature).
Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Cover tightly and refrigerate several hours or overnight before serving. Makes 3 cups.
(Recipe source: Canyon Ranch Cooking: Bringing the Spa Home, by Canyon Ranch and Jones)
For more information, contact your local MU Extension Center or Susan Mills-Gray, Nutrition and Health Specialist at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MU publication MP 909, Seasonal and Simple
Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter, April 2010