asparagus

Asparagus: History and its wonderful medicinal benefits

Posted on Posted in Healthy Eating

Asparagus (Scientific name Asparagus officinalis) is a Greek word which means ‘shoot’ or ‘sprout.’ The history of asparagus goes back to 3000 BC. This tender and succulent vegetable has been a delicacy since ancient times. It was cherished for its unique texture and alleged medicinal and aphrodisiacal qualities in North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean regions of Italy, Greece, Spain, and Syria. In an ancient Egyptian frieze dating back to 3000 B.C., asparagus is pictured as an offering. Asparagus recipe is found in the oldest surviving book of recipes, Apicius’s De re coqauinaria, Book III from third-century AD.

asparagus

The tip of the asparagus is the part with the finest texture and most delicate taste. Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of Louis XV loved the points d’amour (love tips) of the asparagus. This savory aphrodisiac is known for its powers to put you in the mood. Asparagus wasn’t available in England until 1538 and in the United States until 1850.

China is the world’s largest producer of asparagus with an annual production of 7,350,000 tonnes reported in 2012. Peru and Mexico follows China at a large distance in asparagus production. Germany is famous for white asparagus and it produces 57,000 tons annually, meeting 61% of consumer demand. United States is the top importer of asparagus with 174,609 tons imported in 2011. U.S. also produces asparagus in the states of California, Michigan and Washington.

asparagus

Asparagus is packed with nutrients and is very low in calorie. 100 grams of asparagus contain only 20 calories.  Like other vegetables, asparagus doesn’t die when picked, but instead continues its metabolic activities. There are different types of asparagus: Green asparagus, white asparagus and purple asparagus. Another variety of asparagus is found in the wild and is appropriately called wild asparagus.

This nutritional vegetable sometimes gets a bad rap because of its unpleasant smell and it can take up to 2 years to grow. Regardless of what some critics say, asparagus is delicious and it is a trove of health benefits. Asparagus was mentioned as a medicinal herb by ancient Greek physician Galen during the 2nd century AD.

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Health benefits

Digestion

Asparagus can help our digestive health in a unique way. Asparagus contains significant amounts of nutrient called inulin. Inulin is a unique carbohydrate called polyfructan, which the health professionals refer to as “prebiotic.” Unlike other carbohydrates, inulin, instead of breaking down in the first segments of the digestive tract, continues to pass undigested all the way to the large intestine. Once in the large intestine, it is devoured by certain types of bacteria like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. These bacteria are known for lowering the risk of allergy, better nutrient absorption and lowering the risk of colorectal cancer.

Asparagus is also rich in fiber and water, which are needed to stop constipation, keep your digestive tract healthy, and reduce colon cancer risk. A cup of asparagus contains about 3 grams of fiber – 2 grams of insoluble fiber and 1 gram of soluble fiber. There are about 4-5 grams of protein in a cup of asparagus. Both protein and fiber are necessary for stabilizing digestion and improve bowel movement. A species of asparagus commonly known as Shatavari, has been extensively used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat digestive problems.

Heart and blood sugar

Asparagus is an excellent source of folic acid. It also has vitamin B1, vitamin B2, choline, niacin, vitamin B6 and pantothenic acid. B vitamins are critical controlling blood sugar. They play a crucial part in regulating a type of amino acid called homocysteine. Excessive levels of homocysteine in blood are a risk factor for heart disease. Asparagus doesn’t contain any fat or cholesterol which benefits the heart greatly.

Consumption of dietary fiber is known to lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes and asparagus is rich in fiber – about 3 grams in a cup (more than 1 gram of soluble fiber). Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant property in asparagus is also beneficial for keeping a healthy heart and lowering the risk of diabetes.

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Cancer

Adequate consumption of folate has been shown to decrease the risk of developing cancers such as, colon cancer, stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer and cervical cancer. Asparagus is high in folate. Eating foods containing folate is proven to be much better than taking folic acid.

Strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of asparagus are also beneficial for decreasing risk factors for various cancers.

Birth defect

Doctors usually prescribe folic acid supplement for those considering pregnancy because folate helps regulate fetal and embryonic nerve cell formations and prevent premature births. Asparagus is rich in folate and it is better to take foods that contain folate than taking folic acid supplement.

Weight loss

With about 40 calories in a cup, asparagus is an ideal snack for anyone trying to lose weight. Fiber content in asparagus helps with digestive system which is good for losing weight. Fiber also makes one feel full and decreases hunger. Potassium in asparagus is known to reduce belly fat.

Bone health

Vitamin K is essential for strong and healthy bones. One serving of asparagus contains 69.6 percent of daily recommended dose of vitamin K. Vitamin K also helps with bone repair and formation. It is also known to prevent osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Vitamin K is needed for a protein in bone tissue called osteocalcin.

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Anti-ageing

Vitamin E in asparagus is a lipid-soluble antioxidant which is extremely beneficial for skin. Vitamin E protects tissue cells from oxidant injury, which means that it helps keep skin looking healthy and young.

Aphrodisiac

Asparagus has been known as an aphrodisiac since ancient times. It is rich in folate and vitamin B6, which means it helps with arousal and orgasm. Vitamin E in asparagus can stimulate male and female sex hormones. The phallic look of asparagus may be the reason why the French call it ‘asperge’ which is a slang word for penis.

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Healthy asparagus recipe: Asparagus grilled with garlic, rosemary and lemon

Prep time: 10 min.

Cooking time: 10 min.

Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • Fresh asparagus – 3 lbs. (snap rough ends off)
  • Lemons – 1 ½ (sliced in half)
  • Garlic cloves – 4 (skinned and slightly crushed)
  • Salt – 1 tsp.
  • Fresh rosemary – 1 ½ (chopped)
  • Olive oil – 1 ½ tbsp.
  • Pepper – ¾ tsp.

Directions

  1. Put all ingredients except asparagus in a large Ziploc bag. Squeeze the lemons into the mixture.
  2. Shake to mix all ingredients and marinade for 2 hours.
  3. Grill for 10 minutes turning the asparagus.

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Salahuddin Ahmed is a freelance medical writer and blogger, who has been writing about medicine and health for more than a decade. A former New York transplant, he now lives in his native Dhaka. He received a Bachelor's degree from the University of Louisiana and a diploma on eTechnology from NIIT, Dhaka. A voracious eater, Salahuddin only dines at restaurants that offer free refills on rice.

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