Asparagus: Spears of Life



Asparagus, a symbol of life.


This spring-time vegetable is rich with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory power that sustains a strong internal wellness working against the development of a myriad of diseases. With its growing season in the spring, it demonstrates growth, hope and joy.


And then some time after enjoying a dish of asparagus you go to the bathroom and wonder what that god-awful smell is...oh, asparagus.


But I care not that asparagus causes my pee to smell funky, for eating asparagus makes my body less junky! And I hope you'll agree!


"Asparagus has a nutritional uniqueness that is second to none"

-The George Mateljan Foundation


What an impressive vegetable asparagus is! Contained in one cup is over 100% of your daily need for vitamin K, over half the day's need for folate, over a third of your need for copper, and over 20% for both thiamin and selenium.


Additionally, a cup of asparagus is a good source of riboflavin, vitamin E, vitamin C, fiber, manganese, niacin, choline, vitamin A and zinc. These are the vitamins and minerals you hear about most often, and the list of nutrients that reside within these spears of life goes on to nearly one hundred phytonutrients including quercetin, saponins, glutathione, and anthocyanins!


The World's Healthiest Foods, created by The George Mateljan Foundation states, "asparagus has a nutritional uniqueness that is second to none." The substantial variety and quantity of nutrients present in asparagus work to enhance your body's defenses against a number of health ailments, positioning you as a Wellness Warrior!


Did you know that both vitamin K and copper can support greater bone density? Folate supports better memory and reduces homocysteine, a biomarker of cardiovascular disease. Selenium is a vital mineral supportive of normal thyroid function. Quercetin, a powerful flavonoid lends anti-inflammatory benefits, potentially recovering the functions of the liver and pancreas. Saponins impart a cytotoxic effect towards cancer cells, meaning cancer cells won't thrive in the presence of these phytonutrients. Cyanidins, a purple variety of flavonoids, protect your body's cells from oxidation which can shorten their lifespan.


These facts are just the tip of the asparagus!


It's probably easier just to say, consuming asparagus may help you to experience greater levels of energy, more mental clarity, even perhaps reduced aches and pains. When you eat asparagus, you are reducing your risk for the development of chronic disease including cancer, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, atherosclerosis, kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. This food truly is a spear of life, one to enjoy abundantly during the Spring when it's in season!


Nutrients are Colorful


Perhaps you've noticed a few other varieties in addition to the common green. If you're wondering if there are any nutritional differences among each variety, the answer is yes.

Between the three varieties of asparagus, green, white and purple, the purple variety has been shown to contain the greatest number of anthocyanins, more specifically, cyanidins. And it's visibly apparent, as these phytonutrients are a purple pigment! What's fabulous about these phytonutrients is that they have a high ORAC value. ORAC is short for "Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity" and is a measure of antioxidant activity. Therefore, when a food is said to have a high ORAC value, it is an indication its antioxidant activity is huge!


Can't find purple asparagus? No worries. The green variety is also very nutritious, including a high concentration of the flavonoid quercetin, a popular phytonutrient that's been shown to bestow a number of health benefits in the body from reducing blood pressure, to fighting cancer, enhancing the function of the liver and pancreas, and reducing the risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders (i.e. Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease).


All of this said regarding the nutrient density in purple and green asparagus, what does this mean for the white variety? While white asparagus is still a nutritious vegetable, it does not contain as high concentrations of nutrients compared to purple and green varieties. White asparagus would be green if it wasn't cultivated beneath the soil, eliminating its exposure to the sun.

Depending on what elements or stress factors a plant is exposed to, it will produce certain nutrients both synergistically and defensively. It's common knowledge that sunlight supports the growth of a plant, though, just as sunlight can damage our skin, it can also cause damage to a plant. In response to the potential damaging effects of the sun's light, a plant will produce certain protective nutrients. As asparagus is grown beneath the soil, it does not have to defend itself against the sun's light, and therefore has no need to produce as many, or certain antioxidants.

But as you'll notice in these images of white asparagus, there is a hint of purple to them. Cyanidin! The purple pigment that is in huge concentrations in purple asparagus and has that high ORAC value. As white asparagus is exposed to the sun, mainly when it goes to market, it will begin to produce cyanidin for protection from the light. You may have even noticed a purple hue in your green asparagus!


Don't, however, take this as an inference that the longer asparagus sits in the light, the more nutritious it will be for you. This could perhaps be plausible in some regard, but once picked, asparagus has a high respiration rate, meaning it spoils quickly. To gain the greatest nutritional benefit from asparagus, eating it as close to the time it was harvested is ideal.


Storing Asparagus


Of course, most of us don't have access to an asparagus farm, so knowing the best form of storage is the next best solution. As per Susan Choung for the Food Network, you can store fresh asparagus just as you would fresh cut flowers. Trim the ends, set in an inch of water, cover with a bag and keep in the fridge. Although your asparagus may last up to four days, plan to prepare it as close to the time of purchase as possible. An alternative method is to wrap the ends in a damp paper towel or cloth and store in a bag in the fridge.


Tasty Asparagus Recipes


Has your appetite for some asparagus spiked? Peaked to new levels? Can you not wait to stalk it out at the grocer's mart?

Try out the fabulous recipes featuring these spears of life right here!


References


Kasote, D.M., Katyare, S.S., Hegde, M.V., & Bae, H. (2015). Significance of Antioxidant Potential of Plants and its Relevance to Therapeutic Applications. International Journal of Biological Sciences, 11(8): 982-991. doi: 10.7150/ijbs.12096


Kulczyński, B., Kobus-Cisowska, J., Kmiecik, D., Gramza-Michałowska, A., Golczak, D., & Korczak, J. (2016). Antiradical capacity and polyphenol composition of asparagus spears varieties cultivated under different sunlight conditions. Acta scientiarum polonorum. Technologia alimentaria, 15(3), 267–279. https://doi.org/10.17306/J.AFS.2016.3.26


Liu, W., Huang, X. F., Qi, Q., Dai, Q. S., Yang, L., Nie, F. F., Lu, N., Gong, D. D., Kong, L. Y., & Guo, Q. L. (2009). Asparanin A induces G(2)/M cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in human hepatocellular carcinoma HepG2 cells. Biochemical and biophysical research communications, 381(4), 700–705. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbrc.2009.02.124


Nishimuro, H., Ohnishi, H., Sato, M., Ohnishi-Kameyama, M., Matsunaga, I., Naito, S., Ippoushi, K., Oike, H., Nagata, T., Akasaka, H., Saitoh, S., Shimamoto, K., & Kobori, M. (2015). Estimated daily intake and seasonal food sources of quercetin in Japan. Nutrients, 7(4), 2345–2358. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu7042345


Podolak, I., Galanty, A., & Sobolewska, D. (2010). Saponins as cytotoxic agents: a review. Phytochemistry reviews : proceedings of the Phytochemical Society of Europe, 9(3), 425–474. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11101-010-9183-z


Sakaguchi, Y., Ozaki, Y., Miyajima, I., Yamaguchi, M., Fukui, Y., Iwasa, K., Motoki, S., Suzuki, T., & Okubo, H. (2008). Major anthocyanins from purple asparagus (Asparagus officinalis).Phytochemistry,69(8), 1763–1766. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.phytochem.2008.02.021


Science Daily. How Plants Protect Themselves From Sun Damage. Retrieved March 2021 from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/200310094246.htm


The Food Network. How to Store Asparagus. Retrieved March 2021 from https://www.foodnetwork.com/how-to/packages/help-around-the-kitchen/how-store-asparagus


The George Mateljan Foundation. Asparagus. Retrieved March 2021 from http://whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=12


NutraMetrix Custom Health Solutions. nutraMetrix Isotonix® Maximum ORAC Formula. Retrieved March 2021 from https://www.nutrametrix.com/product/nutrametrix-isotonix-maximum-orac-formula/?id=1329786&idType=product