Friday, June 24, 2011

Asparagus - A High Quality Anti-Inflammatory Food

Asparagus is a perennial plant belonging to the Lily family (Liliaceae). There are approximately 300 varieties of asparagus, but only 20 are edible. In terms of commercial production, China (587,500 tons) and Peru (186,000 tons) are currently the world's largest producers and exporters of asparagus. Next are the United States (102,780 tons) followed by Mexico (67,247 tons).

It's not surprising to see asparagus being heralded as an anti-inflammatory food because it provides a truly unique combination of anti-inflammatory nutrients. The medicinal qualities of asparagus have been associated with the phytonutrients present in its roots and shoots, especially one type of phytonutrients called saponins. Saponins have repeatedly been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, and have also been associated with improved blood pressure, improved blood sugar regulation, and better control of blood fat levels.

In conjunction with these anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, asparagus provides a wide variety of antioxidant nutrients, including vitamin C, beta-carotene, and the minerals zinc, manganese, and selenium. Asparagus is comparable to vegetables in the cabbage and cauliflower family, while ranking lower than some of the green leafy vegetables like spinach, on the list of foods high in antioxidants.

Asparagus is widely recognized as providing health benefits for our digestive tract as well. The health benefits involve a special area of digestive support called "prebiotics" offered by a compound known as inulin. Asparagus contains concentrations of inulin, a unique type of carbohydrate called a polyfructan. Unlike most other carbs, inulin doesn't get broken down in the first segments of our digestive tract. It passes undigested all the way to our large intestine. Once it arrives at our large intestine, it becomes an ideal food source for certain types of bacteria (like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli) that are associated with better nutrient absorption, lower risk of allergy, and lower risk of colon cancerAnti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients are some of the best risk reducers known for chronic health problems.

Preliminary research has found health links between asparagus and type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Asparagus emerges as an excellent source of folic acid and a very good source of vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6. Asparagus also contains the B vitamins choline, biotin, and pantothenic acid. Because B vitamins play a key role in the metabolism of sugars and starches, they are critical for healthy blood sugar management. And because they play a key role in regulation of homocysteine, they are critical in heart health has well. (Homocysteine is an amino acid, and when it reaches excessive levels in our blood, it is a strong risk factor for heart disease.)

Along with its impressive list of B vitamins, asparagus provides us with about 3 grams of dietary fiber per cup, including more than 1 gram of soluble fiber. Intake of soluble fiber has repeatedly been shown to lower our risk of heart disease, and our risk of type 2 diabetes can be significantly lowered as our intake of dietary fiber increases.

Asparagus should be used within a day or two after purchasing for best freshness, flavor and texture. Store in the refrigerator with the ends wrapped in a damp paper towel to minimize the "respiration rate" (the speed at which the metabolic breakdown occurs). 

The information in this summary was provided by

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