A signal of spring, asparagus also has a reputation for causing stinky pee. Still, the vegetable's green, white and purple spears are worth celebrating, with many regions of the world marking the arrival of asparagus season with dedicated feasts.
Germany goes crazy for its beloved spargel. City festivals, a museum and designated travel routes all pay tribute to the country's seasonal white asparagus. Closer to home, the city of Hart, Michigan, goes as far as crowning an asparagus queen at its annual National Asparagus Festival. More than an excuse for a party though, asparagus provides many health benefits for older adults.
The Health Benefits of Asparagus
1. Asparagus is a source of iron.
Six asparagus spears provide nearly a quarter of the recommended daily intake of iron for older adults.
2. Asparagus is brain food.
Asparagus is an excellent source of the amino acid, asparagine, named in the vegetable's honour. Asparagine is essential for proper brain function; deficiencies can cause trouble with memory. Known in scientific circles as a non-essential amino acid, asparagine is still critical to our overall health. Non-essential amino acids regulate digestion and absorption of nutrients, help immune function and enable us to rid our bodies of harmful toxins, which can cause inflammation and speed up the aging process.
3. Asparagus keeps bones strong.
One cup of asparagus contains 70 per cent of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin K. Vitamin K is critical to maintaining bone health alongside calcium and Vitamin D. Clinical studies show that adequate amounts of Vitamin K can prevent new bone fractures, particularly in those with osteoporosis.
4. Asparagus is a natural diuretic.
Asparagus, thanks to the amino acid, asparagine, helps rid our bodies of fluids, flushing out compounds such as salts in the process. Those diuretic benefits help keep blood pressure in check, and can help those with edema.
How to Pick and Store Asparagus
Look for bright green or purple-hued spears that are firm and tips that are closed and compact. You might see a variety of thick or thin asparagus stems. Asparagus with thicker stems are just more mature than thin ones and do not necessarily signal better quality or flavour.
At home, trim the ends of the asparagus, wrap in a damp paper towel and refrigerate in a sealed bag. The asparagus will last for about three days. You can also store asparagus like you would store fresh herbs. Trim the ends and put the spears in a wide-mouth jar containing an inch of water. Place a plastic bag loosely over the top and store in the fridge.
How to Incorporate Asparagus into Your Diet
There's little denying that asparagus and hollandaise sauce are soul mates. Thankfully, there are plenty of healthy twists on the decadent accompaniment that don't skimp on flavour.
A simple poached egg makes for the perfect protein pairing atop a handful of raw or steamed asparagus spears. Easier yet, toss asparagus with olive oil, lemon juice and pepper, then throw it under the broiler. Trim woody ends and peel tough skin before cooking, leaving the asparagus crown in tact.
Tiffany Mayer is a journalist and author whose writing focuses on food and agriculture. Her work has appeared in local and national magazines and newspapers. Her first book, Niagara Food: A Flavourful History of the Peninsula's Bounty, was published in 2014.
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