Eating asparagus benefits the mind and body in powerful ways. Just how powerful? Compounds in asparagus protect against cancer, heart disease, AND dementia.
That's an amazing bounty of benefits from a single food.
Experts consider asparagus one of the world's healthiest foods. To reap the health benefits of asparagus for yourself, eat this super food as often as possible, as I now do.
Even if you don't enjoy the taste of asparagus, it's worth learning to like it. To motivate yourself, keep in mind its anti-cancer, anti-heart disease, and anti-dementia properties. Then try different asparagus recipes until you find one that suits your palate.
Asparagus can be prepared quickly and easily. My usual recipe is five minutes on a steam grill with olive oil and salt. You may prefer to add other seasoning, or to roast or grill it.
How does this vegetable provide such incredible health benefits? The secret is the powerful bioactive substances found naturally in the plant.
Some of the most significant include folate and other B vitamins, glutathione, chromium, Vitamin A, Vitamin K, and saponins. Let's take a look at how these compounds protect your brain and heart and even inhibit cancer.
#1 - Protection from Dementia & Stroke. Due to its vitamin and mineral content, asparagus helps shield your brain against moderate cognitive decline (MCI), stroke, and Alzheimer's dementia.
B VITAMINS & FOLATE. A main asparagus benefit is as a source of folate and other B vitamins. Folate is critical for proper brain function.
According to research, low levels of folate triple your risk of contracting dementia. In a study by Tufts University, older adults with healthy levels of folate and B12 performed better on a test of response speed and mental flexibility.
Folate also helps the body manage homocysteine. An amino acid, homocysteine is found normally in the body, but elevated levels are associated with increased risk of Alzheimer's disease, stroke, and heart disease. Folate is essential to lowering elevated homocysteine.
Asparagus is a safe whole food source of folate in your diet. One serving provides half the daily folate requirement.
VITAMIN A. Asparagus is also a good source of Vitamin A. This vitamin is critical for enabling plasticity in the adult brain, which helps the brain adapt and grow during learning.
According to a study in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, Vitamin A plays a significant role in "maintaining neuronal plasticity and cognitive function in adulthood."
This is particularly significant because Vitamin A deficiency is widespread.
VITAMIN K. Asparagus is a top 10 source of Vitamin K. According to the Journal of the American Dietary Association and other sources, Vitamin K deficiency has been linked to Alzheimer's disease. One cup of asparagus provides 180% the daily recommended amount of this important vitamin.
GLUTATHIONE (GSH). One of the primary asparagus benefits is that this vegetable is an excellent source of glutathione, the "superhero of antioxidants." Glutathione protects the brain against oxidative stress caused by free radicals.
In fact, a study from the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found an increase in oxidative stress present in Alzheimer's patients directly attributable to decreased levels of glutathione in the brain.
CHROMIUM. Asparagus is a good source of dietary chromium. This mineral is an essential component of carbohydrate metabolism and the prevention of insulin resistance.
Researchers now consider Alzheimer's a form of diabetes (referred to as Type 3), so consuming adequate dietary chromium may be a key to avoiding Alzheimer's dementia.
A study in Nutrition Neuroscience found giving chromium supplements to the elderly "can enhance cognitive inhibitory control and cerebral function in older adults at risk for neurodegeneration."
#2 - Protection from Heart Disease. The bioactive compounds in asparagus can shield you against heart disease and related conditions.
B VITAMINS. The significant levels of folate and other B Vitamins, in asparagus help lower homocysteine levels in the body. Elevated homocysteine damages blood vessel walls which may increase plaque formation in arteries. This plaque increases the chance of heart attack and stroke.
GLUTATHIONE. This superantioxidant, found in asparagus, protects the heart and other organs as well as the brain. A deficiency of glutathione is associated with heart disease, cancer, and other serious medical conditions.
SAPONINS. These substances provide anti-inflammatory benefits in addition to their anti-cancer properties (see below). Saponins are known to help regulate blood pressure as well.
#3 - Protection from Cancer. Asparagus benefits extend even to cancer prevention, due to the saponins and glutathione in this power food.
SAPONINS. Asparagus contains a significant amount of saponins. These naturally occurring plant glycosides have been shown to inhibit liver, gastric, and colon cancers as well as leukemia.
A study in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, for example, found that saponins extracted from asparagus not only slowed the growth of cancer cells; these compounds actually induced death of cancer cells.
GLUTATHIONE. As mentioned above, asparagus provides a significant amount of glutathione, a deficiency of which is associated with increased heart disease, Alzheimer's, and cancer risk. In addition to its role as a powerful antioxidant, glutathione also has direct anti-carcinogenic effects.
The list of asparagus benefits is long and impressive. You may be wondering if there are any reasons to not include asparagus in your diet.
It turns out there are three slight negatives to counterbalance the many wonderful asparagus benefits.
First, if you have an allergy to related vegetables such as onions, garlic, or chives, you probably shouldn't eat asparagus.
Second, you may strongly dislike the taste. If so, experiment with recipes. You might find a way to prepare asparagus that you can live with.
Third, eating asparagus may cause your pee to smell strange. This odd effect, remarked on for centuries, is due to methanethiol and other harmless substances found in this vegetable. Interestingly, not everyone can detect the odor!
I've so far discussed what may be the most important asparagus benefits. But there are at least two more health benefits of asparagus of significance.
NATURAL DIURETIC. Asparagus contains asparagine, a natural diuretic. It may be helpful in releasing excess fluids and salts from the body.
According to the journal Pharmacognosy Review, asparagus flushes the kidneys and may prevent the formation of kidney stones.
GOOD SOURCE OF FIBER. Asparagus is a good source of fiber, providing about 3 grams per cup. As you may know, eating enough fiber can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
The edible shoots of the asparagus plant are considered a delicacy by many. Even so, I avoided asparagus and most other vegetables in my younger years.
Now I am older and wiser. I understand the importance of healthy eating for brain health and for a long, productive life. So I made the decision to include asparagus in my diet - and I was surprised to find asparagus delicious.
Even if you don't particularly like the taste, the many asparagus benefits will hopefully convince you to eat it anyway. Eat your asparagus, and eat it often!
1. Mandal, et al. "The emerging role of glutathione in Alzheimer's disease." Journal of Alzheimers Disease. 2014;40(3):519-29. doi: 10.3233/JAD-132483.
2. Pang, et al. "Saponins extracted from by-product of Asparagus officinalis L. suppress tumour cell migration and invasion through targeting Rho GTPase signaling pathway." Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 2013 Apr;93(6):1492-8. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.5922
3. National Institutes of Health. "High Homocysteine Levels May Double Risk of Dementia, Alzheimer's Disease, New Report Suggests." 13 Feb 2002. http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/feb2002/nia-13.htm
4. Ferland, et al. "Low vitamin K intakes in community-dwelling elders at an early stage of Alzheimer's disease." Journal of the American Dietary Association. 2008 Dec;108(12):2095-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2008.09.013.
5. Shidler, et al. "Improved cognitive-cerebral function in older adults with chromium supplementation." Nutrition Neuroscience. 2010 Jun;13(3):116-22. doi: 10.1179/147683010X12611460764084
6. BMJ-British Medical Journal. "Folate Deficiency Associated With Tripling Of Dementia Risk, Study Shows." ScienceDaily. 5 February 2008.
7. Foods that Could Boost Brain Power." AARP website, http://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-06-2013/food-that-could-boost-brain-power-photos.html
8. Mello, et al. "Significance of vitamin A to brain function, behavior and learning." Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. 2010 Apr;54(4):489-95. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.200900246.
9. Bisht, et al. "Chemical constituents of Asparagus." Pharmacognosy Review. 2010 Jul-Dec; 4(8): 215-220. doi: 10.4103/0973-7847.70921
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