Food and Nutrition

Asparagus Is One of the Most Gut-Friendly, Heart-Healthy Foods You’ll Find—Here’s Why

Leigh Weingus

Photo: Stocksy/Nataša Mandić
When we talk about superfoods, a few obvious contenders—walnuts, chia seeds, green tea, quinoa, kale—immediately come to mind. But it may be time to add one often-overlooked food to that list: Asparagus.

Maybe it was plopped on your plate as a kid at dinnertime (and if your parents didn’t do a good job of preparing it, forgive them!), or perhaps you started cooking it as an adult when you decided it was time to start eating more vegetables. In any case, this mighty green vegetable with its bristly, textured tops and woody stems deserves a lot more attention—because it’s both delicious and really good for you.

In terms of seasonality, asparagus is available year-round, but spring is the best season for the healthy vegetable; April is the peak month. You'll spot mostly green varieties of asparagus in American supermarkets and farmer's markets, but white, purple, and violet varieties are also available in select regions (and more popularly, in the UK). There are so many delicious ways to cook asparagus, from roasting it with olive oil, parmesan, and a squeeze of lemon to grilling, sautéing, steaming, or slicing it raw into ribbons for a spring-centric salad.

However you serve this veg, you bet the resulting dish will be bursting with healthy nutrients, because there are so many other benefits of asparagus.

“Asparagus is a non-starchy vegetable that has a nice array of nutrients and fiber,” says Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN of Maya Feller Nutrition. And that's just the beginning to the benefits of asparagus. Need proof? Here are seven excellent health benefits of asparagus that will send you out to the grocery store ASAP.

Check out the 7 benefits of asparagus that make it the best spring vegetable.

1. Asparagus is loaded with Vitamin K

Vitamin K isn’t a vitamin that gets a lot of attention, but the fat-soluble vitamin has some amazing health benefits. “Vitamin K is involved in preventing blood clotting and improving bone health and heart health,” says Feller. Just a cup of raw asparagus comes with 56 micrograms of vitamin K, per the USDA—over half of your recommended daily intake (90 mcg) in one fell swoop. What better way to get it than through asparagus?

2. Asparagus is a prebiotic

By now, you probably know how good probiotics are for you—they’re helpful for everything from moving your digestion along to improving your mood. But prebiotics (the non-digestible carbs that feed your gut's bacteria) are super important, too. “Asparagus is a prebiotic,” says Feller. “[Prebiotics] help with the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.” In other words, you can’t have probiotics without prebiotics—and asparagus will get the prebiotic job done.

3. Asparagus is a great source of folate

You may have heard that folate is a super-important B-vitamin for pregnant women, but everyone needs this essential nutrient. “Folate is important for DNA synthesis,” explains Feller, adding that the body needs folate for the cells to divide. It's also a key player in heart health and even hair growth. Adults should be getting about 400 micrograms of folate a day (during pregnancy, that goes up to 600 micrograms); one cup of raw asparagus gets you to about 18 percent of your recommended daily allowance.

4. Asparagus can help ease stomach discomfort and bloating

“Asparagus increases urine production, bringing water and waste out of the body,” says Lisa Hayim, RD, nutritionist and founder of The Well Necessities. Basically, the natural diuretic can help cut back on uncomfortable bloating.

5. Asparagus is packed with antioxidants

More antioxidants are always a good idea—antioxidants protect the body against free radicals, which helps with heart health and fights against diseases like cancer. Luckily, asparagus is rich in them—particularly glutathione. “Glutathione is an important antioxidant that plays a pivotal role in the detox process,” says Hayim. It's also linked with healthier skin and better liver function.

6. Asparagus helps with regular bowel movements

Struggling with constipation? It happens to the best of us. In addition to loading up on magnesium citrate, sipping on coffee and staying hydrated, try sautéing some asparagus and see if it get the job done. “Asparagus is rich in fiber," says Hayim (about 3 grams per cup), "which makes it great for digestion and regular bowel movements,” says Hayim. Hey, whatever works!

7. Asparagus can protect you from getting sick

You’ve probably heard that Vitamin C is great for giving the immune system a boost. But you don’t have to peel oranges all day long just to get your Vitamin C fix. Asparagus is great for the immune system as well. “Asparagus is a great source of Vitamin C, which helps fight of colds and builds up the immune system,” Hayim notes. (One cup has 8 mg of vitamin C, about 10 percent of your recommended daily allowance.)

Is there such a thing as too much asparagus?

You know what they say: Everything moderation. So, can you overdo it on the asparagus? Not really. Feller agrees, saying it’s hard to OD on such a heart-healthy vegetable. “I suppose if asparagus is all someone at for every meal it might be too much,” she says. “But I think if a person enjoys the taste it can be incorporated into their routine and balanced meal plan, and hopefully in a little more moderation.”

What's the best way to eat it to reap the benefits of asparagus?

Now that you know just how good asparagus is for you, let’s talk about how to prepare it. After all, we’ve all had flavorless asparagus at one point or another—and it’s not exactly appetizing. But when cooked in the right way, asparagus can be flat-out delicious. “I love a good grilled asparagus topped with a balsamic vinegar or fig balsamic,” says Feller. ”I also like to make sautéed asparagus with shallots and dill to go over fish.”

As for Hayim, she’s all about blanching her asparagus. “This preserves the nutrients yet keeps it crunchy,” she says. Basically, put some washed and trimmed asparagus in a pot of boiling water for about a minute, then remove them and transfer to an ice bath to stop the cooking.

You’re probably craving asparagus by now, right? Good, because you’re about to reap a ton of health benefits. And if you prepare it in the ways suggested by Hayim and Feller (can someone pass the balsamic vinegar, please?), it’ll taste great, too. Happy sautéing!

Originally published on April 15, 2019 with additional reporting by Betty Gold. 

Looking for other ways to eat asparagus? Try this delicious, digestion-friendly soup recipe. Or this fresh asparagus and mint salad.

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