By Anchan Vegetarian
An unlikely vegetable to be featured in a Thai wellness column is
asparagus, topic of choice for this issue. But you would be surprised at how
many Asparagus is being grown up north here, mainly for export to Japan and
Bangkok. But occasionally the white variety is available here, with the green
version still dominating the market. They are both the same species, one of many
forms of asparagus, of which only a few are edible, and just one is
But is this delicious vegetable, quite expensive and hard to get, also healthy?
Let us take a look at some of the health benefits of asparagus, used longer than
you would expect, with a tradition reaching back to early Ayurveda medicine.
Asparagus is being heralded as a health food because it provides a truly unique
combination of anti-inflammatory nutrients. Among these anti-inflammatory
nutrients are saponins and flavonoids, playing an important role in the
prevention of multiple diseases, for example amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
(ALS), also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”
Asparagus also is unusual as a digestive support food. One key factor in this
regard is its inulin content, a unique type of carbohydrate. 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 that are associated with better nutrient absorption, lower risk of
allergy, and lower risk of colon cancer.
This vegetable is also rich in fiber and contains a noteworthy amount of
protein. Both fiber and protein help stabilize our digestion and keep food
moving through us at the desirable rate. 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.
Alongside of these anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, asparagus provides a wide
variety of antioxidant nutrients, including vitamin B, vitamin C, beta-carotene,
vitamin E, GSH and the minerals zinc, manganese, and selenium. The valuable
amount of the GSH is very desirable as it is one of the body’s best-studied
antioxidants playing an important role in preventing common chronic health
problems including type-2 diabetes and heart disease. These nutrients are also
special risk reducers in the case of certain cancers.
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
Finally, there is the anti-inflammatory/antioxidant factor. Heart disease and
type 2 diabetes are both considered chronic diseases that evolve in relationship
to chronic, excessive inflammation and oxidative stress. The outstanding
antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrient composition of asparagus make an
inclusion as a risk reducer in both of these chronic disease areas easy.
As a result of its very strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrient
composition, we would definitely expect to see a food like asparagus showing up
as a risk reducer for certain cancers. Chronic, excessive inflammation and
chronic oxidative stress are risk factors for a variety of cancer types. Cancer
cells from the liver are best-studied in this regard.
One confusing area of research on asparagus and cancer involves leukemia. And
while this arena has focused upon enzymes related to an amino acid in asparagus,
rather than asparagus itself, we thought to include information on it here to
clarify this arena for you in case you had come across information on this
In leukemia, white blood cells are not produced in a normal way and do not
behave in a normal way. One unusual aspect of leukemia cells is their need to
obtain a specific amino acid called asparagine from other cells or from the
fluid portion of the blood. If leukemia cells can be prevented from obtaining
asparagine, they have difficulty surviving. Prescription injection of enzymes
also available in asparagus is still used in treatment of leukemia, though the
source of this enzyme is commercially exploited from bacteria rather than from
So eat up, enjoy this health vegetable, and don’t forget, moderation and
variation are also constituents of a healthy diet. This being said, people
suffering from gout or having a tendency to develop this disease should avoid
eating asparagus due to its high content in uric acid.