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The Wellness Column By Anchan Vegetarian

Asparagus; An unlikely vegetable for Chiang Mai

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 commercialized worldwide.
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 well.
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 topic.
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 this vegetable.
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.

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Asparagus; An unlikely vegetable for Chiang Mai