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Cancer-Fighting Asparagus

Cancer-Fighting Asparagus

Just writing the word “asparagus” makes my mouth water and encourages my heart to beat a little quicker. When I imagine the flavor of asparagus, I’m washed in the feeling of the sun on my back, the smell of wet dirt, and that child-like pleasure of seeing new green life poking through the dark soil. It’s a sweeping reaction to get from a vegetable!

Part of it is just that it’s spring. Finally spring. And I am easily moved by little things like the turn of the seasons. Part of it is that I really love the taste of asparagus. And part of it is that I think we have the potential to react in strong ways to things that have inherently beneficial health benefits. (And yes, maybe I react strongly to french fries as well, but that’s another story.)

So, asparagus. According to the National Cancer Institute, asparagus is the food highest in glutathione, an important anti-carcinogen. It is also rich in two cancer-blocking vitamins (A and C) as well as the mineral selenium. These three nutrients have been singled out in several studies as fierce cancer fighters. A 5.3 ounce serving (only 20 calories!) provides 60 percent of the recommended daily allowance for folacin which is necessary for blood cell formation, growth, and prevention of liver disease. Folacin has been shown to play a significant role in the prevention of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, that cause paralysis and death in 2,500 babies each year. It is also an excellent source of potassium, fiber, thiamin, vitamin B6, and is one of the richest sources of rutin, a compound which strengthens capillary walls.

Asparagus is harvested from March through June, depending on where you are–early asparagus is pencil-thin and the spears thicken as the season progresses. Most people assume that the thinner the spear, the more tender, but often times tenderness has to do with freshness, not thickness. Your best bet is to buy asparagus that is locally-grown–fresh farmer’s market asparagus practically melts in your mouth! Here in the U.S. we generally eat our asparagus green–white asparagus, popular in Europe, is grown under soil to keep it from becoming green. I believe in the full-range-of-color eating philosophy, so I like mine green. When shopping, look for smooth skin, bright green color, compact heads, and freshly cut ends.

Asparagus is very versatile in terms of cooking; it can be roasted, grilled, steamed, boiled, sauteed, pureed, and eaten raw. I love it in all of its guises. I probably most love it prepared simply…maybe almost as much as I love roasted skinny spears tossed in olive (or truffle) oil and sea salt, then topped with a poached egg. (That made me have to take a deep breath and calm myself.) Here are two other great things to do with asparagus:

Simple Roasted Asparagus
2 pounds asparagus, tough ends snapped off
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 450F. You may either cut the asparagus in 2-inch pieces or leave whole. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, toss gently to coat, and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet.

2. Roast the asparagus until just tender, around 6 to 8 minutes.

Or, make a velvety asparagus soup.

More Farm to Table:
Kale
Parsnips
Ramps and Wild Leeks
Spinach

Read more: Basics, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Food, Health, , ,

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

95 comments

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8:59PM PDT on Jun 12, 2013

Made some of this delightful food tonight, with a dash of lemon and sprinkled with cheese. Amazing as always is the taste of asparagus.

1:56AM PST on Jan 24, 2013

Thank you :)

11:02AM PST on Jan 4, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

6:31AM PDT on Aug 17, 2012

Thanks for the info.

7:23AM PDT on Mar 20, 2012

re: early asparagus is pencil-thin and the spears thicken as the season progresses.

again, this statement is simply incorrect. I've been eating asparagus from our gardens since I could walk ....over 60 years. Still grow it in my yard. Asparagus comes up anytime during the season either thick or thin....don't know where that info came from, but it needs to be corrected. : )

7:19AM PDT on Mar 20, 2012

With the unseasonably warm weather this winter, my asparagus has already started sprouting! Ate the first 3 spears right out of the ground. So good.

7:10AM PDT on Mar 20, 2012

yum

8:16AM PDT on Oct 2, 2011

Roasting asparagus seems to bring out the flavor it is my favorite way of cooking. I recently had new asparagus spears pop up in the garden - very unusual for late summer. Until you have tried nibbling raw spears directly from the garden, you won't truly understand how delicious it really is. My best asparagus is where the birds planted it for me! I started out by starting a bed in my vegetable garden years ago, but within a couple of years I had asparagus popping up in my flower beds. Birds love the red berries and will disperse the seeds at will along with fertilizer!!

4:06AM PDT on Oct 1, 2011

It does roast beautifully, I tried it tonight for the first time, I normally steam or stir fry it, just love it when it is asparagus season!

10:52AM PDT on Jul 27, 2011

Thank you

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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