Asparagus spears make an elegant side dish, but this member of the lily family might be just as well known for making your pee smell strange. If you’ve got kids, they’ve likely giggled over this phenomenon — thank goodness it’s short-lived.
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A staple in stir-fries and quiches, asparagus comes in the standard green color, as well as purple and white. It’s pretty and tasty, but is asparagus healthy? “Definitely,” says registered dietitian Carly Sedlacek , RD, LD. “It has lots of fiber and beneficial nutrients.”
And some of the benefits of eating asparagus may surprise you. From folate for a healthier pregnancy to nutrients that can lower blood pressure, asparagus is a nutritional superstar.
What are the health benefits of asparagus?
Asparagus is rich in antioxidants, fiber, minerals and vitamins. Here are six reasons to add a bunch of asparagus to your cart next time you’re rolling through the produce section.
1. A nutritious source of vitamins and minerals
A cup of raw asparagus has about:
A cup of raw asparagus also offers these vitamins and minerals:
- 56 micrograms of vitamin K (46% daily value or DV).
- 1.52 micrograms of vitamin E (10% DV).
- 70 micrograms of folate (18% DV).
- 2.89 milligrams of iron (16% DV).
- 0.26 milligrams of copper (28% DV).
- 0.19 milligrams of thiamin (16% DV).
- 0.19 milligrams of riboflavin (15% DV).
2. Fiber and flavonoids for digestion
Fiber has several health benefits, from improving digestion to lowering cholesterol. And asparagus has both types of fiber, insoluble and soluble.
- Insoluble fiber bulks up your stool and passes through your gut undigested.
- Soluble fiber serves as food for the good bacteria in your gut.
The insoluble fiber in asparagus helps you stay regular. And the soluble fiber keeps the good bacteria in your microbiome happy.
Asparagus is rich in fiber, but it may go one step further in promoting gut health. In a nonhuman clinical trial, eating cooked asparagus appeared to reduce colon inflammation in instances of colitis (inflammation of the colon). Researchers identified a flavonoid called rutin as contributing to this effect. More studies are needed to see if the same effects can be true in humans.
3. Nutrients to lower blood pressure
Asparagus provides potassium, which helps lower blood pressure. High blood pressure is known as a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
Sedlacek explains that potassium lowers blood pressure by getting rid of excess sodium. Too much sodium can result in higher blood pressure. Potassium also benefits your cardiovascular system by reducing tension in your blood vessel walls.
In one nonhuman trial, researchers studied the effect of asparagus on high blood pressure. They looked at the effect of eating an asparagus-rich diet for 10 weeks. At the end of the study, the asparagus group had lower blood pressure and lower kidney angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) activity.
ACE narrows blood vessels, which causes higher blood pressure. People with high blood pressure often need to take medicine to lower it, called ACE inhibitor medications. Asparagus appears to have a similar effect as the medicine, naturally lowering blood pressure (in lab models, at least — more research in humans is still needed).
4. Compounds to help with a hangover
If you’ve got a hangover, eating a plate of sauteed asparagus may not be high on your list of priorities. But if you can do it, you’ll be doing your body a favor, says Sedlacek.
Surprisingly, research shows that asparagus contains two enzymes that can:
- Increase your ability to process alcohol, reducing its unpleasant effects.
- Protect your liver from alcohol’s toxic effects.
Interestingly, this includes the fern-like leaves at the tip of the asparagus plant — a part that’s often discarded. But the entire plant is edible, and these leaves can be eaten raw, blanched or sauteed.
A nonhuman study also suggests that asparagus can improve cholesterol numbers, which might be more good news for your liver (if the effects are the same in humans, but again, more research is needed).
5. Antioxidants to combat free radicals
Free radicals are a molecule we all have in our bodies, and a small amount is OK. But when you don’t have enough antioxidants to keep free radicals in check, they can wreak havoc by causing cell damage. Free radicals are linked to everything from aging skin to inflammation to cancer.
Antioxidants deactivate free radicals, taking away their ability to cause damage. Sedlacek says asparagus offers several free radical-eating antioxidants, including:
- Anthocyanins, the pigment that gives purple asparagus its color.
- Flavonoids such as quercetin.
- Glutathione, an antioxidant used by every cell in your body.
- Vitamins A, C, E and K.
6. Folate for healthy pregnancy
Getting enough B vitamin folate during pregnancy is vital for healthy fetal development. Folate helps reduce the risk of neural tube defects and diseases such as spina bifida. A half cup of asparagus gives a person who is pregnant nearly one-quarter of the folate needed in a day.
But even if you’re not pregnant, folate is still important, notes Sedlacek. It’s essential for making DNA, and if you don’t get enough folate, you can develop one type of anemia. A half cup of asparagus supplies 35% of the daily U.S. recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for nonpregnant adults.
Ways to eat asparagus
Not sure how to get more asparagus into your diet? Try:
And if you’ve ever been concerned about why asparagus makes your pee smell, there’s nothing to fear.
“When your body metabolizes asparagusic acid, a compound in asparagus, you get that strong, distinct smell in your urine,” explains Sedlacek. “But it’s not bad for you, this is just your kidney’s way of filtering waste. Continue to include your leafy greens throughout the day!”