Everything You Need to Know About Asparagus

Know it all, from the history to how to cook asparagus!

Nutritional And Scientific Facts About Asparagus

Asparagus is a delicious spring vegetable that really defines superfood. It is low in calories and high in nutrients, not to mention rich in taste. Asparagus is definitely considered a low-carbohydrate vegetable (with around 8 grams per 1-cup serving), and it offers a wide range of health benefits.

This tasty vegetable is high in vitamins K, A, and C and is an excellent source of fiber. Several of its top health benefits include protecting the brain, preventing the growth of certain types of cancers, and reducing anxiety (but more on this later).

Read on to learn more about why asparagus should definitely be part of your diet, and the best ways to incorporate it.

6 Fun Facts About Asparagus

  1. A lot of sweat and patience goes into growing asparagus, as from seed to first harvest takes 3 whole years!
  2. Interestingly, while everyone experiences the pungent urine smell caused by eating asparagus, not everyone can actually smell it. The smell is caused by sulfur-containing compounds found in asparagus (that also provide many of its health benefits), but only certain people can sense the odor in their pee, due to genetic differences.
  3. On that same note, the specific compound that makes your pee smell is called “asparagusic acid,” which also provides some of asparagus’s antioxidant benefits (so, the smell is worth it).
  4. China is, by far, the biggest asparagus producer in the world.
  5. Purple asparagus turns green if it is boiled, but stays purple if steamed.
  6. White asparagus is incredibly labor intensive to grow and is white due to lack of sunlight.

History of Asparagus

All varieties of asparagus are native to parts of Asia, Europe, and Africa and have slowly but surely spread to North and South America, New Zealand, and Australia. Wild asparagus played a role in the development of Ayurvedic medicine in India, which is the oldest recorded system of medicine in existence. [1]

Asparagus is a flowering perennial plant that was once wrongly in the lily family, which also wrongly included the alliums onions and garlic; asparagus and alliums were separated out and are each in their own family now. Asparagus has been used historically as both food and medicine (particularly for its diuretic properties). Interestingly, the most potent-tasting part of the asparagus plant is its tips.

After China (which wins by a long shot), the next biggest producers of asparagus worldwide are Peru and Mexico. Currently, California, Washington, and Michigan are the biggest asparagus producers in the United States.

Nutrition Facts

A 1/2-cup serving of asparagus offers the following [2]:

  • Calories: 20
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 4 grams
  • Fat: 0.2 grams
  • Minerals: Calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, and fluoride.
  • Vitamins: A, C, E, K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, folate, B12, pantothenic acid, choline, and betaine.

Health Benefits

Asparagus is an amazingly healthy vegetable, and contains compounds that give it unique and special benefits.

Asparagus is Nutritionally Like No Other Vegetable

Asparagus is so unique that it’s been given its own plant family, the Asparagaceae family. Aside from the fact that it can turn your pee green and make it smell funny (which is also unique), asparagus is packed full of phytonutrients such as organic acids, saponins, lignans, amino acids, and more, all of which provide specific health benefits. [1] It is quite high in vitamin K and folate, and it has good levels of selenium, copper, magnesium, zinc, iron, choline, vitamins A and C, and various B vitamins. It also provides a bit of plant-based

High in Antioxidants

Although it offers many, glutathione is a major player in the potency of asparagus’s antioxidant capacity. Free radicals (when absorbed, consumed, and made in excess) have been linked to a long list of degenerative conditions, such as cancer, and a diet high in foods containing antioxidants (like asparagus) is key to prevention. [3]

Works to Decrease Inflammation

Asparagus is impressively high in anti-inflammatory properties, especially thanks to compounds called saponins. These compounds have been especially researched in their role in supporting the neurological condition known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease” (ALS), which is thought to be largely linked to inflammation. [1] [4]

Prevents Cancer

While more studies are needed, initial research suggests that asparagus can play a role in cancer prevention, largely due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Protects the Brain and Reduces Anxiety

Ancient Chinese medicine used asparagus for its neurologically protective properties, and more recent studies have confirmed that it could be helpful in the treatment of anxiety. [5]

Types of Asparagus

Many varieties of asparagus exist (see more detailed information here), but here are some of the more common types:

White Asparagus

The difference between white and green asparagus is that white asparagus is grown underground and protected from sunlight, so its chlorophyll never has the chance to form (which is what makes asparagus green). It tends to have a softer, more-tender texture and lighter taste.

Purple Asparagus

Purple asparagus actually has several varieties within this one variety, and it tends to be a bit sweeter than green asparagus, due to a higher sugar content. For this reason, many people enjoy purple asparagus raw, such as in salads.

Wild Asparagus

Wild asparagus is more or less the same as asparagus that is now grown for commercial production, but it is usually thinner and longer. You will usually find wild asparagus spears growing in April and May.

Ways to Use Asparagus

Asparagus is a very versatile vegetable and there are many asparagus recipes that the whole family will love.

Roasted Asparagus

This is one of the simplest and most delicious ways to eat asparagus. Simply choose a healthy oil of your choice (coconut oil, butter, and olive oil work well), sprinkle your asparagus with salt and pepper and drizzle it with oil, and roast in the oven until done, about 10-15 minutes.

Cream of Asparagus Soup

Make a healthy and mouth-watering version of cream of asparagus soup. Lightly sauté chopped onion and garlic in a bit of coconut oil in a saucepan, then add chopped asparagus and veggie or chicken broth. Simmer until the asparagus is tender and blend with an immersion or regular blender. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Grilled Asparagus

There’s nothing like a summer barbecue to get your taste buds excited and including asparagus will make your get-together much more nutritious. Simply coat your asparagus with butter or ghee, season it with salt and pepper, and grill on each side for about 2 minutes.

Asparagus Salad

Roast or grill your asparagus first, or use a variety that you enjoy raw (like purple varieties). Chop it, combine with other veggies of your choice, and add a simple, sweet dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Easy and delicious!

Stir-Fried with Ginger

Give your asparagus an Asian touch by adding garlic, ginger, and toasted sesame oil. Ginger supports digestion and reduces inflammation, and garlic supports the immune system. See below for a quick and easy recipe.

Garlic Ginger Asparagus Recipe


  • 1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed and sliced into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 1-inch piece of ginger (or less, if you prefer), peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • Tamari sauce or coconut aminos (soy sauce works, too)


  1. This recipe is easy! Simply heat your coconut oil in a large wok or sauté pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Once the oil is hot, add your asparagus, ginger and garlic and stir frequently to prevent burning.
  3. Once your asparagus is cooked (but still crunchy, about 5 minutes), remove from heat.
  4. Drizzle with sesame oil and tamari sauce and top with sesame seeds.

Asparagus is one of the healthiest vegetables out there and is very low in carbohydrates and calories. It has been used throughout history for its potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capabilities; it has been shown to support cognitive health, reduce anxiety, prevent certain types of cancer, fight free radical damage, and more. Try it roasted, grilled, in a soup, or even raw to reap the many benefits of asparagus.

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Rachel is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant and Certified Personal Trainer from the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She has also undergone training in Functional Medicine under Dr. Daniel Kalish. Rachel has worked both in her own private nutrition and fitness practice in San Francisco, California, as well as in the realm of public health with a nonprofit complementary medicine clinic for women with cancer in the bay area, and an integrative medicine NGO in Nicaragua, focusing specifically on diabetes prevention and support. She is passionate about bringing affordable, quality healthcare to all, and in her free time enjoys singing, getting outside and spending time with her family.


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