For a vegetable, asparagus has some issues. It’s quite a process to grow, it makes your urine smell strange, and it’s got a distinct nana like air about it. It probably has those white bread asparagus rolls to thank for that. But asparagus deserves a place on your plate as much as superfoods like broccoli and kale. Packed with impressive amounts of nutrients, asparagus also has the unique ability to tell you something very interesting about yourself.
This something is whether you have the quite fortunate condition ‘asparagus anosmia’. More about that later.
Where does it originate?
It’s funny to think of asparagus being native to somewhere. It seems more like a plant that needs careful cultivation. I can’t quite imagine seeing it just poking out of the ground by the side of the road in Russia, but its roots so to speak are Eastern European. By 3000BC it’s popularity had spread as far as Africa where it was a sought after delicacy for offering to the Egyptian gods. The first emperor of Rome apparently had a fleet of men solely for the purpose of hauling asparagus. I’m not sure if this was around the Empire during conquests or just from the gardens to his kitchen. Either way it would be a great job title: Asparagus Hauler.
In more recent times it has been very popular in France where monks have grown it in monasteries since the 1400’s. French monasteries somehow give asparagus a romantic air, and the fact that the French refer to the tips of the asparagus as points d’amour (love tips) after King Louis XV’s mistress adds to the romance. That’s the kind of scandal that asparagus’s dowdy reputation could do with!
Here are some other good reasons to get into asparagus.
It’ll make your skin glow
Those green spears are bursting with Vitamin A, which is a well known friend of your skin cells. In fact it gives you 20% of your daily requirement for health, and it’s not just your skin that will thank you. One of vitamin A’s most important functions is keeping certain cells in the body lubricated. When a deficiency of vitamin A develops we can get dry eyes, dry nasal passages, as well as damaged digestive and urinary tracts. This is because vitamin A is essential for the health of our epithelial cells, a key component of the aforementioned tissues. Without vitamin A epithelial cells become dry, damaged and prone to infection. Another sign of vitamin A deficiency I commonly see in the clinic is follicular hyperkeratosis. This is where you get dry scaly pustules or bumps around hair follicles on the upper arm, elbow and other places. Sound familiar?
Vitamin A also has famous benefits for our vision as brought to light by another vegetable, the carrot. Carrots are bursting with vitamin A and as such have become the poster food for healthy eyesight and night vision. While carrots deserve that claim to fame, there is only so much of one vegetable you can eat. So add some asparagus for variety!
Asparagus can strengthen your bones while helping your blood clot.
A whopping 70% of your daily vitamin K requirement can be had in just 1 cup of asparagus. Among other things Vitamin K contributes to the healthy clotting of our blood, and to a strong skeleton. It’s even been shown to boost bone density and reduce hip fractures.
Interestingly, our intestinal flora make a large amount of vitamin K too, so prolonged use of antibiotics, and subsequent reduction in our healthy gut bugs reduces one of our body’s main sources of this important vitamin. The other main food source of vitamin K is beef liver. Give me asparagus any day!
Asparagus also contains folate and iron which are essential for a myriad of functions in the body. Folate is also known as folic acid or B9, and most peoples knowledge of it stems from it’s standard prescription in pregnancy. It is important for reproduction because it plays a big role in DNA synthesis and repair. Pregnancy is of course a time of extremely rapid cell division and DNA synthesis. We also need folate for the growth of healthy red blood cells and the prevention of anaemia along with iron. Speaking of iron, you will find a dose of that in asparagus too. In fact you will get 11% of your daily requirement from roughly 2/3 cup. Not bad.
In order to maintain good levels of all these nutrients you must be careful about the way you store your spears. Asparagus has what’s called a fast respiration rate, meaning it perishes quickly and in the process loses nutrient content after picking. Refrigeration helps and wrapping your asparagus in a wet paper towel will also slow the process. Seek out fresh asparagus and be sure to eat it within 2 days of purchase to get the full benefit nutritionally.
Can you smell it?
For someone who can tell if I’ve eaten even a bite of asparagus, I find it unbelievable that roughly 40% of people can’t smell asparagus in their urine. This phenomenon has captured the curious minds of scientists for many years and recently they came up with what seems to be an explanation. The genetic sequencing company 23andMe asked 10,000 of it’s customers (whose genetic sequencing they had already done) whether they did or didn’t perceive a scent in their urine after eating it. They then analysed their genetics to find similarities in those who are non-smellers and found that it appears to stem from a single genetic mutation. A switched base pair in a gene for olfactory receptors. It doesn’t appear to have any significance in other areas of health or the ability to smell anything else, but I bet that as we speak, someone is working on a drug which will turn smellers into non-smellers. Perhaps it will be funded by the asparagus board?