Asparagus: The Big Stink

Posted: January 12, 2012 in Nutrition
Tags: ,

I have a confession to make:  I LOVE asparagus.  It has to be just about my favorite vegetable and I incorporate it into my own meal plan about 4-5 times a week.  Funny that as a child I hated it but, then again, like most kids, I hated just about anything that was green in colour on principle alone.  After all, green is also the colour of mould, boogers and toxic waste…what’s to like about it?  But now as an adult I just can’t get enough of this delicious, versatile, slightly phallic-shaped wonder veggie.  Hey, don’t laugh!  The French word for asparagus is ‘asperge’, which is slang for penis.  No shit!

Now, despite that last nasty little mind nugget, the list of health benefits for asparagus is long and plentiful as it has just about a little of everything a budding Ironman-wannabe wants in his daily nutrition program.  In fact, asparagus has been prized as an epicurean delight and for its medicinal properties for almost 2000 years.  Various species of asparagus were cultivated by Egyptian cultures beginning as early as 3000 B.C., and by European cultures including early Greek and Roman cultures.  Asparagus also became particularly popular in France during the 18th century during the rule of Louis XIV.  In terms of commercial production, China (587,500 tons) and Peru (186,000 tons) are currently the world’s largest producers and exporters of asparagus.  Next in line as commercial producers are the United States (102,780 tons) and Mexico (67,247 tons), but it will also grow just as easily in your regular flower garden (it is actually a part of the lily family) at home as well.  And, THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is a lot of stinky pee.  But we’ll come to that later.

Asparagus is a perennial garden plant belonging to the Lily family (Liliaceae), and while approximately 300 varieties of asparagus have been noted, only 20 are edible.  While the most common variety of asparagus is green in color, two other edible varieties are readily available. White asparagus, with its more delicate flavor and tender texture, is grown underground to inhibit its development of chlorophyll content, therefore creating its distinctive white coloring which, I might add, I find a little too similar to the male genitalia to actually enjoy.  And although you can generally find it canned on any grocery store shelf, I would definitely recommend you get your asparagus fresh from the produce section where it is found nearly year-round and at relatively inexpensive prices…particularly if you ‘accidentally’ ring it in as, say, mushrooms.   The other edible variety of asparagus is purple in colour…but I have yet to find this anywhere.

So what are all these weighty health and nutritional benefits you ask?  Well, for starters, asparagus is a very low calorie vegetable.  A single fresh serving of 100g will only give you 20 calories.  More calories will be burnt to digest it than gained; a fact, which fits in to the category of low calorie or negative calorie vegetables.  Likewise, it is absolutely loaded with potassium which actually helps eliminate belly fat.  So for someone trying desperately to drop weight, such as myself, this makes asparagus the nearly perfect food – hands down.  Whether you roast it, boil it, stir-fry it, or just add it to your salads, whatever, you can eat it by the bushel full practically guilt-free.  How many foods can you say that about?

In addition, the shoots have good levels of dietary fiber.  Dietary fiber helps control constipation conditions, decrease bad, “LDL” cholesterol levels by binding to it in the intestines, and regulates blood sugar levels.  In addition, high fiber diet helps prevent colorectal cancer risks by preventing toxic compounds in the food from absorption.  In my opinion, anything that keeps me pooping correctly is a-okay in my books.  Likewise, its shoots have long been used in many traditional medicines to treat conditions like ‘dropsy and ‘irritable bowel syndrome’…two things you definitely don’t want to deal with during any of your workouts.

Another important health benefit to take into serious consideration is that fresh asparagus also contains fair amounts of anti-oxidant vitamins such as vitamin-C, vitamin-A and vitamin-E (not to mention lutein, zeaxanthin, carotenes, and crypto-xanthins).  Regular consumption of foods rich in these vitamins helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the body.  What’s this mean exactly?  Basically, asparagus is a natural anti-inflammatory.  Cool, right?  What triathlete doesn’t like something that efficiently makes the stiffness and soreness go away after a long workout, am I right?

One other huge benefit is that asparagus is the number one source of Vitamin-K which, studies have shown, to significantly aid in bone formation and repair.  Vitamin-K is also necessary for the synthesis of ‘osteocalcin’.  Osteocalcin is the protein in bone tissue on which calcium crystallizes.  So asparagus also helps to make the literal framework of my body nice and strong?  Kick ass!

On top of all this, asparagus is good in minerals – especially copper and iron.  In addition, it has small amounts of some other essential minerals and electrolytes such as calcium, potassium, manganese, and phosphorus.  Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure by countering effects of sodium.  Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase’.  Copper is required in the production of red blood cells and iron benefits cellular respiration and red blood cell formation which are those little things that carry oxygen to your poor, over-worked muscles – very important indeed.

So, low in calories, anti-inflammatory properties, rich dietary fiber, strong promoter of cell respiration and red blood cell production, as well as building strong bones and muscle…what else can you ask for?  Well, maybe there is one little thing.  There is that one nasty drawback that inevitably results from the consumption of asparagus.  You guessed…stinky pee.  Personally, I could definitely do without that as I have no more need for any more stinkiness than I do a third nipple.

After I’ve eaten asparagus, about an hour later when I go to the bathroom it’s like I’m literally standing on the battlefield of Ypres it smells that bad.  It absolutely reeks; judging by my cats reaction anyway if they happen to be anywhere in the vicinity.  It’s enough to bring tears to my eyes and often it does.  Why is that?

Well, asparagus unfortunately also contains a sulfur compound called ‘mercaptan’. It is also found in onions, garlic, rotten eggs, and in the secretions of skunks (go figure).  The signature smell occurs when this substance is broken down in your digestive system.  Not all people have the gene for the enzyme that breaks down mercaptan, so some of you can eat all the asparagus you want without stinking up the place…I am not one of those lucky individuals.  Funnily enough, early investigators thought genetics had divided the world into stinkers and non-stinkers.  That was until 1980, when three researchers had the presence of mind to wave pee from the non-stinkers under the noses of the stinkers.  Lo and behold, the problem proved to be one not of producing the stinky pee but of being able to sniff it out.  So when it comes to sniffing out mercaptan, I am a mako shark apparently.  Lucky fucking me!

Although there are many ways to incorporate asparagus into your typical menu plan, my particular favorite is to roast it.  No muss, no fuss.  Here is a very simple recipe in which to quickly prepare roasted asparagus to accompany your next dinner menu:

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