Plus, the asparagus nutritional facts make it clear why the spring produce is often considered vegetable royalty.
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When it comes to spring produce, you can't go wrong with asparagus. Not only is the veggie deliciously earthy and mild, but it's packed with good-for-you nutrients, too. So much so that it's been dubbed as "king of vegetables" around the world. Ahead, discover all the health benefits of asparagus, plus how to use it at home.

What Is Asparagus?

Native to the Mediterranean, the asparagus plant is related to leeks and onions, according to the University of Illinois. Its stems — known as "spears" — are edible, and they're probably what comes to mind when you think of the veggie. There are approximately 300 types of asparagus, which include green, violet-green, white, pink, and purple varieties, according to a 2020 scientific review in the journal Metabolites. In the U.S., green asparagus is more common, with the green-hued "Martha Washington" variety being one of the most popular types.

Asparagus Nutrition

Nutritionally speaking, asparagus does not disappoint. The pointy green spears offer vitamins C, K, and B9 (aka folate), according to the aforementioned 2020 scientific review. They also contain disease-busting antioxidants, digestion-promoting fiber, and essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and iron. King of vegetables, indeed.

Here are the nutrition facts for one cup (~134 grams) of raw asparagus, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):

  • 27 calories
  • 3 grams protein
  • <1 gram fat
  • 5 grams carbohydrate
  • 3 grams fiber
  • 3 grams sugar

Health Benefits of Asparagus

Thanks to its cocktail of vital nutrients, asparagus offers health benefits for the entire body. Here's what the spring veg can do for you, according to dietitians and research:

Staves Off Some Chronic Conditions

If you're looking to up your intake of antioxidants, reach for asparagus. It contains numerous antioxidant compounds, including vitamin E, vitamin C, quercetin, and glutathione, according to registered dietitian Joanna Foley, R.D., C.L.T. These antioxidants help "fight against free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can cause harm to the body by damaging cells," explains Foley. A quick refresher: Free radicals are unstable molecules that, in excess, can result in oxidative stress. Over time, "oxidative stress can lead to many types of [chronic conditions] like heart disease, cancer, kidney diseases, and lung disorders," says Foley. But by fueling up on antioxidant-rich foods such as asparagus, you can help your body kick oxidative stress to the curb.

Supports Healthy Pregnancy

Enjoy 1 cup of raw asparagus, and you'll nab 70 micrograms of folate, which is about 18 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA), according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This is especially noteworthy if you're pregnant or trying to conceive, as folate is "needed for optimal development of the [fetus'] spine, brain, and skull of [a] fetus, which usually takes place during the first four weeks of pregnancy," explains registered dietitian Symone Moodoo, R.D. This time frame is often before someone even learns that they're expecting, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So, getting your fill of folate — via, say, generous servings of asparagus — while you're trying to conceive and once pregnant is essential for reducing the risk of birth defects and premature delivery.

Promotes Healthy Digestion

Asparagus is a stellar source of fiber, which is great news for your gut. "One cup provides about 2.8 grams [of fiber], which is about 10 percent of the amount you need per day," says Foley. "Most of the fiber in asparagus is insoluble, which is the type that does not dissolve in water. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool, [helping bowel] movements pass more easily and frequently." This can help promote more regular bowel movements, ultimately easing digestive issues such as constipation.

Additionally, the fiber in asparagus is also a prebiotic, adds Foley. In other words, it provides fuel for the "good" bacteria in your gut. These microorganisms help regulate nutrient absorption and digestion, so it's important to keep them healthy and well. Eating prebiotic-rich foods, such as asparagus, can help make that happen. (See also: Does Prebiotic Soda Have Real Health Benefits?)

Improves Heart Health

When you think of heart health, asparagus probably isn't the first food that comes to mind — but it can totally lend a hand. This is partly due to the fiber in asparagus, which helps manage your levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol, says Foley. Here's how it works: When you consume fiber-rich eats such as asparagus, the fiber binds to LDL cholesterol in the gut. The fiber is then excreted in the stool, bringing the LDL cholesterol along with it. This prevents the cholesterol from entering your bloodstream, says Foley, ultimately keeping your LDL cholesterol levels in check. This is a BFD because high LDL cholesterol levels can increase your risk of heart disease, according to the CDC.

The produce's stalks also offer potassium, a mineral that's needed to manage blood pressure, says Foley. Specifically, it "helps ease tension in blood vessel walls, which can improve blood flow and lower blood pressure," she notes. This can help stave off high blood pressure, another risk factor for heart disease, according to the CDC. Even asparagus antioxidants can lend a hand, notes registered dietitian Chantel Moodoo, R.D. Oxidative stress can contribute to plaque buildup in the arteries (i.e. atherosclerosis) and heart disease, but antioxidants (such as those found in asparagus) can reduce the risk by combatting free radicals, according to a 2019 article in the journal Nutrients.

Supports Bone Health

TBH, this might be one of the most unexpected health benefits of asparagus. Aside from offering some calcium — a major structural component of bones — the spring veggie is high in vitamin K, according to Chantel. This nutrient is required to produce osteocalcin, a protein that's involved in bone formation, says Kimberly Baker, Ph.D., R.D., L.D., registered dietitian and food systems and safety director at Clemson University. Healthy osteocalcin production can help support stronger bones, says Chantel, ultimately reducing the risk of fractures.

Manages Blood Sugar

The fiber and antioxidants in asparagus can help keep your blood sugar in check. For starters, fiber can slow down the digestion of food, which slows down sugar absorption, says Baker. This can help prevent rapid spikes in blood sugar, a situation that can lead to type 2 diabetes if it happens too often. As for antioxidants? These bad boys can improve the release of insulin, aka the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, notes Maddie Pasquariello, M.S., R.D.N. Antioxidants also fight oxidative stress, which can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, according to a 2020 scientific article.

Potentials Risks of Asparagus

Despite these impressive asparagus nutrition facts, the vegetable isn't for everyone. It's possible to be allergic to asparagus, says Foley. This is especially the case if you're also allergic to produce such as cabbage, strawberries, sweet cherries, grapes, and peaches — all of which share potentially allergy-causing proteins with asparagus, according to a 2020 review. Not sure if you should steer clear of asparagus? Keep an eye out for common symptoms of a food allergy — e.g. swollen throat, trouble swallowing, coughing, wheezing, and hives, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology — and call your doc ASAP if you experience any of them. (You could also always inquire about allergy testing, too.)

You might also need to skip the spring veggie if you're following a low-fiber or low-FODMAP diet, which is sometimes used to treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), she adds. ICYDK, a low-FODMAP diet limits fermentable carbs, such as starches and fiber (which are particularly high in asparagus), that might be difficult for some folks to digest. The same goes if you're taking anticoagulants or blood-thinning medications such as warfarin, says Symone. That's because asparagus is high in vitamin K, which promotes blood clotting and, in turn, can work against blood-thinning medications, ultimately reducing their effect. (BTW, asparagus isn't the only green veggie to come with this warning — celery's also full of vitamin K, making it a no-no for those on blood thinners.)

How to Buy and Eat Asparagus

If these asparagus nutrition facts have convinced you to eat more of the veggie, you're in luck. In the supermarket, asparagus is available fresh, frozen, canned, and pickled. When buying the fresh stuff, look for spears that are bright green with purple-ish tips, as these signs indicate that the asparagus is tender and fresh, according to the University of Kentucky. To store asparagus, trim the white ends off the stalks, place them in a glass jar with 1 or 2 inches of water, and put the container in the refrigerator, where it will last for one to two weeks, according to the university.

When it's time to eat, wash the asparagus under cool running water. From there, you can enjoy it raw, although keep in mind that asparagus has a naturally tough texture that can be difficult to chew, explains Baker. Cooking (sautéeing, boiling, steaming, grilling, or roasting) will help soften the spears, making 'em easier to eat. Alternatively, if you still want to eat asparagus raw, you can peel it with a vegetable peeler to create thin easy-to-eat "ribbons," suggests Pasquariello.

Watching your salt intake? Go for sodium-free varieties when buying canned asparagus. You can also rinse the asparagus under running water before adding it to your food, says Symone. "Another alternative is to reduce the total amount of salt in [your recipe] when using canned asparagus packed in sodium," she adds.

Asparagus Recipe Ideas

From fancy apps to vibrant salads, there are myriad ways to enjoy the health benefits of asparagus. Here's some delicious inspo to get you started:

In pasta. Asparagus works beautifully in pasta, especially when it's paired with other spring produce (think: peas and leeks).

As a side dish. Simply chop the asparagus, cook until tender, and flavor with your go-to seasonings and toppings for a nutrient-rich addition to any meal.

With eggs. Give your breakfast a seasonal touch by adding asparagus. Try a mouthwatering whole-grain quiche made with asparagus (duh), tomatoes, mushrooms, and fresh chives, or if you're in a rush, pop some poached eggs over asparagus on toast.

In salad. Once chopped and cooked, asparagus will add crunch and color to warm salads, such as this farro herb creation with chicken. You can also peel raw asparagus and toss it into a cold salad.

In soup. Add a handful of asparagus to your next minestrone or chicken noodle soup to make each spoonful that much more nutritious.