Although available year round, you can't beat the taste and freshness of locally grown asparagus. Its short growing season – May and June – means now is the time to add this green vegetable to your menu.
There's more to asparagus than its tender stalks and great taste – it's also a nutritional powerhouse. It's high in fibre, vitamin A, vitamin B6, thiamin (B1), vitamin K and potassium and contains a unique combination of anti-inflammatory phytochemicals.
Asparagus is also a leading source of folate, a B vitamin that keeps the DNA of our cells in good repair. One serving of asparagus (1/2 cup or 6 spears) delivers one-third of a day's worth of folate (adults need 400 micrograms daily). Not bad for only 20 calories.
Eating asparagus may also support digestive health thanks to its inulin content, a type of carbohydrate that promotes the growth of friendly probiotic bacteria in our gut. (Probitoic bacteria are thought to boost immunity, lower the risk of allergy, improve lactose digestion and ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.)
Steam, roast, grill or quickly sauté asparagus to preserve more nutrients and antioxidants. Cooking for too long – and with too much water (e.g. boiling) – leaches out nutrients.
There's nothing better than fresh asparagus steamed and served with a splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice. I also enjoy it roasted with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of coarse sea salt. Save leftover roasted or grilled asparagus for veggie sandwiches or to add to a green salad.
But don't stop there. Add cut up asparagus to stir-fries, pasta dishes, risotto, soups, omelettes and frittatas. Include raw asparagus spears in a vegetable tray with hummus or tzatziki dip. Or, make a pot of asparagus soup for quick weekday lunches.
One possible side effect from eating asparagus: strong smelling urine. But don't let this stop you from enjoying asparagus this season.
It's harmless and not everyone experiences it. It's thought some people are genetically inclined to metabolize asparagus in such a way that generates odor-producing substances. Scientists suspect the likely culprit is methyl mercaptan, a sulfur-containing derivative of an amino acid in asparagus called methionine.
Asparagus: nutrition by the numbers
Per 1/2 cup or 6 spears
0.2 grams of fat
3.7 grams of carbohydrate
2 grams of fibre
134 micrograms of folate
45 micrograms of vitamin K
202 milligrams of potassium
Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is the national director of nutrition at BodyScience Medical. She can be seen Thursdays at noon on CTV News Channel's Direct. Lesliebeck.com