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Scientifically classified as Asparagus officinalis and belonging to the Liliaceae family, asparagus is a plant known since ancient times and which was immediately widely cultivated, both for its flavor and for its therapeutic qualities, which characterize also other specimens belonging to his own family, such as garlic or aloe. From the semantic point of view its name means "sprout", which is identified in the edible part of the plant, ie the tip; this portion of the vegetable is called "turione" and can be white, if the asparagus is grown in the absence of light, or green-violet, if the plant can photosynthesize. The maturation of the plant, and therefore its availability to harvest, takes place for six to seven weeks in spring until early summer, and it is advisable that the harvest takes place within a short time, so as to keep the tips fresh and soft.
Characteristics and healing properties
Asparagus is a low-calorie vegetable (less than 4 kcal per shoot and about 24 kcal per 100 grams), absolutely free of fat and cholesterol, with a low sodium content but rich in potassium and with a good percentage of fiber , but also containing significant amounts of magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, iron and zinc. It is a food that can also provide many vitamins, such as folic acid, thiamine, vitamin K and B6 (but also vitamin A, E and C) and rutin, a flavonoid glycoside. Finally, we must not forget the presence of glutathione in the plant, one of the most important and effective antioxidants normally used by the body. The presence of all these substances make the asparagus an excellent phytotherapeutic food, useful both in the prevention and in the improvement of some pathological conditions.
Effects on diet and in pregnancy
The low caloric regime of the asparagus allows an abundant consumption even in conditions of obesity and is an ideal vegetable to be taken in pregnancy thanks to its excellent intake of folic acid, which prevents neural tube defects in the fetus and contributes, together with iron , to the regeneration of red blood cells. In the vegetable are also found good doses of inulin, a substance that improves the motility of the gastro-enteric tract and the growth of saprophytic intestinal bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidus, at the same time hindering the proliferation of harmful bacterial species.
Its content in vitamin A, vitamin E, zinc and glutathione make asparagus an important source of antioxidants; glutathione in particular, a small protein composed of only three amino acids, is perhaps the most known and most studied antioxidant among those normally used by our body and is one of the fundamental substances that act in the prevention of atherosclerosis; recent studies have compared the amount of this substance in asparagus compared to that present in other vegetables, placing this vegetable in the highest positions in the ranking of edible plants with the highest antioxidant power, thus making it an excellent adjuvant in the prevention of heart and eye diseases (cataract). We must also remember that oxidative stress and chronic inflammation are predisposing factors to the development of many malignant neoplasms, and both these phenomena are due to a low intake of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, substances of which asparagus is rich, making therefore rightly suppose a further anti-tumor action of this plant.
Effects on blood glucose and kidneys
In addition to its valuable contribution to the protection of arterial diseases, asparagus also seems to prevent chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes; this action appears to be mediated by the vitamins of group B (B1, B2, B3 and B6) and by substances such as biotin and pantothenic acid, present in considerable quantities in this vegetable. These substances intervene in the metabolism of glucose and starch and, consequently, in the control of glycemic values. Vitamin K intervenes in the mechanism of coagulation and in bone metabolism, preventing osteoporosis, but also plays a protective role on the central nervous system. The asparagus also contains an amino acid called "asparagine"; this substance is responsible for the diuretic activity of the vegetable and the characteristic odor taken from the urine after its consumption; this amino acid is also essential for the metabolism of alcohol, suggesting that this vegetable can also be a good remedy to facilitate the disposal of a hangover.
The only conditions that limit the consumption of asparagus are nephritis, prostatitis and cystitis, situations in which the vegetable would even appear to be harmful.
How to consume this food
Asparagus is a vegetable that, once caught, maintains its freshness and its nutritional properties for a time from two to five times longer than that shown by other vegetables, even if the optimal consumption time should not exceed 48 hours from collection. Its preparation consists only in the isolation of the tips, without peeling them but only washing them, in cold water, to eliminate the residues of dust and earth. It is possible to consume the raw tips, so as to keep all the nutrients they contain intact, or they can be lightly scalded in hot water, so as not to dissipate their mineral salt content. An alternative is to boil the vegetable by placing it vertically in a saucepan with water and salt, then serving it seasoned with only oil, which enhances the flavor, or with oil and lemon. In the culinary tradition it is used mainly in omelettes and as a condiment for risottos. The stems, too hard to be eaten, can be used to make decoctions for purifying purposes.