Welcome to this week’s post where Carol Taylor and I combine forces and share not just the health benefits of foods but some recipes to showcase them in all their glory. I appreciate that these posts are longer than the average but we hope that you feel that you are getting value for your time…
To begin will I am going to take a look at the health benefits of Asparagus… of which there are many, and then hand you over to Carol to create healthy Cook from Scratch recipes for you to enjoy and share with your family.
The history of Asparagus
Asparagus is a member of the lily family and the spears that we eat are shoots grown underground. The ancient Greeks used the word asparagus to describe any young tender shoots that were picked and eaten. It was cultivated over 2,000 years ago in that part of the Mediterranean and the Romans then picked up a liking for the delicacy eating fresh and dried out of season.
Asparagus became such a delicacy that the Romans went one step further in their desire to eat fresh all year round. Chariots would race to the Alps to freeze the tender shoots in the year round snow for six months and then race back with it in time for one of the major events of the year – The Feast of Epicurus. Fleets of galleons took the shoots to all corners of the Empire and over the centuries other countries adopted this delicacy and it now grows in many parts of the world.
There are huge health benefits from eating asparagus on a regular basis and it is packed with the important Vitamin K.
Vitamin K is essential for efficient blood clotting but recently research has identified that it has many other roles within the body. It may help prevent heart disease and osteoporosis. It is a stronger anti-oxidant than Vitamin E or Coenzyme Q10 and it may also inhibit the growth of certain cancers such as breast, ovary, colon, stomach and kidney cancer.
As an antioxidant it has been approved for the treatment of osteoporosis in Japan due to its action in the synthesis of osteocalcin which attracts calcium to the bone matrix. It has also shown benefits in other areas such as preventing calcification of arteries and soft tissues which can lead to heart attacks. As well as preventing calcification it helps regulate the body’s calcium which is extremely important in organs such as the brain or kidneys that are vulnerable to calcium deposits leading to damage or the formation of stones.
A link between levels of Vitamin K and brain disease.
The brain is a fascinating part of our bodies with relatively little known about certain areas that remain uncharted. Research is particularly active in areas such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, as this more than any of the degenerative diseases, leaves us so vulnerable and in need of total care.
IL-6 is a chemical transmitter for the immune system, which promotes inflammation. As we age this process gets out of control and it results in excessive inflammation throughout the body, including the joints and the brain. Alzheimer’s patients have very high levels of IL-6 in their brains. Vitamin K is thought to prevent this and if the link can be proved then eating asparagus as part of a healthy eating plan could be an easy way for everyone to increase this vital vitamin.
Other parts of the boy affected by a deficiency of Vitamin K
A deficiency of this vitamin K has been linked to elevated levels of blood sugar, as the pancreas, which makes insulin normally, contains the second highest amount of vitamin K than anywhere in the body.
Other nutrients Asparagus offers us.
As well as Vitamin K, asparagus also contains the following nutrients in varying amounts.. whilst it looks like a great deal more information than you might need; I hope it reinforces how nutritionally important the food is that I feature. I could just tell you that asparagus contains Folate, Vitamin C, A, B1, B2, B3, B6, Tryptophan, Manganese, Copper, Phosphorus, potassium, iron, zinc, magnesium, selenium, and calcium. But does that really mean anything?
I think that it helps you appreciate the food you eat differently if you can associate it with a more comprehensive look at its various elements. Asparagus has a number of key nutrients that boost and maintain the immune system.
Folate: Folic Acid; Folic acid is a B Vitamin essential for cell replication and growth. It helps form the building blocks of DNA the body’s genetic information which is why it is recommended prior to conception and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to ensure the rapidly growing and replicating cells of the foetus are normal.
It is essential for transporting co-enzymes needed for amino acid metabolism in the body and is necessary for a functioning nervous system
Vitamin B1: Thiamin; This vitamin is essential in the metabolism of carbohydrates and for the strength of the nervous system. Every cell in the body requires this vitamin to form the fuel that the body runs on ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate).
Vitamin B2: Riboflavin; Also essential for metabolising carbohydrates to produce ATP, and also fats, amino acids and proteins too. It is necessary to activate Vitamin B6 and Folic Acid. It works with enzymes in the liver to eliminate toxins. It is water-soluble
Vitamin B3: Niacin; Also needed for the metabolism of carbohydrates (ATP), fats and proteins. Needed to process Alcohol. Niacin form of B3 helps regulate Cholesterol. In addition it is essential for the formation or red blood cells and the hormones. It works with Tryptophan in protein to form Serotonin and Melatonin in the brain
Vitamin B6: Pyridoxine The Master Vitamin for processing Amino Acids – the building blocks of all proteins and some hormones. It assists in the formation of several Neurotransmitters and can therefore help regulate mood. It has been shown to help lower Homocysteine levels in the blood linked to heart disease, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease. It produces Haemoglobin the Oxygen carrying pigment in the blood. It helps the release of carbohydrates stored in the liver and muscles for energy. It is involved in the production of antibodies and it helps balance female hormones. It is needed for the production of serotonin along with tryptophan and B12.
Tryptophan: Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is the lowest in terms of levels needed by the body. It is responsible for normal sleep patterns. Vitamin B6 is needed for the formation of tryptophan, which affects serotonin levels. These serotonin levels influence sleep and mood.
Vitamin C: Ascorbic Acid; An antioxidant that protects LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) from oxidative damage, leading to hardening of the arteries. May also protect against heart disease reducing the hardening of arteries and the tendency of platelets to clump together blocking them. Vitamin C is necessary to form collagen, which acts like glue strengthening parts of the body such as muscles and blood vessels. It aids with healing and is a natural anti-histamine.
It is essential for the action of the Immune system and plays a part in the actions of the white blood cells and anti-bodies. It protects other antioxidants A and E from free radical damage and is involved in the production of some adrenal hormones.
Manganese: Needed for healthy skin, bone and cartilage formation as well as glucose tolerance. Also forms part of the antioxidant superoxide dismutase, which helps prevent free radical damage.
Copper: Copper is an essential trace element needed to absorb and utilise Iron. It is needed to make ATP and is also to synthesise some hormones and blood cells. Collagen needs copper, as does the enzyme tyrosinase, which plays a role in the production of skin pigment. Too much copper in the diet can depress levels of zinc and effect wound healing.
Phosphorus: Essential for bone formation and production of red blood cells. Also needed for the production of ATP fuel for energy. Small amounts are involved in most of the chemical reactions throughout the body.
Potassium: This is the main cation (positively charged electrolyte). It reacts with sodium and chloride to maintain a perfect working environment in and around each cell. It allows the transmission of nerve impulses and helps maintain the correct fluid balance in the body. It also regulates levels of acidity and alkalinity in the body. It is also required for carbohydrate and protein metabolism. It is connected to normal heart rhythms.
Iron: The main function of iron is in haemoglobin, which is the oxygen-carrying component of blood. When someone is iron deficient they suffer extreme fatigue because they are being starved of oxygen. Iron is also part of myoglobin which helps muscle cells store oxygen and it is also essential for the formation of ATP
Zinc: A trace mineral that is a component in the body’s ability to repair wounds, maintain fertility, synthesis protein, cell reproduction, maintain eyesight, act as an antioxidant and boost immunity. It can be used topically for skin conditions. It is essential for a functioning metabolism and hormone production such as testosterone. It is also needed for the production of stomach acid. Too much zinc will depress the copper levels in the body.
Magnesium: It is essential mineral needed for bone, protein and fatty acid formation, forming new cells, activating the B vitamins, relaxing muscles, clotting blood and forming ATP the fuel the body runs on. The secretion and action of insulin also needs magnesium. It is needed to balance calcium in the body and too much can result in very low levels of calcium. The best food sources are whole grains, beans, seeds, wheat germ, dried apricots, dark green vegetables, soybeans and fish.
Selenium: A very important trace mineral that activates an antioxidant enzyme called glutathione peroxidase, which may help protect the body from cancer. It is vital for immune system function and may help prevent prostate cancer.
Calcium: The most abundant and essential mineral in the body. There are approximately two to three pounds mainly found in the teeth and bones. Apart from its role in the formation of teeth and bones it is also required for blood clotting, transmission of signals in nerve cells and muscle contractions. There is some indication that higher calcium intake protects against cardiovascular disease particularly in women. If you are at risk of kidney stones consult your doctor before taking in additional calcium supplements. This also applies if you are suffering from prostate cancer where there may be a link between increased levels of dietary calcium in dairy products and this form of cancer. It is thought it is thought that excess calcium causes lower levels of Vitamin D, which helps protect against prostate cancer.
I am now going to hand you over to Carol for her recipes to include asparagus regularly in your diet.
Around for thousands of years and said to be one of the very first frozen foods Asparagus is a little green powerhouse, chock a block full of Vitamin K as well as many other vitamins and anti- oxidants. Sally cannot stress the importance of eating this wonderful vegetable regularly as part of a healthy well balanced diet. She has also included a lovely little video on how to prepare asparagus it is then over to moi for some great recipes which showcase this wonderful vegetable.
We do hope that you enjoy our collaboration of healthy eating advice from Sally and recipes from Moi (Carol) as much as we both enjoy putting it all together for you.
Doesn’t this simple little dish look fabulous?….
Very easy… Just wrap bacon slices around each prepared asparagus spear. Skewer both ends of asparagus and add 3 to 4 per skewer. Grill the asparagus on direct heat until the bacon is crispy and the asparagus tender which takes around 15 mins making sure that you turn the asparagus at least once.
A beautiful, accompaniment to grilled fish or meat.
Asparagus is very plentiful here and one of my favourite stir fries are with prawns, lemongrass and lime leaves.
- 250 gm asparagus cut in half…asparagus is very thin here but if yu are using thicker asparagus then either shave the asparagus or cut into 3 inch pieces.
- A small piece of ginger peeled and grated.
- 1 stalk of lemongrass bashed and very finely chopped.
- 4 lime leaves very thinly sliced
- 3-4 tbsp of fish sauce
- 1 tbsp palm sugar or light muscavado sugar
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 10 raw king prawns either peeled or leave the tails on.
- 1 shallot thinly sliced
- 1-2 Thai birds eye chillies finely sliced
- 2-3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
- 4 spring onions cut into 2 inch pieces
- Mix together the ginger, lemongrass, lime leaves, fish sauce and sugar and put to one side.
- Meanwhile heat the wok on high and when it’s really hot add the oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add in the king prawns and stir-fry for one to two minutes, until the prawns have gone pink with slightly golden edges. Remove with a slotted spoon.
- Add the onion to the wok and stir fry for two minutes. Add the chilli, garlic and spring onion and stir-fry for a further four minutes until the onions have softened. Add the asparagus and stir fry for a further minute.
- Finally add the prawns, pour over the sauce which was prepared earlier, and cook until the sauce becomes sticky (around three minutes).
Serve immediately with Thai steamed rice.
My next recipe is for a lovely soup which is also suitable for vegans.
I love a nice creamy asparagus soup the flavour is quite mild but sometimes it is just nice ….This soup is also lovely with some garlic croutons…they are very easy to make with some stale or day old bread and fried until crispy or drizzle with oil and cook in the oven…a few less calories if you are counting.
- 1and half pounds of asparagus, trimmed
- 1 and half tbsp olive oil
- 1 and half cps shallots finely chopped
- ½ lb potatoes, cubed
- 4 cups of homemade vegetable stock or 2 stock cubes
- 1 tbsp lemon or lime juice.
- Heat the oil in a pan, add the shallots and cook over a medium heat until they are just turning very slightly coloured.
- Add the cubed potatoes, asparagus and the stock, bring to the boil and then simmer until the potatoes are soft and the asparagus tender. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as required.
- Blend the soup until it is smooth, add the lemon or lime juice. Check seasoning.
- If serving immediately then return to a pan and gently reheat.
- This recipe makes 4 average servings.
I love a piece of seared salmon with herb butter and the asparagus makes a lovely accompaniment, this dish is quick and easy to make just sear the salmon in a skillet and add a squeeze of lemon or lime…I always add lime as limes are easy to get here..lemons are not but I know in other parts of the world it is the opposite..but either will do.. If you have an extra 5 minutes then whip up a quick 4 ingredient garlic, butter, lemon sauce. Just cook some chopped garlic in some butter, add some chicken or vegetable stock,your lemon juice and reduce down slightly. Season…
Add some lightly steamed or griddled asparagus and you have a lovely meal, served with a nice glass of chilled white wine.
Now I always like to include something sweet but asparagus doesn’t lend itself to puddings easily….Ice cream immediately sprung to mind but have you had asparagus ice-cream? A pannacotta? A cake? ….. I did come across a recipe which also had pineapple and oranges in the mix so I am thinking those are quite strong flavours and would probably mask the asparagus somewhat…My train of thought is that some vegetables should really be left in the savoury section.
What do you think? Do you have a favourite sweet made with asparagus recipe? If so Sally and I would love to know what it is ….
What did I decide on for my last recipe on this post?
Strawberry and Asparagus Salad with balsamic dressing.
It looks gorgeous and tastes absolutely amazing…
- 1 pound of asparagus trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces
- 20 med strawberries..hulled and quartered
- ¼ cup of olive oil
- ¼ cup of honey
- ¼ cup of balsamic vinegar
- Cress or pea shoots to garnish.
- Salt and pepper to season
- Firstly blanch the asparagus in a cup of water with some added salt. Just bring to the boil in a pan and cook 2-3 minutes until asparagus is bright green and al-dente. Remove from the heat and put asparagus in iced water to cool.
- Remove from the iced water and pat dry with some kitchen paper.
- Put the asparagus in a serving dish and add the quartered strawberries and gently combine.
- Whisk together the balsamic, honey, oil with some salt and pepper to season.
- Drizzle over the asparagus and strawberries and refrigerate for at least half an hour before serving.
- Sprinkle salad with some pea shoots before serving.
- This makes a lovely salad with some cheeses and crusty bread on a summer’s day or with some griddled chicken or fish…I also like a little parmesan shaved over the salad…or some crumbled feta cheese.
- Not quite a pudding but a lovely vibrant dish with a difference.
I do hope you are enjoying this collaboration of healthy tips from Sally and recipes from me( Carol) if so please let us know in comments and share among your friends….
You can find out more about Carol and catch up with her Food and Cookery Column HERE
Connect to Carol via her blog: https://carolcooks2.com/
My thanks to Carol for turning one of the most nutritious but underused ingredients, into delicious meals.