As a follow on from the recent series on the Weekly Grocery Shopping List of foods that contain the nutrients the body needs that contain the nutrients the body needs I am going to repeat my series from 2017 on the health benefits of some of our most common foods.
Food therapy is a broad term for the benefits to the body of a healthy, varied and nutritional diet of fresh foods.
Most of us walk through the fresh produce departments of our supermarkets without really paying much attention to the individual fruits and vegetables. This is a great pity because the vast majority of these foods have been cultivated for thousands of years, not only for their nutritional value but also for their medicinal properties. If you eat a healthy diet you are effectively practicing preventative medicine. A robust immune system, not only attacks external opportunistic pathogens, but also works to prevent rogue cells in the body from developing into serious disease.
NOTE – If you are on any prescribed medication do not take yourself off it without consultation with your doctor. If you follow a healthy eating programme and lose weight and are exercising you may not need the same dose and with your doctor’s agreement you may be able to reduce or come off the medication all together.
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 K1 is is the form of the nutrient found in plants and 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.
Whilst on the subject of Vitamin K if you add grass fed butter to your asparagus you are also getting the vitamin in another form.. as K2.
One of the problems today of obtaining sufficient Vitamin K2 is that animals need to be grass fed to produce it. As much of our lifestock, including chickens are corn or grain fed, the amount of this important component of our complex nutritional requirements is missing from the food chain. Including eggs for example, if they are produced by mass farmed chicken without access to grass areas and their naturally foraged foods. which is why buying free range is better. Do check the packaging however, as free range comes in a number of formats too. Sometimes they are let out for an hour a day and that is not free range!
Only grass fed dairy or animal protein contains sufficient amounts of Vitamin K2 which is an important component of our complex nutritional requirements.
This applies to real butter – I eat the real thing but make sure it comes from grass fed dairy again. A scrape goes a long way and tastes so much better than margarine.
Research into Vitamin K2 is ongoing and is very exciting.
Dementia – including Alzheimers and neurological diseases including Parkinsons with the vitamin being identified as deficient in patients suffering from irregularities in brain chemistry.
Kidney disease – Most patients with stage 5 chronic kidney disease (CKD) suffer from extensive vascular calcifications.4 Matrix Gla protein (MGP) is a powerful inhibitor of vascular calcification, and requires vitamin K2 to be fully activated
Cancer –In recent years, various reports have shown that vitamin K2 has anti-oncogenic effects in various cancer cell lines, including leukemia, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, and hepatocellular cancer. Although the exact mechanisms by which vitamin K2 exert its antitumor effect are still unclear, processes, such as cell cycle arrest and apoptosis, appear to contribute to the therapeutic effects of vitamin K2.
To read the full report on the research: Vitamink2.org
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 and the amazing combinations of nutrients contained in just one food source.
Asparagus has a huge 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.
Compared to the multi-vitamin supplement you might be taking, a serving of asparagus three times a week provides most of the elements, but in a very much more digestible format for the body.
Here is a video that shows you how to prepare fresh asparagus courtesy of the Bald Chef.
I have edited the 2017 Cook from Scratch where you will find many more recipes for Asparagus shared by Carol Taylor: Cook From Scratch with Carol Taylor – Asparagus
©Sally Cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2020
I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-two years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.
If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here: My books and reviews 2020
Thank you for dropping in today and your feedback and questions are very welcome.. thanks Sally.