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Can you eat the entire asparagus? The veggie packs these benefits for gut and heart health

Fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals make this vegetable a nutritional win.
/ Source: TODAY

When asparagus is in season, dietitians get excited.

Low in calories and fat yet high in fiber and vitamins, asparagus makes the perfect, easy side dish when roasted or grilled. But you can also get the many nutritional benefits of asparagus in a salad or quiche.

And, for a vegetable with such a unique, earthy flavor, asparagus is also surprisingly versatile. "I love asparagus," registered dietitian Grace Derocha, tells TODAY.com. "I love them in quiche, I love them in soups and stews, and I love them in risotto," says Derocha, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Asparagus nutrition

In a cup of raw asparagus, you'll get:

  • 27 calories
  • 3 grams protein
  • 0.2 grams fat
  • 5 grams carbohydrates
  • 2.8 grams fiber

Asparagus benefits

A serving of asparagus comes with "almost 3 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein," Derocha says, which helps balance out the carbohydrates.

The fiber in asparagus will help keep you regular, as well as help manage blood sugar levels, as TODAY.com explained previously.

And asparagus is one of the few veggies to contain inulin, a type of prebiotic fiber, Debbie Petitpain, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells TODAY.com. This helps feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut and encourages better digestive health overall.

Petitpain notes that asparagus contains antioxidants, including glutathione, "which can help combat free radicals," she says, potentially reducing the risk of cancer.

Asparagus is also sneakily a great source of vitamins and minerals, Derocha says. "A lot of people don't realize it's pretty rich in vitamin C, and it also has some iron," she says. This vegetable also provides a fair amount of B vitamins and magnesium. "Most people don't get enough magnesium, so you love to see it," Derocha adds.

You can also reap some heart-health benefits from asparagus because it contains asparaptine, a compound that may improve blood flow and even help lower blood pressure in the process, Derocha explains.

Can you eat the entire stalk of asparagus?

The entire stalk of asparagus is edible, the experts say. But some people may not enjoy eating the thicker, tougher end because it has a woodier texture.

You can try chopping the asparagus up when roasting it, Derocha says, and simply leave the thicker ends in the over longer to soften them. Or, if you're simply not into thicker asparagus, you can look for the pencil-thin varieties instead. These contain similar amounts of nutrients but have different textures, Petitpain says.

The thinner asparagus is the same plant, but “they’re just pulled earlier, so they’re young,” Derocha explains. We have baby kale and baby spinach, and you can think of this as “toddler asparagus,” she says.

Thin asparagus "tends to be more tender and can cook more quickly," Petitpain explains, which makes it ideal for steaming or eating raw. Thicker asparagus has a "meatier texture," she adds, making it better for grilling or roasting. Some people may even peel thick asparagus, she notes. 

For a milder flavor, try white asparagus

White asparagus is grown without exposure to sunlight, which prevents the plant from developing chlorophyll, Petitpain explains.

"White asparagus has a milder, more delicate flavor and tends to be thicker and more tender than green asparagus," she says. "It’s considered a delicacy in many parts of Europe and requires more labor to grow, which can make it more expensive."

White asparagus contains similar nutritional benefits to green asparagus, but the green version has slightly more vitamins and fiber due to the presence of chlorophyll, Petitpain adds.

Why does my pee smell weird after I eat asparagus?

If you've ever noticed that your urine smells a little odd after eating asparagus, you're not imagining it.

What you're smelling is actually the result of asparagusic acid, a compound that's unique to asparagus, Derocha says. When your body breaks down asparagusic acid, it creates a few sulfur-containing byproducts that cause the weird pee smell.

However, not everyone notices that their urine smells differently after they eat asparagus.

In some cases, that's because they lack a genetic variation that allows them the joy of smelling asparagus pee, Petitpain says. For others, it may be that their body simply breaks down asparagusic acid more efficiently, causing less of a smell, the Cleveland Clinic says.

Try these great asparagus recipes:

Asparagus can be eaten cooked, raw, and as a complementary ingredient in quiches, casseroles, soups, salads and more.

Both experts say roasting or grilling asparagus is their favorite way to enjoy this veggie. Petitpain prefers to keep things simple, roasting or grilling asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper “for a simple, flavorful side,” she says. “You can easily puree leftovers with broth and a touch of cream for a beautiful soup.

Another of Derocha's favorite ways to use asparagus is in a quiche, which allows the thicker parts to cook fully, or chopped up in an egg scramble. She also likes to use it in a spring vegetable soup, a creamy risotto or in a salad when sliced into visually impressive ribbons.

Asparagus and Spinach Frittata