Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Asparagus: Cancer cure?


As much as I dislike facebook, I must admit, it sometimes comes in handy for blog fodder. For instance, the post about asparagus that someone in my timeline recently shared. Now, I don’t want to discourage anyone from eating asparagus. Asparagus is both amazingly delicious and extremely nutritious. However, I feel compelled to refute some of the erroneous information in the post.

The post begins:

Subject: Asparagus DO NOT FAIL TO READ THIS AND SEND TO YOUR FAMILY &FRIENDS When I was in the USN, I was stationed in Key West, FL. I worked at the clin…ic at Naval Air Station on Big Coppitt Key just a few miles north of Key West.

Ever notice how the ridiculous posts on FB claiming to provide miracle cures and medical information always include extraneous details about the poster? I mean, who cares if you were in the navy and where you were stationed? This somehow lends credibility to your claims to have knowledge about nutrition and science? Apparently some people must think so, as I can think of no other reason why people continue to share these posts. Anyway…

The author claimed that some old man (a retired biochemist) told him that the reason why asparagus makes your pee smell is because it “is detoxifying your body of harmful chemicals!!!”. Sure glad that biochemist is retired! The real reason that your pee smells is because your body is breaking down sulfurous amino acids in the asparagus and excreting them in your urine. No food has the power to rid your body of harmful chemicals. Sorry.

The post then goes on to provide “evidence”, via four “cases”, that asparagus can cure cancer. The reason why asparagus can do this is alleged to be the presence of “histones“. These are alkaline proteins. Some histones may, in fact, be promising in the development of a cure for cancer. Regardless, while asparagus does contain histones, so do other foods such as all cruciferous vegetables, nuts, seeds, wheat, egg yolks, milk, garlic, etc.

Asparagus is undoubtedly a healthy food choice. Consumption of it, and other vegetables, and other whole foods, may reduce your risk of developing cancer. However, it’s giving false hope to people to tell them that they can cure their existing cancer by drinking two tablespoons of asparagus puree daily. Eat lots of vegetables, eat a variety of them. Don’t look to anyone food to save your life.

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Awesome Asparagus

Depending on where you live you’re likely either in the middle of asparagus season or just about to enter it. Asparagus is one of my favourite vegetables. It works great as a side dish or in a stir fry or a salad. It counts as your “dark green leafy vegetable” for the day and it’s got lots of folate, fibre, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. It’s also super low in calories (only about 42 in a cup).

Try to choose crisp fresh spears. If you’re not eating them right away they store best in the fridge in a container with a bit of water (like a bouquet of flowers but covered with a plastic bag). Trim the woody ends before cooking, either with a knife or by just snapping them off.

The easiest way to cook them is by steaming or boiling them until they turn bright green and tender crisp (about 4 minutes). Another fun way to enjoy asparagus is by roasting it. Here’s a simple and tasty recipe from Bon Appetit. Another one of my favourites is Heidi Swanson’s “Straw and Hay Fettuccini Tangle, with Spring Asparagus Purée” from her cookbook Super Natural Cooking. If you don’t have the cookbook (I do recommend it) you can still find the recipe on Simply Recipes.

Just in case you were wondering why asparagus makes your pee smell (I know you were)… It’s due to “methanethiol” the by-product of metabolism which your kidneys see fit to excrete in your urine.