Asparagus is a nutritional superstar. It's rich in minerals like fluoride and copper, vitamins such as vitamin K, vitamin E, thiamin and riboflavin and both soluble and insoluble fiber. Asparagus also contains more flavonoids -- compounds that may lower your risk of cancer -- than broccoli. While asparagus can also be boiled, roasted, grilled or stir-fried, steaming is quick, minimizes the amount of nutrients lost while cooking and doesn't require any added fat. For the best flavor, choose fresh asparagus from February to June, the peak of the vegetable's growing season.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that, for most vegetables, a serving of raw or cooked vegetables is considered to be 1 cup. When it comes to asparagus, however, the serving size of the vegetable cooked in any manner, including steaming, is 1/2 cup. This amount is equal to six whole spears of steamed asparagus. A 1/2-cup serving of steamed asparagus is also equivalent to 1 cup of broccoli or carrots, 2 cups of raw leafy greens such as spinach or romaine lettuce, an ear of corn or 1 cup of vegetable juice.
According to the USDA's ChooseMyPlate.gov, at least half of a healthy meal should consist of produce. When selecting vegetables, you're advised to try to pick a variety each day from the five subgroups: beans and legumes, dark green vegetables, starchy vegetables, red and orange vegetables and other vegetables. Asparagus falls into the "other" vegetable category. Adult women should have about 2 1/2 cups of vegetables each day, while children need between 1 1/2 to 3 cups depending on their age, gender and level of physical activity. For a woman, a 1/2-cup serving of steamed asparagus would fulfill nearly half of her daily vegetable recommendation.
You can use a steamer basket or a steamer pot to prepare steamed asparagus, but you can also get the job done with just a stockpot that has a tightly fitting lid, says Bon Appetit. Put a few ounces of water into the pot and bring it to a boil. Add the asparagus in the steamer insert, if you have one, or arrange the stalks standing on end in the pot. Cover and allow the asparagus to steam for between three and eight minutes, or until the thickest part of the stalk is easily pierced with a knife. To serve the asparagus chilled, have a bowl of ice water ready that you can quickly plunge the steamed stalks into.
A serving of steamed asparagus is classic paired with grilled or roasted fish, poultry or lean steak, but don't limit yourself to that. Use chopped, steamed asparagus on salads, mixed into pasta or as a substitute for parsley in pesto. Get your kids into asparagus by serving chilled, steamed asparagus stalks with dipping sauces like honey-mustard or low-fat ranch dressing. To maximize the health benefits, steer clear of high-fat butter or hollandaise sauces as an asparagus topping; instead, use fresh lemon juice, spices, herbs or a drizzle of olive oil.
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Nutrient Data for 11012, Asparagus, Cooked, Boiled, Drained
- Harvard University Health Services: Fiber Content of Foods in Common Portions
- Food Chemistry: Evaluation of the Antioxidant Activity of Asparagus, Broccoli and Their Juices
- Food Network: Healthy How-To: Steaming Veggies
- Food.com: Kitchen Dictionary - Asparagus
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: What Counts as a Cup of Vegetables?
- Michigan Nutrition Network: Harvest of the Month - Asparagus
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: What Foods are in the Vegetable Group?
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: How Many Vegetables are Needed Daily or Weekly?
Michelle Kerns writes for a variety of print and online publications and specializes in literature and science topics. She has served as a book columnist since 2008 and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Kerns studied English literature and neurology at UC Davis.