Sorry, Popeye. Though I likes me spinach just fine, my “superfood” of choice is asparagus.
A lanky, green-tipped crusader of spring vegetables, asparagus belongs to a group of health-promoting, nutrient-dense foods that includes such seemingly pedestrian fare as blueberries, salmon, tomatoes, broccoli, walnuts — and yes, spinach.
But unlike mere mortals, superfoods are high in a host of phytochemicals, naturally occurring compounds that prevent diseases ranging from heart disease to cancer to birth defects.
Although the link between food and health has been obvious since ancient times, the modern study of phytochemicals is the first step to understanding the various ways these nutrients work in the human body.
Meantime, eat your spears and you’ll tackle a variety of common health ailments.
A dieter’s dream, asparagus is low in calories and virtually fat-free.
A cup of asparagus contains 3 grams of fiber that can help lower cholesterol and aid in digestion, according to Fight Back With Food by Reader’s Digest.
Asparagus contains high doses of beta carotene, a potent antioxidant found in red, orange, yellow and dark green vegetables, which the body converts to vitamin A. A rich source of folate, it can help prevent neural tube defects during pregnancy.
But best of all, asparagus tastes great — especially with a drizzle of olive oil.
Shopping tip: Although asparagus is increasingly available year-round, the local growing season is short, from mid-April through Memorial Day. For more information about Pendleton’s, a you-pick farm in Lawrence, go to pendletons.com.
Storage tip: Store stalks in the refrigerator. Remove the band and place them upright in about 2 inches of water, like a flower bouquet.
Cooking tip: To get even, bite-sized pieces of asparagus, cut the stalks in uniform pieces using a diagonal cut.
Lemon chicken pasta with asparagus
Makes 4 servings
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
12 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1/4-inch wide strips
1/2 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
2/3 cup shredded carrot
2/3 cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 cup whipped light cream cheese
21/2 cups uncooked gemelli pasta, cooked according to package directions
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
Salt and pepper, to taste
Coat a large nonstick skillet with nonstick vegetable cooking spray. Add oil and place over medium-high heat. Add garlic; after 30 seconds add chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes. Add asparagus and carrot, cooking about 3 minutes, or until chicken is fully cooked. Remove from skillet and set aside.
Add chicken broth, lemon juice and cream cheese to skillet. Cook 3 minutes or until cream cheese melts, stir constantly with a whisk. Return chicken mixture to skillet; add remaining ingredients and blend well.
Per serving: 483 calories (25 percent from fat), 13 grams total fat (4 grams saturated), 61 milligrams cholesterol, 56 grams carbohydrates, 34 grams protein, 380 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.
Recipes developed for The Kansas City Star by certified home economists Kathryn Moore and Roxanne Wyss.