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White vs. Green Asparagus: Is One More Nutritious Than the Other?

Kristie Leong M.D. is a family practitioner who believes in the power of nutrition and a healthy lifestyle to prevent and fight illness.

Asparagus season is in full swing, and if you're lucky enough to live in an area where it grows, chances are you've seen both white and green varieties at the market.

Asparagus is one of the most popular veggies in the world. The long, sleek stalks are prized for their mild flavor and tender texture, but they’re also packed with nutrients that help keep bodies healthy.

Green asparagus gets its color from chlorophyll, a pigment that absorbs light from the sun to help plants carry out photosynthesis while white asparagus lacks chlorophyll, giving it a white color. It is deficient in chlorophyll because farmers harvest it before it breaks through the soil and encounters sunlight.

In terms of taste and texture, white and green asparagus differ. White asparagus has a more delicate flavor and is more tender than green asparagus. All asparagus, but especially the white variety, is a delicacy. So, you’ll pay more for white asparagus. The white version is also harder to find relative to the green version.

Nutritional Differences

White asparagus has fewer calories than green asparagus but also has less fiber and protein. There are also differences in their vitamin content. The white variety has almost double the amount of vitamin C as the green variety. Vitamin C is an antioxidant vitamin that’s important for healthy joints and skin. It also plays a key role in immune health.

Green asparagus has more vitamin A than green asparagus. Both the white and green varieties contain vitamin E. Since vitamins A and E are fat-soluble vitamins, you’ll absorb more vitamins A and E if you eat asparagus with a source of fat, like butter or olive oil. That’s why sauteed asparagus is a healthy option.

Asparagus, particularly green asparagus, is also an excellent source of B-vitamin, folate, a vitamin that helps regulate cell growth and cell division. Plus, it’s rich in potassium, a mineral that plays a key role in heart and blood vessel health. Potassium helps balance out the harmful effects of consuming too much dietary sodium.

Most vegetables are also rich in vitamin K, involved in blood clotting, and asparagus is no exception.

Good Sources of Antioxidants

Studies show that asparagus contains antioxidants, compounds that help fight free radicals. Antioxidants are common in many vegetables, and they help protect cells and their genetic material called DNA from free radical damage, also known as oxidative stress. That’s one reason nutritionists and healthcare providers alike encourage people to eat their vegetables.

Strange Urine Odor

If you eat white or green asparagus, you may notice your urine has a strange aroma. It comes from asparagusic acid in asparagus. Your digestive tract breaks asparagusic acid down into sulfur compounds that cause the sulfur-like aroma. Strangely, only certain people can smell this odor due to differences in genetics.

Both Varieties Are Healthy!

Whether you choose white or green asparagus, you’re getting a tasty combination of nutrients and fiber. Plus, there are many ways to enjoy it including roasted, grilled or steamed, or raw in salads. If you are buying it fresh, look for stalks that are firm and straight. If they bend easily when you hold them, they may be too old. The tips should be moist, but not slimy or mushy.

You can store fresh asparagus in the refrigerator for up to five days if it is wrapped in newspaper or paper towels and placed in an unsealed plastic bag with a few holes poked in it. Do not wash the stalks until just before cooking it since moisture will cause the spears to rot more quickly.

If you’re looking for asparagus, check your local farmer’s market and help your local community out. It will ensure you get the tastiest and healthiest version of this nutritious vegetable.

References

  • "10 Health Benefits of Asparagus." 03 Nov. 2020, https://www.health.com/nutrition/asparagus-health-benefits.
  • Lei L, Ou L, Yu X. The antioxidant effect of Asparagus cochinchinensis (Lour.) Merr. shoot in D-galactose induced mice aging model and in vitro. J Chin Med Assoc. 2016 Apr;79(4):205-11. doi: 10.1016/j.jcma.2015.06.023. Epub 2016 Feb 28. PMID: 26935854.
  • McDonough AA, Veiras LC, Guevara CA, Ralph DL. Cardiovascular benefits associated with higher dietary K+ vs. lower dietary Na+: evidence from population and mechanistic studies. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2017 Apr 1;312(4):E348-E356. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.00453.2016. Epub 2017 Feb 7. PMID: 28174181; PMCID: PMC5406991.
  • Fan R, Yuan F, Wang N, Gao Y, Huang Y. Extraction and analysis of antioxidant compounds from the residues of Asparagus officinalis L. J Food Sci Technol. 2015 May;52(5):2690-700. doi: 10.1007/s13197-014-1360-4. Epub 2014 Apr 20. PMID: 25892766; PMCID: PMC4397332.
  • "Why Asparagus Makes Your Urine Smell | Science| Smithsonian Magazine." 03 May. 2013, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-asparagus-makes-your-urine-smell-49961252/.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.