Broccoli vs Asparagus: Which is Healthier?

Broccoli and asparagus are both integral parts of a healthy diet.

Although broccoli and asparagus are vegetables that share many similarities, they have some differences that may influence your dietary choices.

In this article, we will be comparing the nutritional composition and health benefits of broccoli against asparagus and answer other common questions between the two.

Overview of Broccoli and Asparagus

Broccoli (Brassica oleraceae) is a member of the Brassicaceae family (also known as “the mustards” or “the cabbage family”). Broccoli belongs to the cruciferous vegetable group together with foods like cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, and collards.

Worldwide broccoli and cauliflower production increased from 15 MMT to 27 MMT in the past two decades. China and India remain the biggest producers covering over two-thirds of the worldwide broccoli supply (1).

Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) is a perennial vegetable from the Asparagaceae family. In the past, asparagus belonged to the lily family with onion and garlic.

Production of asparagus doubled worldwide in the last two decades. China is the biggest producer of asparagus and accounts for over 90% of the global supply (2).

Broccoli is a cold-weather crop, whereas asparagus is a temperate vegetable.

Both broccoli and asparagus are highly perishable and can be consumed raw or cooked (boiled, steamed, or fried). However, compared to broccoli, asparagus spoils quickly after harvest (3).

Nutritional Composition Comparison

NutrientBroccoli, Raw, Per 100gAsparagus, Raw, Per 100g
Calories (kcal)3920
Protein (g)2.572.2
Total Lipids, Fats (g)0.340.12
Carbohydrates (g)6.273.88
Dietary Fiber (g)2.42.1
Total Sugars (g)1.41.88
Vitamin A (µg)838
Vitamin E (mg)0.151.13
Vitamin K (µg)10241.6
Vitamin B1, Thiamin (mg)0.080.14
Vitamin B2, Riboflavin (mg)0.110.14
Vitamin B3, Niacin (mg)0.640.98
Vitamin B5, Pantothenic Acid (mg)0.610.27
Vitamin B6, Pyridoxine (mg)0.190.09
Vitamin B9, Folate (µg)6552
Vitamin B12, Cobalamin00
Vitamin C, Ascorbic Acid (mg)91.35.6
Calcium (mg)4624
Magnesium (mg)2114
Sodium (mg)362
Potassium (mg)303202
Phosphorus (mg)6752
Iron (mg)0.692.14
Zinc (mg)0.420.54
Copper (mg)0.060.19
Manganese (mg)0.20.16
Selenium (µg)1.62.3
Β-carotene (µg)93449
Quercetin (mg)13.714
Kaempferol (mg)7.21.4

Broccoli vs Asparagus Health Comparison

Broccoli and asparagus are not energy-dense foods. But they contain several bioactive compounds, minerals, and vitamins that have vital health benefits.

The nutritional composition of broccoli and asparagus is similar. However, just like the shared nutritional similarities, they also possess unique differences. And we will look at these similarities and differences in detail based on available scientific findings.

Asparagus Contains More Antioxidants

Oxidative stress contributes to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, cognitive impairment, and aging (4) (5). Antioxidants are crucial in preventing our body from oxidative stress by scavenging free radicals.

Both asparagus and broccoli have high antioxidant activity (6). This is because of antioxidants like vitamin E, vitamin C, carotenes, flavonoids, and polyphenols in these vegetables.

According to comparative studies, asparagus has a higher antioxidant activity than broccoli (7) (8). The difference in the concentration of total phenolic compounds between asparagus and broccoli is not significant. Asparagus, however, contains more flavonoids than broccoli (3- to 5x higher) (9).

Asparagus contains several bioactive compounds including polyphenols, alkaloids, sterols, flavonoids, saponins, hydrocinnamic acids, and fructans (10).

These bioactive components allow asparagus to play several biological roles as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immunostimulant, antihepatotoxic, antibacterial, and antioxytocic (11).

Both May Help Prevent Certain Cancers

The incorporation of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli in the diet has been shown to reduce the risk of different cancers. (12)

The anticancer potential of cruciferous vegetables is associated with bioactive compounds like isothiocyanates, indol-3-carbinol, and sulphoraphane (13).

Several animal studies indicated an inverse association of bioactive compounds in broccoli with:

One study even reported a 40% reduction in prostate cancer risk in people consuming three or more half-cup weekly servings of broccoli compared to a single weekly consumption (20).

Asparagus also contains compounds such as saponins with anticarcinogenic properties.

Several studies are indicating the chemopreventive properties of bioactive components in asparagus against:

  • Endometrial cancer (21)
  • Breast cancer (22)
  • Ovarian cancer (23)
  • Colon cancer (24).

The research on the anticancer properties of bioactive compounds in broccoli and asparagus is still ongoing.

Both are Great for Cardiovascular Health

Bioactive compounds in broccoli can lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels in diabetes patients. The bioactive compounds also increased antioxidant capacity and decreased DNA oxidation in smokers (25).

Consumption of broccoli reportedly lowers the risk of cardiovascular diseases, a trait attributed to flavonoids in broccoli (26). Another study supported this finding by indicating the role of bioactive components in broccoli in lowering cholesterol levels in patients with hypercholesterolemia (27).

Sulforaphane is among the bioactive compounds in broccoli with preventive roles against cholesterol-induced inflammation and oxidative stress (28).

Asparagus is also rich in flavonoids, especially quercetin and kaempferol. Quercetin and kaempferol have anti-inflammatory, anticancer, blood pressure-lowering properties (29) (30).

The ant-inflammatory and thrombin-inhibitory properties of quercetin recently piqued the interest of researchers for its role in the treatment of COVID-19 patients. (31) (32)

Broccoli and asparagus both contain a decent amount of dietary fiber. And fiber-rich foods have been linked with lowering the risk of heart disease. (33) (34)

Broccoli Can Help Reduce the Risk of Diabetes

There is evidence indicating broccoli consumption may help control blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. This insulin resistance property is assumed to come from bioactive components in broccoli, like sulphoraphane (35).

Another study reported that sulphoraphane can suppress glucose production and reduce fasting blood glucose in patients with type 2 diabetes (36).

Both broccoli and asparagus contain a good amount of dietary fiber. In addition to bioactive components, research findings indicate that increased intake of dietary fiber is linked with improved glycemic control, decreased insulin levels, reduced fasting glucose levels, and lowered plasma lipid in patients with diabetes (37) (38).

Broccoli Contains Lots of Vitamin C and Folate

Broccoli is an excellent source of vitamin C. A 100-gram portion of broccoli can provide you with your entire daily need for vitamin C (asparagus will only contribute 10%) (39) (40) (41).

Vitamin C plays beneficial roles in the prevention of scurvy, amelioration of common cold, wound healing, iron absorption, and improving immune functions (42).

Both broccoli and asparagus are good sources of folate.  

Folate is an essential B-vitamin with roles in DNA synthesis, red blood cells formation, and amino acid metabolism. Its deficiency can lead to macrocytic anemia and birth defects.

Folate is especially important during pre-pregnancy and early pregnancy periods to prevent birth defects like spina bifida (43).

A 100 grams portion of broccoli provides adults with 16% of their daily folate needs (13% for asparagus) and pregnant women with 11% of their daily requirement (8% for asparagus) (44) (45) (46).

Both Contain Lots of Minerals

Nearly 1.3 billion people are affected by high blood pressure worldwide. (44)

Several studies reported the role of potassium intake in managing high blood pressure.

Compared to asparagus, broccoli is a better dietary source of potassium. Consumption of 100 grams of broccoli can cover 6% of your daily potassium need. Asparagus is a descent dietary potassium source as well.

Increasing potassium intake while reducing sodium not only helps manage high blood pressure but potentially helps prevent kidney disease, stroke, and cardiovascular diseases. (45) (46)

Broccoli is a good source of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and manganese. Asparagus on the other hand is a good dietary source of calcium, phosphorus, iron, and copper.

Broccoli and asparagus contain potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and zinc, vital for healthy and strong bones (47) (48) (49) (50).

In addition, broccoli is a good source of magnesium and manganese, while asparagus is an ideal iron and copper source.

Other Broccoli vs Asparagus Comparisons

Appearance

Broccoli has a thick stem with a tree-like or dome-shaped appearance. It is harvested when it has a blue-green or green color, and the dome has tightened. If yellow petals appear, they indicate over maturity (51).

Asparagus has a thin long rod structure with a spear-like head. The mature asparagus plant has a height of around 91 centimeters. The edible part of asparagus is the stem (spear). Asparagus can have the appearance of green, white, or purple (52).

Texture

The texture of broccoli varies on the part of the vegetable consumed.

The top of raw broccoli resembles a bunch of small soft grains stacked together in a dome-like shape. The stem of broccoli is hard and crunchy. When cooked, both the top and bottom parts of broccoli tend to soften.

Texture is a critical physical quality parameter for asparagus. A good asparagus stem should not be woody, stringy, or fibrous. White asparagus has a tender texture in comparison.

The level of cooking determines the texture of cooked asparagus and ranges from soft and meaty to crunchy.

Taste

Broccoli has an earthy and grassy flavor with mild bitterness. The perceived bitterness, however, varies between individuals (53).

Asparagus also has a strong flavor. The taste of asparagus resembles that of broccoli and green beans but with a much intense savory flavor. Quality asparagus offers a full flavor with a delicate balance between sweet and bitter.

White asparagus and purple asparagus are relatively sweeter than green asparagus. Asparagus tends to taste more bitter as it grows old compared to when it’s fresh.

Smell

Raw broccoli has an earthy smell. When cooked, broccoli releases a sulfur-like odor. This odor doesn’t necessarily mean that the broccoli has gone bad. This odor gets stronger as broccoli gets older after harvesting.

Raw asparagus also has a slight earthy odor. When cooked, asparagus emits volatile sulfur-containing compounds that resemble the broccoli olfactory tones.

Which is Healthier?

When it comes to broccoli and asparagus, both are great choices. They both have great health benefits and both can make up a healthy part of your diet. The main differences come down to which type of vitamins you know you need more of.

If you want more vitamin C, folate, calcium, potassium, or phosphorus to your diet, then choose broccoli. If you need more vitamin A, vitamin E, niacin, selenium, or iron, then asparagus would be the better choice.

When making a choice, always keep in mind that a single food will not provide you with all the entire nutrients your body needs.

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