Cooking for the Sensitive Gut

What can I eat – asparagus?

The long, soft, green spears of asparagus are one of the first luxuries of the garden calendar. Although asparagus is not as expensive as it once was it remains a celebrity amongst vegetables. Important enough to be teamed up with another seasonal delight – wild sea trout but humble enough to be eaten simply with a little melted butter.

The asparagus season in the UK is short and usually lasts between 24th April to 21st June. The season has to stop mid June to give the asparagus crowns time to recover enough to be productive the following year. If there is cold weather leading up to April the crop is delayed and the season shortened.  An eight week season can easily be reduced to four if the weather does not suit this fickle vegetable.

Asparagus imported from far flung countries like Peru is available all year round in supermarkets but it is English asparagus that is regarded as superior in terms of texture and flavour.

Asparagus is a fern and if left unpicked the spears unfurl to become feathery fronds that look quite beautiful in flower arrangements. It is grown in the sandy, low lying, dry, parts of the UK such as the flat areas of Suffolk, the Wirral and East Yorkshire.

But this background information is all very well. The question you are dying to ask if you have a sensitive gut is “Can I eat it?’

The short answer is yes – we think you can eat a small portion but there is a longer answer.

Jane Muir and her colleagues at Monash University in Melbourne found asparagus contained insignificant amounts of fructans and very low levels of free fructose in their analysis. This was reported in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Other researches have confirmed these results but even the dissenters have found relatively low levels of fructans in asparagus.

There may be reasons for the differences in the findings. Many factors affect the fructan and fructose levels in foods including how long the vegetable has been stored, the conditions in which it has been stored, which part of the vegetable has been analysed and any cooking processes the vegetable has been subjected to.

But what about the fructose content of asparagus? Remember fructose needs a matched dose of glucose to be absorbed effectively otherwise it can cause diarrhoea as it draws fluid into the large intestine.

Asparagus does contain some fructose but is it enough to trigger symptoms?  I asked Nick to clarify this.

He said: “From the USDA database,  asparagus has just 1.30g total sugars per 100g portion and just 0.37g excess fructose compared to glucose.  Bearing in mind that a solution of  fructose that has the same osmolality as plasma would have a concentration of approximately 50g/litre, 0.37g excess fructose  would retain 7ml of water in the gut and even if no fructose was absorbed it would only retain 16ml.

So it seems that a moderate 100g portion of asparagus is unlikely to trigger diarrhoea.

The thing to do is to relax and enjoy 4-6 thin spears of asparagus with rice or potato.”

How to cook asparagus

Either steam or stand asparagus upright in a pan remembering the delicate tips need less cooking than the thicker stems. Remove the asparagus spears from the water or steam when they have passed the vivid green stage and when their colour softens. This usually takes about 5 or 6 minutes at a rolling boil but it depends on the thickness of the asparagus. If the spears will stand erect then they are not quite ready.So you need to set a timer and keep an eye on it.

Asparagus can also be roasted in a hot oven ( 200C/400F). The spears need to be laid in a roasting tin with just a little seasoning and a drizzle of olive oil and cooked for 10 minutes. A sprinkle of finely grated Parmesan cheese finishes them off perfectly.

Asparagus with black rice, quinoa, tomato sauce and pesto

Asparagus is lovely eaten on its own with a little butter but it is even better with a sauce. A sauce made from fresh tomatoes is perfect and so too is pesto. If you are feeling like a really tasty meal a combination of the two also works well. Any extra pesto or tomato sauce can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days and used later.

Serves 4

  • 200 g black rice (you can use red or Basmati rice instead)
  • 100 g quinoa
  • 250 g asparagus
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp good quality olive oil

For the tomato sauce

  • 4 plum tomatoes – they need to be a good size
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic sliced (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary needles chopped
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the pesto

  • 1 medium sized bunch of fresh basil
  • 50 g Parmesan cheese, grated finely
  • 50 g  pine nuts
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 100 ml olive oil


Place the rice in a saucepan with 2 litres of water. Bring the water to the boil and simmer the rice for 25 minutes until tender. Take a little of the rice from the water with a fork and taste it. The rice grains should be chewy but not hard when cooked. Drain the rice and place it in a bowl.

Place the quinoa in a separate saucepan with 500 ml water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat slightly and cook for 10 minutes. The grains of quinoa will unfurl when the grain is cooked. Drain the quinoa and add it to the rice and mix the two grains together well with a drizzle of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Snap the woody ends off the asparagus and steam it until tender. Lay the steamed asparagus across the black rice and quinoa.

For the tomato sauce

Pack the tomatoes in a small bowl and pour enough boiling water over to cover. Leave for a minute, allow to cool slightly and remove their skins. Cut the tomatoes in half and remove the pips. You do not have to do this step but if you enjoy a smooth sauce it is worth it. Roughly chop the tomato flesh.

Place the olive oil in a pan and fry the sliced garlic cloves. Remove the garlic as it turns brown and discard. Add the chopped tomatoes, rosemary and bay leaf. Cook until the tomatoes soften.  Season with salt and pepper.

For the pesto

Grind the pine nuts in a pestle and mortar (or food processor), add the Parmesan cheese and about half of the basil leaves. Pound these ingredients together and then add the remaining basil leaves. Continue to pound these ingredients until they have been broken down to a rough paste.

Gradually stir in the olive oil and season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To serve: drizzle the tomato sauce and pesto over the asparagus and serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and some new potatoes if you hungry.

This entry was written by Joan Ransley and published on May 15, 2015 at 2:15 pm. It’s filed under Dinner, Lunch, Side dish, Snack, Starter and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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