Onions are one of those foods that people tend to avoid when they’re heading to a business meeting or going on a date. Personally, I can’t get enough of them. I happily devour them, whichever way they’re served — raw, sauteed or pickled. Not only do onions offer a punch of flavor to any dish, they also offer incredible health benefits.
An onion a day…
Perhaps the old saying about apples should be changed to “an onion a day keeps the doctor away,” according to a number of published studies. Onions are packed with anti-cancer chemicals, particularly effective against liver and colon cancer cells — and that is just the beginning.
Onions have healing power, helping your body heal in times of need. In the early 1900s, onions were used to fight off the plague. Onions were used for centuries for fevers, coughs and the flu. Onions are a powerful detoxifying element, rich in sulfur-containing compounds.
Related: 17 Reason To Eat More Onions
Onions are also one of the richest sources of the antioxidant quercetin. This is a flavonoid that helps reduce your risk of blood clots, lowers cholesterol, fights off symptoms of asthma, reduces your risk of infection and may even inhibit certain types of cancer. With anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antibiotic properties, onions cover all the bases.
While studying onions, researchers found that regular consumption may significantly reduce your risk of cancer. A study in the American Society for Clinical Nutrition found that both onion and garlic reduce risk of oral, esophageal, colorectal, laryngeal, breast, prostate, renal and ovarian cancer. Even onion powder improves health, combatting potentially harmful carcinogens.
In 2012, researchers published a study in the Journal of Agricultural Food and Chemistry. When adding onion powder to heat-processed meat, carcinogen formation decreased by 94.3 percent. It concluded that plant compounds, including onion, may prevent foodborne infections and carcinogenic exposure.
Consuming onions regularly can ward off chronic disease, and this pungent vegetable can also combat chronic pain. One study reported the analgesic properties of fresh onion juice, comparing its effects to morphine. Turns out that fresh onion juice can combat both acute and chronic pain, with a strong effect towards inflammation.
Are some onions better than others?
Before we compare onion varieties, it’s important to note that white, yellow and red onions all offer key health-boosting properties. There are some key differences, however. All being low on the glycemic index, all onions offer beneficial amounts of vitamin C. Although white onions contain slightly more fiber and sulfur, yellow and red onions offer a higher concentration of nutrients.
For instance, red onions are the most beneficial in terms of antioxidants, ahead of yellow and white. Yielding their deep, rich color, red onions also contain at least 25 different types of anthocyanins. Based on higher antioxidant properties, red onions appear to be the most beneficial when aiming to fight free radicals and chronic disease.
When studied at Cornell University, food science researchers focused on 10 different onion and shallot varieties. What they found was that this pungent vegetable offers potent antioxidants, as well as anti-proliferation effects — meaning, onions appear to inhibit cancer cell growth.
The more phytochemicals, such as phenolics and flavonoids an onion has, the stronger its effect. Researchers found that shallots had six times the phenolic content of Vidalia — the onion with the lowest content. Western yellow onions had 11 times more flavonoids, in comparison to Western whites — the variety with the fewest flavonoids.
Onions, in general, offer one of the richest sources of flavonoids available in the human diet. The consumption of flavonoids not only offers anti-cancer effects, but also antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic properties. Generally, the darker and more pungent onion varieties are the healthiest.
Consume a variety of onions
When consuming an onion, it’s important that you do not over peel. Perhaps you have noticed when peeling a red onion that the color is much more vibrant within the outer layers. Based on a key study, when peeling back the first two layers, you remove up to 75 percent of the antioxidant anthocyanins mentioned above.
Consume a variety of onions in order to maintain your health. Have at least one full red onion and three onions overall each week. Be sure that some of your intake is raw, increasing organic sulfur intake. Of course, the beneficial effects of onion will be further enhanced when consuming a balanced, nutrient-rich diet.
At the end of the day, onions aren’t something to cry over. Celebrate and enjoy these layered bulbs. To one-up the health benefits of an onion, try your hand at lacto-fermentation. That is, making pickled red onions that are irresistible and rich in probiotics.
— Krista Hillis