So many of us love onions! White, red, yellow, sweet, or otherwise, onions pack a punch of incredible health benefits. Sure they taste awesome, but it’s even better when something that tastes great is actually good for you!
Chock full of nutrients, antioxidants, flavonoids, polyphenols and other great stuff, onion nutrition can help you maintain vibrant health starting with better blood sugar levels. They also facilitate in building strong bones and are protective against inflammation, which is at the root of most diseases. Studies have linked onions to healing or reducing cancer, improved heart health, reducing arthritis, helping repair asthma, aiding with diabetes and helping ease or reduce neurodegenerative disorders.
Onions (formal name, Allium Cepa L) are a member of the Liliaceae plant family, which also includes other flavorful allium vegetables like garlic and leeks. Allium vegetables contain therapeutic oils that hold sulfur compounds (cysteine sulfoxides), which are partially responsible for their signature smell and taste, but also for many of the health benefits of onions.
Some of onion’s most important antioxidants include flavonoids like Quercetin and Anthocyanins. At least 25 different flavonols have been identified across all onion varities! Quercetin is considered an antihistamine phytonutrient, which is often found in allergy products because it can lower the effects of histamines on the immune system. Anthocyanins, the same type of antioxidants found in red berries, are responsible for giving red onions their deep color. Another form of onions’ flavonoids are alkenyl cysteine sulphoxides (ACSOs), sulfur compounds that have been reported to have a range of health benefits, including anti-carcinogenic properties, anti-platelet activity, anti-thrombotic activity, anti-asthmatic and antibiotic effects.
Did you Know? When your eyes water when cutting an onion, it’s because cutting you are puncturing their cell membranes that store ACSOs. While it might be inconvenient to tear up while cooking, as you can see it’s a small price to pay for the amazing power of onions and what they can do for you!
Onion Nutrition Facts
You may like sweet onion varieties best because they tend to have a milder taste and can even be eaten raw. Vadalia onions and shallots are very popular because the are mild and flavorful. But, compared to white and red onions, these usually have a lower percentage of beneficial compounds. According to onion nutrition research, yellow onions contain the most quercetin and also the most sulfuric compounds, but red onions are higher in other protective antioxidants (as indicated by their color).
Sweeter onions are left in the soil longer before being harvested so more of their carbohydrates have a chance to turn to sugars, hence their sweeter taste. Some research suggests onion nutrition improves as onions are left in the ground longer. In general, the longer onions are left in the ground, the sweeter they taste but the lower phytonutrient count they have. Usually, the more potent the smell and taste of an onion is, the more nutrients are present. The more potent the onion, the more your eyes cry!
One cup of raw, chopped onions contains about:
0 grams fat
2 grams protein
2 grams fiber
7 grams of sugar
8 milligrams vitamin C (20 percent DV)
0.2 milligrams vitamin B6 (10 percent DV)
0.2 milligrams manganese (10 percent DV)
22 milligrams folate (8 percent DV)
234 milligrams potassium (7 percent DV)
46 milligrams phosphorus (5 percent DV)
0.07 vitamin B1 thiamine (5 percent DV)
Onion Health Benefits
Natural Cancer Fighter
According to many clinical studies looking at onion nutrition benefits, onions help reduce the risk of developing colon, ovarian and mouth cancers through their rich supply of antioxidants that prevent cell damage. Onion’s sulfur compounds have been found in studies to prevent the growth of tumors and cancer development by protecting cells from mutation and inducing Apoptosis.
Even consuming onions just several times per week has been linked to cancer protective benefits. But, of course, the more you eat, the more cancer protection you receive!
Protects Heart Health
Onions have fibrinolytic benefits, meaning they provide cardiovascular protection by reducing the risk of blood clot formation. Additionally, they can protect against “bad” LDL cholesterol. They do this by limiting the activity of harmful free radicals within blood vessels, therefore lowering oxidative stress and improving blood circulation and blood pressure levels.
Helps Maintain Strong Bones
Onions nutrition has positive benefits for bone health because onions can help foster greater bone mineral density, which lowers the risk for fractures, especially in women. Women who consume onions once a day or more had an overall bone density that was 5 percent greater than individuals who do not eat them. The women who eat a lot of onions decrease their risk of hip fractures by more than 20 percent versus those who never consume onions.
One possible mechanism responsible for the bone-building benefits of onion nutrition might be onions’ GPCS substances (gamma-L-glutamyl-trans-S-1-propenyl-L-cysteine sulfoxides), which help inhibit the breakdown of bone and prevent osteoporosis and reverse corticosteroid-induced bone loss.
Eating Onions Helps Fight Diabetes
Studies have shown that onion extract can help fight diabetes because onion intake may be effective for lowering plasma glucose concentrations and body weight. Onions are an effective, natural way to control the level of blood sugar released into the bloodstream and prevent insulin resistance.
Onion nutrition research also shows that onions supply Chromium, which is beneficial for controlling blood glucose and may be beneficial for preventing diabetes.
Lowers Risk of Arthritis and Asthma
Because onions are a great anti-inflammatory food, they’re one of the best vegetable choices if you suffer from painful inflammatory diseases like arthritis or asthma. Additionally, quercetin found in onions may be especially beneficial for arthritis sufferers because it helps inhibit inflammation-causing leukotrienes, prostaglandins and histamines that worsen pain and swelling.
Onions Defend Against Respiratory Infections
The next time you’re suffering from a cold or respiratory illness, try consuming more onions as a natural way to beat that cold. Experts believe that certain onion nutrition phyonutrients can increase immune defense, fight inflammation, reduce mucus in the nasal passages, lungs and respiratory system; and can help you feel better quicker.
Did you Know? Onions are famous for their fertility benefits! Antioxidants have a big impact on sperm health in particular, so onions can be a great natural way to improve fertility!
The History of Onions
Many ancient populations believed that onion nutrition has a beneficial effect on disease treatment and should be part of a healing diet, so records show that onions have been used worldwide as a valuable medicinal and food source for thousands of years. Although there’s no conclusive evidence as to where they first appeared, onions history goes back about 5,000 years to parts of the Middle East.
Onions might be one of the earliest cultivated crops because they were less perishable than other foods of the time, last a long time, are transportable, can easily be grown year-round, and grow well in different types of climates and soils. They can also be dried and preserved, which has made them a valuable source of nutrients during times of famine.
Some records show that onions grew in parts of China, India and Egypt around the time of 3500 B.C. In Egypt, onions were even considered to be an object of worship and symbolized eternity because of the onion’s “circle-within-a-circle” structure. Paintings of onions can even be found within the inner walls of the ancient Egyptian pyramids and tombs! Onions were also eaten by the Israelites and mentioned as one of the Bible foods, along with cucumbers, melons, leeks and garlic.
Today, onions are consumed around the world, and luckily they’re even increasing in popularity significantly in the U.S., as more people learn about the ways that onions nutrition can link flavor and health. The U.S. is now the third leading provider of onions; the biggest growers of onions today include China and India, followed by the U.S.
How to Buy Onions
A benefit of onion nutrition that might surprise you? Reports show that onions are actually one of the vegetables least contaminated with pesticide chemicals. In fact, some sources say that they’re the very lowest vegetable in terms of storing pesticide residues.
Therefore, buying organic onions isn’t always necessary if you’re looking to eat healthy on a budget; you can save your money to spend on other produce instead that tends to be sprayed win higher levels of chemicals (like spinach, apples and berries).
Onions are known to last a long time, especially for a vegetable. You can store onions on your countertop for just about a month before they start to go bad so there’s no downside to stocking up on them when you’re at the grocery store.
Best Ways to Prepare and Store Onions
Don’t store onions next to potatoes! When they’re left near potatoes, onions absorb an ethylene gas that potatoes give off, which tends to spoil at a much quicker rate. Keep onions and potatoes separate when storing, and make sure to keep both onions and potatoes unrefrigerated for the best value!
Because they have a strong odor and smell, keep them separate from all other foods in a tightly sealed container so your whole refrigerator or freezer doesn’t wind up absorbing the onion smell and taste!
How To Cook Onions
There are dozens of ways to use onions in healthy recipes every single day. You can add them to eggs, throw them in to soup, try raw red onions on salads, add some to quinoa recipes or brown rice pilaf dishes, use them to make sauces in order to lend flavor to fish or other proteins, and many other ways too.
Different onions are best in different types of recipes. For example, red onions and shallots are usually the kind eaten raw, while white and yellow onions are preferred when cooked. No matter the type you choose, keep in mind that a high percentage of valuable phytonutrients, which are the keys to the many onion nutrition benefits described above, are stored toward the surface of the vegetable right under its thin, paper-like outer peel. To maximize the benefits of onions, only peel off the onion’s outermost layer and consume the rest of the fleshy, moist parts.
Something else interesting about preparing onions? Studies show when you cut onions open, if you leave them exposed to air for about 10 minutes their phytonutrient content actually increases and becomes more absorbable. If you have the time when cooking, chop your onions and leave them on a cutting board for several minutes before adding them to recipes.
You can bring out the naturally sweet flavor of onions, as well as the absorbability of onion’s nutrients, by briefly cooking them. The thinner you slice onions, the more quickly they will cook. The longer you cook them, the more their sugars are released and the sweeter they taste.
Did you Know? You can juice onions for extract and the potency is off-the-chart healthy! It’s really strong, so only use the extract for specific reasons such as making a juice remedy for colds, or creating extract for cooking.
Now that you’ve learned about the joys of onions, be sure to eat lots of them regularly and you’ll feel fit as a fiddle!
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