Onions are one of the healthiest foods you can eat, rich in vitamin C, sulphuric compounds, flavonoids, and other phytochemicals, an onion a day may help keep the doctor away.
Onions are surprisingly high in beneficial polyphenols, which play an important role in preventing and reducing the progression of diabetes, cancer, and neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases.
Polyphenols also play an important role as a prebiotic, increasing the ratio of beneficial bacteria in your gut, which is important for health, weight management, and disease prevention.
Onions contain more polyphenols than even garlic or leeks, and are one of the best sources of a type of polyphenol called flavonoids, especially the flavonoid quercetin. Onions Provide Disease-Fighting Quercetin. Quercetin is a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties that may help fight chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. In lab studies, quercetin was shown to prevent histamine release (histamines are the chemicals that cause allergic reactions. This makes quercetin-rich foods like onions “natural antihistamines.” In addition, quercetin may:
- Reduce the risk of
- Help prevent death from heart disease
- Reduce blood pressure
- Relieve symptoms of interstitial cystitis
- Reduce symptoms of prostatitis
- Inhibit the growth of cancer cells from breast, colon, prostate, ovarian, endometrial and lung tumors
- Lower lung cancer risk, especially among smokers
While apples and tea also contain quercetin, onions appear to be a particularly good source. Research from Wageningen Agricultural University in the Netherlands showed quercetin absorption from onions is double that from tea and three times that from apples.
Research also showed consuming onions leads to increased quercetin concentrations in the blood. As reported by The World’s Healthiest Foods:
“… On an ounce-for-ounce basis, onions rank in the top 10 of commonly eaten vegetables in their quercetin content. The flavonoid content of onions can vary widely, depending on the exact variety and growing conditions.
Although the average onion is likely to contain less than 100 milligrams of quercetin per 3-1/2 ounces, some onions do provide this amount.
And while 100 milligrams may not sound like a lot, in the United States, moderate vegetable eaters average only twice this amount for all flavonoids (not just quercetin) from all vegetables per day.”
Quercetin is not degraded by low-heat cooking, such as simmering. When preparing a soup with onions, the quercetin will be transferred into the broth of the soup, making onion soup an easy-to-make superfood.
Onions Provide the Valuable Prebiotic Inulin and May Help Prevent Ulcers
Prebiotics are indigestible to you, but they help nourish beneficial bacteria in your body. These beneficial bacteria in turn assist with digestion and absorption of your food, and play a significant role in your immune function. One such prebiotic is inulin, a water-soluble form of dietary fiber that’s found in onions.
Inulin has multiple benefits to your health. Among obese women, consuming inulin beneficially changed the gut microbiota composition in a way that might help promote weight loss or lower the risk of diabetes .
Further, among women with type 2 diabetes, those who took inulin had improved glycemic control and increased antioxidant activity. Inulin may even help relieve constipation. Flavonoid-rich foods like onions may also inhibit the growth of H. pylori, a type of bacteria responsible for most ulcers.
What Else Are Onions Good For?
Onions, which are very popular in French cuisine, are thought to play a role in the so-called “French Paradox” — the low incidence of heart disease among the French, despite their relatively high-calorie diet.
The sulfur compounds in onions, for instance, are thought to have anti-clotting properties as well as help to lower cholesterol and triglycerides. The allium and allyl disulphide in onions have also been found to decrease blood vessel stiffness by releasing nitric oxide.
This may reduce blood pressure, inhibit platelet clot formation and help decrease the risk of coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular diseases and stroke. The quercetin in onions is also beneficial, offering both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may boost heart health.
The many phytochemicals and other nutrients in onions work together to provide synergistic health benefits that reach body-wide. For instance, research has shown including onions in your diet may offer the following benefits:
- Prevent inflammatory processes associated with asthma
- Reduce symptoms associated with diabetes
- Lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides
- Reduce symptoms associated with osteoporosis and improve bone health
- Maintain gastrointestinal health by sustaining beneficial bacteria
- Diminish replication of HIV
- Reduced risk of neurodegenerative disorders
- Lower your risk of cataract formation
- Antimicrobial properties that may help reduce the rate of food-borne illness
- Improvement of intestinal flora, improved absorption of calcium and magnesium due to the fructans they contain
- Antibacterial and antifungal properties
- Lower risk of certain cancers
Be Careful Not to ‘Overpeel’ Onions
When removing the outer skin of an onion, take care to remove as little as possible. The outer layers of the flesh are thought to be the most nutritious, including concentrating the highest amounts of flavonoids.
If you find it difficult to accomplish this because you’re trying to chop your onion as quickly as possible to avoid “crying,” there are tricks that may help. Onions release a gas called lachrymatory factor (LF), which causes tearing. To lessen the rate of LF production, try chilling the onion for an hour before cutting.