Health Benefits of Onions

I am still not through with my series on spices and I am talking here about one of my favorite herbs — onions. That may come as a surprise as onions are probably too pungent for many but I do love eating onions raw, in a side dish composed of onions and tomatoes drizzled with soy sauce and coconut vinegar or lemons.

Herbs and spices have higher concentrations of nutrients, phytochemicals and antioxidants compared to fruits and vegetables and whether they’re eaten raw or dried, they are easy sources of great protective substances.

Onions, scientifically named Allium cepa, are said to have a hundred uses, ranging from culinary, ornamental and therapeutic ones. The approximately 600 varieties of onions across the globe give dishes everywhere a pungent, sweetish, mildly hot and spicy flavor.

Onions are such common herbs that we often take them for granted. The fact is that onions are second to tomatoes as the most important crop. So commonly used are onions that we have never bothered ourselves to  know their health benefits.

Onions belong to the same family which includes garlic, leeks, scallions, chives and shallots. The intense aroma typical of this herb family is due to the high amounts of sulfur-containing compounds such as thi0sulfates, sulfoxides and thiosulfonates. Sulfur-containing compounds kill bacteria, even the highly pathogenic ones such as Salmonella (which causes typhoid fever), E. coli (which causes diarrhea) and Bacillus subtilis. (I remember talking about these bad guys in the context of my college thesis on breastmilk.)

The early settlers in America found onions to be highly effective treatments for infectious respiratory disorders such as colds, cough and pneumonia. Onions are also widely used in traditional chinese medicine as cures for bacterial infections, angina and asthma.

Onions are no longer just folk treatments as even the World Health Organization has recommended the use of onions in the treatment of respiratory disorders after having reviewed the numerous studies which documented the efficacy of onions in alleviating bronchial constriction in asthmatic patients.

A healthy intestinal flora is found to be essential in enabling humans to fight off infections and to manufacture vitamins and minerals. Onions contain fructo-oligosaccharides which promote the growth and proliferation of good bacteria in the gut.

Promotes a healthy cardiovascular system
There are two compounds in onions which work synergistically to promote cardiovascular health. The first group of compounds are the sulfides which bring down the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the body. The second group consists of the flavonoids which lower blood pressure and thin the blood.

Sulfides in onions are now known to prevent the formation of tumors and cancers. A perfect example is the low incidence of stomach cancer in Georgia where the famous Vidalia onions are grown and widely eaten raw or cooked.  Incidence of stomach cancer is also observed to be low in Greece and China which have high onion consumption as well.

The protective powers and culinary appeal of spices should motivate us all to up our intake of onions. Eat it raw for maximum benefit and use it liberally in your cooking. Double the amount of onions your recipes call for — you will find that this actually improves the taste.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *