More than the veg that makes you cry, more than the tasty part of many meals - the other side of onions we don't often consider - more from Naturopath Victor Ihesie on the health benefits of onions.
Back then as a kid, onions were one of those vegetables I was very fond of.
My father, a naturopath, loved adding lots of them into any meal we cooked.
If he wanted to make "fried eggs" back then, you would be amazed at the number of onions he'd add to the raw egg mix before whisking and frying.
We all thought - 'he just loves the taste'; till (after much probing), he explained what drove his passion just after I entered my first year at senior secondary school (SS1).
My Dad gave 2 main reasons - the ability of these vegetables to reduce cholesterol levels and their effect on cancer prevention - both of these I'll take a closer look at later.
Onions - the backstory
They are thick bulb-like vegetables of the family: Allium cepa, grown in most parts of the world.
There are quite a number of onion species all around the world, and they vary in shapes, sizes and colours - most popular we know being - red or white, yellow bulbs.
Other members of the family are garlic, shallot and chives.
(Spring onions are 'baby onions' harvested early with a milder flavour than onions).
They are found in most kitchens and are very important condiments.
But the much less known facts which could drive their consumption even higher are:
- Onions contain essential vitamins and minerals
- They have medicinal value and possess very exciting health benefits.
What are Onions made of?
But - back to my Dad and his 'passion'.
He'd conducted several experiments while training for his Master's degree on onions when eaten with other foods that have a high cholesterol content (such as eggs and red meat).
One of his findings was that red onions in particular; contain elements like Quercetin which allow their effect on cholesterol.
Quercetin is a plant pigment which gives many plants their colour and is also an anti-oxidant, removing damaging particles from our bodies.
(Quercetin is an ingredient in dietary supplements, beverages, and foods).
Now, my Dad believed that cholesterol content of these foods reduces drastically after combination with some measured quantity of onions.
The other fascinating discovery he made was that onions contain high Lycopene content.
Lycopene is another plant pigment and antioxidant which may fight cancer by protecting cells from damage.
As you will know, high cholesterol can lead to serious heart disease.
So my Dad believed that Onions could have some benefit in heart disease and in cancer care.
Was he right???
Let's look at some of their health benefits.
Onions and Treating Infections
A mixture of onions, garlic and honey is great for treating cold, catarrh and chesty coughs from viral infections.
A regular intake of onion juice helps detoxify the entire body thereby boosting the immune system by a mile.
Studies have shown the role of onions in reducing symptoms of bladder infections and promoting prostate health.
Although the findings have not demonstrated firm links with cure; there has been some benefit with treating prostate swelling.
Possible Skin Benefits
There is some very good evidence that applying a gel containing onion extract to the skin (for at least 10 weeks) can be extremely beneficial for the appearance of scars - for example, stretch marks.
This thought to be due to their remarkable cell-rejuvenating ability.
In addition, they have remarkable skin health properties - reducing acne and helping with hair nutrition.
They can be used to treat some types of wounds and deep sores.
They are also useful in several cosmetic products because they boost skin health.
Any Protective Effect on The Heart?
A regular intake of onions could boost heart health by a mile.
Some studies report their ability to lower blood pressure.
This appears specifically so for people with high blood pressure who are known to have hypertension.
This same effect did not show in people with borderline high blood pressure.
A number of studies have shown links between Quercetin and reducing cholesterol levels.
While laboratory studies show possible links, the same has not always been shown when people take onions and high cholesterol-containing diet.
Still, a lot of work to be done before we can establish a firm connection.
Studies on their effectiveness in treating a wide array of arterial and heart conditions such as atherosclerosis, ischemic heart diseases, enlarged heart (cardiomegaly), preventing blood clots and boosting circulatory health have not been conclusive.
It is thought this effect may be due to the presence of quercetin, lycopene, and other important chemicals.
However, as yet there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate a cure for these problems with onions as therapy.
Any Role in Cancer Prevention?
Some studies have indicated that they possess very powerful anti-cancer properties.
Increasingly, scientists have found a link between diets rich in fruit and vegetables; with cancer and chronic disease prevention.
Some studies (Antiproliferative activity of Ontario grown onions against colorectaladenocarcinoma cells - Food Research International, 2017) in colorectal (bowel) cancer suggest that the flavonoids (Lycopene, Quercetin) contained in onions can deter the growth of, and kill cancer cells.
However, this finding has not been consistent in other studies looking at the ability of these flavonoids in the diet in reducing the risk of bowel cancer.
This also applies to some studies done to search for an association between onions and breast cancer risk.
Chronic Conditions like Diabetes
There is some evidence to show that eating onions while dieting has links with reducing blood sugar levels better than just dieting alone.
However, the quantity of onions must not be excessive as eating too much could cause weight gain.
Studies suggest, then, that with this glucose reducing effect, onions could be a dietary supplement in the management of both Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes; alongside the regular medication and monitoring.
Could Onions be bad for me?
A few people may find onions make them bloated and filled with gas.
Some people who suffer from indigestion may experience more heartburn after a meal with onions.
Fortunately, this is a small percentage of people and the overall experience with onions appears to be more of a benefit than harm.
So you see, onions are way more than a meal ingredient, having so many benefits - a few summarised below:
- Improves skin health
- Treats scars to the skin
- Reduces blood sugar levels
- Helps with digestion
- May help reduce cancer risk
I hope that this convinces someone out there about how adding some onions to your diet regularly can help boost your health.
Have you any more onion health benefits not mentioned? Please share in the comments below.
- "Red onions pack a cancer-fighting punch"
- Onions: A Source of Unique Dietary Flavonoids - Quercetin.
- Preliminary Study of the Clinical Hypoglycemic Effects of Allium cepa (Red Onion) in Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetic Patients
- Onions - Uses and Effectiveness
Editing by AskAwayHealth Team
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