(NaturalHealth365) The humble onion plant – which lacks the attractive blossoms of its close relative, the lily – won’t do much to beautify a garden. And, the pungent scent of its bulb will never be confused with the lily’s sweet fragrance.
But wait – the health benefits are amazing!
This underground root vegetable more than makes up for its homely appearance with its beneficial qualities. Virtually indispensable to chefs for the piquant, hearty flavor it adds to foods, onion is equally valued in folk medicine for its natural antiseptic properties.
Recent scientific research supports the onion’s antibacterial and anti-infective qualities, and strongly suggests that this kitchen staple possesses additional powers, which include promoting heart health and helping to prevent cancer.
The truth about onions – revealed
The onion, scientifically known as Allium cepa, is native to Asia and the Middle East. It is now cultivated virtually worldwide, with The United States, Russia and Spain serving as major growers.
The culinary and medicinal uses of onion date back thousands of years. Onions were so valued in ancient Egypt that they were used as currency, and were placed in the tombs of kings for handy access in the afterlife.
In medieval England, they were employed to ward off evil spirits and diseases. Onions were also used on battlegrounds, where they were mixed with honey and applied to wounds in a poultice to prevent infection.
Today, the two major categories of onions are the large, spherical-shaped “spring and summer” onions — such as the Maui Sweet and Vidalia varieties – and the “storage” onions, which are cultivated in colder climates and dried upon harvest. Storage onions, which include Spanish onions, usually feature a sharper flavor and scent. Other types of onions include the milder-tasting shallots, green onions and pearl onions.
What makes onions so healthy?
Onions are an excellent source of a flavonoid called quercetin, an antioxidant that helps protect cells from damaging fatty acid oxidation. Research has strongly suggested that quercetin – obtained naturally through foods, such as onions – provide better benefits than quercetin taken as a supplement.
Like garlic, another close relative, onions possess sulfur-containing compounds which help to reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Interesting to note – a sulfur molecule known as Onionin A gives onions their natural anti-inflammatory properties. And, another onion constituent, allicin, reduces blood pressure and helps to prevent blood clots from forming, thereby helping to cut the risk of a stroke.
How does onion help to kill E. coli?
The sulfur-containing compounds and the quercetin in onion conspire to deliver a one-two punch to bacteria. Onion extracts have been found to be active against such common pathogens as E. coli and salmonella, as well as the H. pylori microbe that causes stomach ulcers.
In a study conducted at J. Nihon University School of Dentistry, researchers found that onion had antibacterial action against the strep bacteria responsible for cavities, as well as two other microbes that cause gingivitis. They noted that the strongest antibacterial effects were found in raw, fresh, recently-chopped onion; onions that had been chopped and then left to sit for 48 hours lost much of their bacteria-fighting powers.
Powerful nutrition in raw onions
With a cup of raw onions providing a scant 64 calories, onions are a low-fat, low-calorie, high-fiber food. They are a very good food source of the antioxidant – vitamin C, which supports the immune system, and are rich in the essential minerals potassium, manganese and selenium.
Onions also contain tryptophan — an amino acid which promotes healthy sleep — as well as the amino acids methionine and cystine, potent detoxifying agents.
The best way to select, store and use onions
Always look for organic onions, which have not been irradiated and are more likely to retain their beneficial compounds. They should feel solid and compact, with crisp skin that is dry to the touch; avoid any with soft, damp or discolored spots. Although green onions should be refrigerated, all others should be stored at room temperature, away from heat and light.
Since most of the onion’s beneficial flavonoids are found on or near the skin, you should avoid over-peeling them. Remember, after stripping off the papery outer layer, try to leave as much of the edible flesh as you can. Experts say that even a few servings a week of half a medium onion can lower your risk of colorectal, ovarian and laryngeal cancer.
With a serving a day, you gain protection against oral and esophageal cancers.
Onions are considered generally safe for adults and children when eaten in amounts found in food. Large quantities, however, may cause digestive discomfort.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, go easy on the onion.
To combat the unfortunate “onion breath,” that can accompany this healthful food, conclude an onion-enhanced meal by nibbling on natural breath fresheners such as fennel seeds, cardamom, cloves, parsley sprigs, or fresh mint.
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