Why the humble onion in your pantry is a powerhouse of nutrients

We peel back the layers

author_img Deepika Rathod Published :  15th April 2020 10:33 PM   |   Published :   |  15th April 2020 10:33 PM

Hope we all are staying safe and avoiding the stress as discussed last week! During quarantine, apart from stress, the second most important thing people are worried about is food. We hear that there’s a shortage of veggies and fruits in the market, and if we don’t get it all, how will our food be nutritious? Is that even a thing to worry about? There are so many underprivileged people eating just basic food, and still their health is much better than many of ours. We only need basic food like grains and pulses with few spices to get all possible nutrients that are required by the body to stay healthy. However, we can use basic veggies like onion, garlic, ginger and potato to make it more healthy, tasty and nutrient-dense. So let’s talk about the very basic and important vegetable — onion. This is easily available and we can stock it up in our home to prepare food. 

Whoever said, ‘Life is an onion, one cries while peeling or experiencing it’, was very right. It’s a super food that possesses innumerable nutritional properties like being rich in sulphur-rich compounds, a good source of Vitamin C and B6, iron, folate, potassium, manganese and phosphorous, with huge amounts of phytonutrients and antioxidant polyphenols. Despite the boast of nutrients content, the humble onion is the most underestimated food. 

It’s found in our kitchen and have curative power that makes it an essential medicinal plant. Let’s learn more about this mighty food. 

The agglomeration of polyphenols is much higher in onions than other members of the bulb family such as garlic, leeks, shallots, etc. Quercetin — a primary polyphenol antioxidant found in onions — makes it a natural antihistamine, that is, it prevents the release of histamine in the body and, in turn, reduces inflammation. Inflammation in the body can lead to many diseases, so to keep the ailments away, incorporating onions in daily diets is really advisable. Quercetin also decreases the initiation of cancer tumors and also inhibits the proliferation of cancer cells, therefore making onions the best anti-cancer food. 

Apart from diverse nutritional benefits there are many other health benefits of onions:

●  Few compounds found in onions that have medicinal properties are Diallyl Disulfide (DDS), S-allylcysteine (SAC), S-methyl-cysteine (SMC) and Onion A (ONA) — these are found to induce cancer cell apoptosis which means cell death, inhibiting gene transcription and few forms of cancers. Onions are also a rich source of fibre, Vitamin C and Anthocynanins that are known to reduce the risk of several cancers, cardiovascular  and other neurological problems and abnormalities.

Research reveals that dark red onions have the highest cancer-fighting potential because of quercitin, flavonoids and anthocyanidins (that impart the red colour). Antioxidant content of onions, especially the red ones, are believed to increase the activity of SOD (superoxide dismutase) and glutathione. These activities support a large variety of detoxification pathways that will help in removing toxins from the body and protect the body’s defense system against various diseases by repairing the DNA and damaged tissue by eliminating the toxins from the liver and by neutralising the free radicals. Onions are believed to help fight sugar cravings as well. It helps in regulating blood sugar by interacting with the insulin. Trace mineral chromium from onion supports insulin activity for carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, which controls blood glucose levels.

●  Health promoting compounds of onions acts as catalyst to helps build immunity. Due to its antibacterial, antifungal and anti-viral effects, onion s decrease the burden on the immune system.
Allicin, an antioxidant found in abundance in red onions, is very effective to destroy the foreign pathogens that are responsible to enervate our immunity. That’s the exact reason why onions are benevolent in aiding the digestive functions and revamping the variance in gut microflora as well. As it improves the intestinal flora, absorption of magnesium and calcium improves too, because of the gut flora and the fructan (fructose polymer from onion, specially the spring onions) content.

● As it enhances calcium and magnesium absorption, it alleviates the symptoms associated with bone-related problems like osteoporosis, and improves overall bone health.

● It lowers the risk of cataract formation.

●  Onions are a great aphrodisiac as they increase libido and strengthen our reproductive organs. Apart from this, onions also improve testosterone levels and sexual stamina for men.

●  Grey hair is annoying and can be caused sometimes by hydrogen peroxide built up. This can be successfully neutralised by the catalase enzyme. And where can we find that stuff/enzyme? Don’t worry. It’s in the onion. The remedy is simple: Just mix 2 tbsp of onion juice with 2 tbsp lemon juice. Massage this properly into your scalp daily/alternate day, and then wash off. You will definitely get the good results.

Apart from the above mentioned benefits, it is found that people who gobble up onions on a daily basis are found to live longer and stay healthier. So if you miss out on onions on a daily basis, unless you have religious aversions, try to include them in all your meals and prevent yourself from innumerable health-related problems while improving your gut health, boosting your immunity response system and also increasing your longevity. Eat well and stay safe!

The writer is a clinical nutritionist with a focus on healthy lifestyle choices.