Oh, the smelly, tear-jerking, TASTY onion! If you’re like me, you can eat sautéed onions all day, everyday! I personally have a new habit of eating one whole onion a day. Yes, my family looks at me weird for it… and no, I don’t smell like onion everywhere I go… err, at least I don’t think I do?
Simply put, onions are so freaking good for you! Civilizations all over the world over the last 5000 years would probably even call them magical! In my view, onions fall into a class of foods I call “longevity foods,” and they seemingly don’t get the health credit they deserve. So in this post I will explain to you the many health benefits of onions and how they can significantly improve and lengthen your life. Ready?
Interesting Fact: “Onions represent the third largest fresh vegetable industry in the United States. The U.S. per capita consumption of onions is about 20 pounds per year. This translates to over 450 semi-truck loads of onions used in the United States each day.” – National Onion Society
In this post, I will address the following about onions:
- Antioxidant benefits
- Anti-inflammatory benefits
- Cardiovascular benefits
- Immune-boosting benefits
- Anti-cancer benefits
- Anti-aging benefits
- Skin and hair benefits
- Possible side effects
Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Benefits
You’ve probably heard of Vitamins A, C, and E. Well, they are what you call antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds which counteract the effects of cellular oxidation or damage caused by free-radicals, those energy-unstable monsters that help with your immunity in small amounts but can cause severe cellular and system-wide damage in large amounts. With our ever increasing exposure to environmental pollution and industrial chemicals and our increasing consumption of highly processed foods, the level of free radicals in our bodies poses a greater danger to our health today possibly more than ever before. This is a major reason why we’ve seen such a rise in chronic illnesses and congenital disorders over the past several decades. This is also why we need to consume more antioxidants!
I promise it ain’t that difficult! Especially when you add onions to your diet!
Onions are a rich source of antioxidants, which include:
- Vitamin C
- Flavanoids: Quercetin, fisetin, kaempferol, and isorhamnetin
But the antioxidant that gives onions such a power punch is quercetin!
Quercetin has been shown to protect against a myriad of cases, such as: allergies, asthma, heart disease, cancer and much more! It’s truly a powerhouse molecule!
Quercetin and onion’s various sulfur compounds, such as onionin A, are very anti-inflammatory in the body. Because these compounds lower chronic inflammation, they in turn help to protect DNA! Cool!
Interesting Fact: “The flavonoids in onion tend to be more concentrated in the outer layers of the flesh. To maximize your health benefits, peel off as little of the fleshy, edible portion as possible when removing the onion’s outermost paper layer. Even a small amount of ‘overpeeling’ can result in unwanted loss of flavonoids. For example, a red onion can lose about 20 percent of its quercetin and almost 75 percent of its anthocyanins if it is ‘overpeeled.'” – The George Mateljan Foundation
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States (and the world). Isn’t that scary? Some people may not even know their arteries are clogging up until something as dramatic as stroke happens seemingly out of nowhere.
Studies have shown that onions can prevent and reduce symptoms of heart disease in a number of ways:
- The quercetin in onions help prevent atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of arteries) by preventing and reducing plaque buildup in the bloodstream.
- Quercetin lowers cholesterol.
- Quercetin prevents artery damage caused by LDL cholesterol (the “bad cholesterol”).
- Quercetin can help lower blood pressure… This is especially positive for people who have hypertension.
- The sulfur compounds in onions (specifically allium and allyl disulfide) also have anti-clotting properties and help decrease the risk of stroke, coronary artery disease, and other vascular diseases.
The long shelf life of onions is partly due to their antimicrobial properties. The antioxidant and sulfur compounds in onions have been shown to be antibacterial and antifungal. For example, research studies have shown onions to be effective against bacteria such as Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sobrinus (which both can cause tooth cavity), Porphyromonas gingivalis and Prevotella intermedia (which both can cause gum disease), and H. pylori (which can cause stomach ulcers).
Due to it’s great fiber content, especially the prebiotic fiber “inulin” onions can also boost good bacteria in the gut which use those fibers to flourish. These good bacteria impact the body in a number of ways by (but not limited to):
- shielding the body’s mucous layers from harmful bacteria
- producing essential nutrients, which we cannot create on our own, such as Vitamin K2
- improving our absorption and assimilation of essential nutrients
- improving our mental health… for real!
- quercetin helps to reduce histamine release, reducing those annoying allergies.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, right after heart disease (Medical News Today). I personally believe that most cancers CAN be prevented, especially by limiting one’s exposure to carcinogens in the environment and adhering to an antioxidant-rich, whole-foods diet. Though the science is limited on this, onions are thought to be very anti-carcinogenic in several ways:
- Both the sulfur compounds and quercetin in onions prevent and reduce tumor formation by inhibiting tumor cell metabolism of sugar and fatty-acids.
- Onion sulfur compounds helps the liver flush toxins out of the body.
- Onion sulfur compounds indirectly help the liver produce more of an antioxidant called glutathione, which is a major detoxification factor in our bodies.
- The sulfur compounds and quercetin in onions also help reduce inflammation, which in chronic cases has been shown to cause DNA damage and lead to cancer.
Aging is a broad term that is hard to define. I personally define aging as the body’s inability to fix damage faster than damage is done. Aging is normal, but by my definition, fast aging isn’t.
Simple ways onions slow aging:
- As I explained, cellular damage is mainly caused by the accumulation of free radicals in the body, and antioxidants (in a variety of ways) neutralize free radicals. So, onions provide anti-aging benefits primarily through their antioxidant properties.
- The anti-inflammatory properties of onions also help to slow down the aging process by reducing DNA damage and telomere (the protective ends of DNA) shortening.
- The sulfur rich compounds in onion help cells make new proteins, which in effect help the body regenerate cells much more efficiently.
Skin and Hair benefits
For all of the reasons listed above, onions are the perfect food to consume for the best skin and hair. Here are some specific ways onions beautify your outer appearance:
- Onions improve circulation throughout the whole body including the skin, which improves complexion.
- The antioxidants in onions, specifically vitamin C and the flavanoid quercetin help nautralize free radicals, thus reducing signs of aging.
- The sulfur compounds in onions help make necessary proteins for fully functional cells, thus improving cell turnover in skin and hair.
- This in turn helps create a more even skin tone.
- The sulfur compounds in onions help build stronger proteins for more youthful skin and hair.
- The antimicrobial properties of onions help fight acne.
For those wanting to eliminate hyperpigmentation, reduce uneven skin tone or acne, stop thinning hair, etc., look into adding more onion to your diet (not too much though; see below why). You can also apply onion juice topically with an oil of your choice to your hair and skin. I may write a post on this in the future.
“[Onions] also contain calcium, iron, and have a high protein quality (ratio of mg amino acid/gram protein). Onions are low in sodium and contain no fat.” – National Onion Association
Possible Side Effects
While onions are truly a glorious food, beneficial to most everybody, some shouldn’t be so eager to eat them. Here are some reasons, as mentioned by Livestrong and the University of Maryland Medical Center.
- If you have an onion allergy, you might experience skin and eye irritations
- however, there have been no reported serious allergic reactions to onions!
- If you have a food sensitivity to onions, you might experience non-pleasant symptoms, such as gas, nausea, and vomiting… so be careful.
- if you have chronic heartburn or GERD, onions can worsen your symptoms.
- Quercetin can interact with and alter the effectiveness of certain drugs. So please consult with a physician and do some research before consuming too much onion!
I could write so much more on onions if I wanted. The benefits are seemingly endless, and I personally feel vibrant when I eat onions!
I hope that you took something valuable from this health review of onions. Maybe you’ll start adding them to your meals more often. Whether raw or sautéed (or any other method cooking them) they can improve your health and possibly grant you more years of quality life.
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