- Bring on the tears to boost your health
- The smellier the better
- Get chopping! Find out why.
Most of my memories of my grandmother’s cooking have one food in common — onion.
Whether she was making spaghetti, sandwiches, or chicken, she was constantly chopping up or chewing on a raw onion.
And when she wasn’t adding onion to what she was cooking, she was chopping it up for a veggie tray.
In fact, one of my most favorite things about visiting her is the ever-present tray of vegetables from her garden with every meal, even sometimes at breakfast!
While there are always a variety of veggies to choose from like cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers, for her, the star of the tray is either a raw, very pungent onion or raw green onions.
But to 9-year-old me, this was pure insanity.
I often thought, Why would anyone want to eat a raw onion?! They are smelly and make your eyes water!
Actually, one of my brothers and I were so disgusted by them we referred to onions as the “devil’s fruit” because of their pungent smell and taste. (We later grew up and realized that onions aren’t fruit and the devil has nothing to do with them, but it got the point across at the time.)
Yet, whether she knew it or not, all of those foul-smelling onions were helping to keep my grandma healthy. And it seems as though they worked. She’s 92 and has a totally clean bill of health!
Today, Living Well Daily will take you on a walk through the onion patch to bring you the best variety of onions to ensure you reap the most health benefits.
First, let’s talk about what onions can do for you.
Onions may be the most popular of the Allium vegetables, but there are many powerful members in their family. These include all varieties of edible onions, garlic, shallots, chives, and leeks.
All Allium veggies have similar nutritional profiles, with many nutrients and macro nutrients, except garlic, which has a higher mineral content. 2
Content of selected nutrients in raw Allium vegetables
In addition, all members of the Allium family have many bioactive compounds. Some of these include flavonoids, antioxidants, and phenolic compounds, which help fight cancer — a disease that is estimated to kill over 595,000 Americans this year.1
Flavonoids and phenolics fight cancer by deactivating free radicals and slowing the productions of substances that can cause damage to normal cells.
Another key health-promoting and cancer-fighting component in Allium vegetables is bioactive sulfur compounds. These compounds are responsible for the distinct smells and flavors of onions and garlic. It’s thought that theses sulfur-based compounds may help impede tumor growth.2
Not only do they destroy cancer, there is evidence that Allium vegetables can help support heart health due to their high levels of quercetin, a powerful flavonoid.3
To sum it up, Rui Hai Liu M.D., Ph.D., a food scientist and associate professor at Cornell University who lead a study on the powers of alliums reports, “Onions are one of the richest sources of flavonoids in the human diet, and flavonoid consumption has been associated with a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Flavonoids are not only anti-cancer, but also are known to be anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-allergenic, and anti-inflammatory.”4
While all onion and garlic types offer health benefits, it’s important to select the most nutritious variety and then prepare it in a way that preserves the bioactive compound.
No Onion No Cry
Liu points out in his study that certain alliums have higher levels of bioactive compounds:
Our study of 10 onion varieties and shallots clearly shows that onions and shallots have potent antioxidant and antiproliferation (cancer growth) activities and that the more total phenolic and flavonoid content an onion has, the stronger its antioxidant activity and protective effect.4
While you may prefer the sweeter and less odiferous qualities of a Vidalia, they have the lowest phenolic content. You may want to consider switching to shallots, which have a level of phenolic chemicals that is six times higher.
And for higher flavonoid levels, use Western Yellow onions — they have 11 times more flavonoids than the milder Western White.4
A good rule of thumb here is the more pungent, bitter, and tear-producing an onion is, the better it is for you.
When a bulb of an allium plant is crushed, chewed, or chopped, it releases its cancer-stopping chemicals. However, some of these compounds are heat sensitive.
In order to get the most health out of your alliums, it’s probably best to eat them raw, just like my grandma.
If you want to cook them, be sure to chop them finely in order to cause the chemical reaction that produces the protective bioactive compounds. Remember, when your eyes begin to tear, it’s because of all the health-boosting and cancer-fighting compounds being created! 5
If you have a raw onion or garlic recipes you want to share, please do! email@example.com.
Managing editor, Living Well Daily