Likely originating in Asia, the common onion (Allium cepa) is a staple in cookery worldwide. The use of onion as a food goes back at least 3500 years, and onion is one of the oldest of cultivated plants. The famous chef Julia Child once remarked “I cannot imagine a world without onions.” For most cooks, such a possibility would be disastrous, for onions are primary ingredients in thousands of recipes. How would French, Italian, Indian or Chinese cuisines even survive without onions?
But the onion is more than a kitchen staple. It is a world-class superfood that has received very little fanfare, most likely due to its utterly common position in cookery. And yet, compared with high-profile foods like pomegranates, red wine, acai, blueberries and green tea that get lots of media, the onion offers superior benefits for both the prevention and treatment of many common diseases, including various kinds of cancer, coronary heart disease including heart attack and stroke, hypertension, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cataracts and gastrointestinal disorders including colic and indigestion. In addition, onions are powerfully antibiotic, and are helpful in reducing food-borne illnesses caused by microbial contamination.
Onions contain extraordinarily powerful compounds that possess numerous benefits for health. These include allicin, caffeic acid, the allylic sulfides, ferulic acid, and the highly potent antioxidant agents kaempferol and quercetin. The many hundreds of scientific studies published on these naturally-occurring compounds show that they are highly protective to nerves and the cardiovascular system, and that they enhance immune function, are anti-inflammatory, fight the growth of many types of tumors, help to promote healthy hormone function, lower blood sugar, protect cells from premature destruction, protect the liver, help to fight cataracts, and help to protect the skin from the inside against UVA and UVB rays from the sun.
Red wine may be the highly touted superstar of purported heart protection, but a sober appraisal of onion suggests that the humble kitchen vegetable exceeds the heart-protective properties of red wine by a very generous margin. Could onion in fact be the real answer to the French Paradox? It makes sense. After all, almost no French recipe, except those for desserts, fails to include onion. Onion lowers cholesterol, inhibits platelet aggregation (hardening of the arteries), enhances elasticity of blood vessels, helps to maintain healthy blood pressure, and thins blood, thereby reducing the risk of dangerous clots known as thrombosis. You could easily claim that the onion is the unsung cardiovascular-enhancing hero that has been right under our noses all along. We smell it, but don’t give it proper respect.
Equally impressive are the many hundreds of scientific citations pertaining to the anti-cancer properties of onion. While nobody is suggesting that onion is a cancer cure per se, it certainly is a valuable adjunct therapy, and it provides almost unequalled cancer risk-reducing properties.
Surprisingly, onion demonstrates significant enough blood sugar-modifying properties to be a real help in the fight against both type 2 diabetes and obesity. No, onion alone won’t keep you in fine shape, but it will help greatly. In addition to limiting your intake of fats and sugars, eating onion can get your blood sugar- and your weight- on the right track.
So here is a simple, powerful health-enhancing recommendation. Eat an onion every day. One medium-sized onion equals approximately one cup of onion when chopped. And while raw onions contain a whopping load of protective compounds, even when cooked onions still weigh in very heavily on the protective side.
Chop onions into salads, cook them with vegetables, fish and meats, and find as many ways to eat them as possible.
Maybe the onion just isn’t romantic enough. I’m not sure. But whatever has kept onion behind the curtains while lesser fruits and vegetables are lauded, this needs to change. The humble onion, with its tear-promoting pungency, is without question one of the healthiest things you can put in your body. Eat onions, and live much better