More than apples, an onion a day may well keep all the doctors away! As it turns out, onions are a super food for health and cancer prevention.
Onions, as part of the Allium family, are related to garlic, leeks, chives and shallots. Because they didn’t leave much of an archeological trace, little is known of where they originated or how long they have been around. Most people in the know agree onions have been cultivated for more than 5000 years, but most likely they were consumed wild for many centuries prior. Besides being a stable in the diet, onions have been used for medicine and in religious ceremonies dating back to the Greek and Roman societies of the first century.
Consumption of onions has long been associated with good health. Folks in the Middle Ages didn’t know why onions were so good for you, but we now know onions are rich in vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. One cup of onions provides 20% of your daily need of Vitamin C, in addition to being a good source of fiber, folic acid, calcium and iron. In the phytochemical realm, onions contain quercetin, an antioxidant which studies have shown reduces the risk of heart disease. Other sources of quercetin include apples and tea, but absorption of quercetin in the GI tract is highest if it comes from onions. The health benefits of onion consumption have also been shown in various studies to prevent gastric ulcers by fighting the ulcer-forming microorganism, Heliobacter pylori, inhibit platelet aggregation that is associated with heart disease and stroke and increase bone mineral content (according to a study at the University of Bern in Switzerland).
Researchers at Cornell University have performed studies that demonstrate strong cancer fighting properties of certain onions, like yellow, red and shallots that significantly reduce the risk of liver and colon cancers. Other studies have also shown onions, along with garlic, reduce the risk of breast cancers. And the really good part is that cooking does not seem to alter the health benefits of the onion.
How much onion does it take to get the good benefits? Most studies looked at the equivalent of ½ to 1 whole onion a day. Not hard to achieve when you think about what an important part they play in foods that you eat at every meal (yes, even breakfast – think sautéed onions in your scrambled eggs, omelet, breakfast sandwich, etc.).
Onions come in several colors and many shapes. Different types of onions are better in certain dishes and some are sweeter or stronger than others. For a good explanation of the different flavors of onions and when they are in season, go to The National Onion Association site for more information.
Onions store well if kept in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area. Do not store them in the plastic bags that you may have brought them home in from the grocery store. Lay them out flat if you have a pantry or basement and the room, store them in paper bags or baskets. The best tip is to use panty hose (much better than wearing them!). Place an onion, tie a knot, another onion and another knot in the leg part. Hang in a well ventilated area and cut below a knot to “harvest” your onions from storage.
If you shy away from onions for fear of bad breath, chew a piece of parsley after a meal containing onion (that’s how parsley got started as a garnish on your plate; it is there as an after-dinner mouth freshener!).