Do you think the humble onion is only good for making you cry and giving you stinky breath?
Think again, because onions have many benefits for health, as well as being a tasty addition to your cooking. They have a role in prevention and treatment of a number of conditions, such as heart disorders, diabetes and even cancer.
The Versatile Onion
Onions are a vegetable that has been used for medicinal purposes and cooking for more than 7,000 years. They had cult status with the ancient Egyptians, who buried them with their Pharaohs.
Onions have a number of free-radical neutralizing anti-oxidants, which are great for our health, and they also have antibacterial and antifungal properties. Health experts say that onions can help people with chronic asthma, bronchitis or cold-related coughs, and the World Health Organisation confirms their benefits in helping patients with atherosclerosis.
Why not try growing some? They are easy to grow in your back garden or even in a large container, as long as the soil is well-drained. They grow well around other vegetables and plants, meaning you can plant a few in an established bed or border without them endangering the other plants.
In case you need more reasons to embrace the benefits of onions, here are 13 of them.
1. Protect Against Cancer
Onions and other allium vegetables have been studied in relation to various cancers, especially stomach and colorectal cancers.
It hasn’t been discovered yet exactly why onions can inhibit cancer, but it is thought that they help prevent free radical formation, and inhibit tumour growth.
A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute showed that men who ate the highest amount of allium vegetables had the lowest risk of prostate cancer. Another study showed that frequently eating alliums can reduce the risk of stomach and esophageal cancers.
2. Improve Sleep and Mood
Onions contain folate, which could help reduce depression. Folate prevents the build-up of certain chemicals that block blood and other nutrients from reaching the brain. Excesses of this chemical can also interfere with serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, which regulate mood, sleep and appetite.
3. Condition Your Skin and Hair
Onions contain a lot of vitamin C, which we use for creating and maintaining collagen. Collagen is essential to the structure of our skin and hair.
Onions are good for getting rid of dark spots and pigmentation too. Try making an onion face mask by mixing equal parts natural yoghurt and onion juice and massaging into your skin for 15 minutes. If you can’t stand the smell, mix in some pleasant smelling essential oil.
Another skin use for onions is to help treat acne and spots. Onions have anti-bacterial properties that can protect your skin from acne-causing bacteria. Mix one tablespoon of onion juice or extract with a tablespoon of olive oil, and leave it on your face for 20 minutes. Wash it off thoroughly though, unless you want to smell strongly of onion juice!
4. Keep Your Heart Healthy
Onions encourage a healthy heart in several different ways. Sulphur in onions acts as a natural blood thinner, and prevents blood platelets from sticking together. When platelets form a cluster, there is more risk of heart attack or stroke.
There is a substance in onions called quercetin, which may help prevent plaque building up in the arteries, which also reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Eating onions can help regulate blood fat levels and cholesterol levels too.
The sulphurs in onions could be effective anti-inflammatory agents. The quercetin in onions has also been found to help relieve asthma symptoms.
6. Improve Bone Density in Older Women
A study in the journal Menopause found that eating onions daily can improve bone density in women who are experiencing or have finished menopause. Those who ate onions regularly had a 20 per cent lower risk of hip fracture than those who never ate onions.
7. Help Regulate Your Blood Sugar
Onions contain chromium, a substance that assists in regulating blood sugar. The sulphur in onions also helps lower blood sugar by triggering increased insulin production. In one study, people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes who ate red onions had lower glucose levels for up to four hours.
8. Boost Your Immune System
The polyphenols in onions act as antioxidants, protecting against damaging free radicals. The quercetin can also reduce allergic reactions by stopping your body producing reaction-causing histamines.
You can try making onion tea for treating colds, which gives you an immunity boost. Just cut an onion, boil it in water and drink the juice. You can add other ingredients like ginger to help with the taste.
9. Help Cure Ear Disorders
This may sound like a strange one, and research is limited, but many people swear that onions can help cure ear problems. They say that heating up the onion and extracting some juice to put in the ear can help stop earache. This has been used as a folk remedy since the 19th century. Another alternative is to put onion packs on the infected ear.
10. Enhance Eye Health
The sulphur in onions can help improve the health of your eyes. It stimulates the production of a protein called glutathione, which is an antioxidant. High levels of glutathione in your body can lead to cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration.
11. Help Keep Your Mouth Healthy
Onions contain sulphur compounds that help reduce decay-causing bacteria in your mouth. Eating them raw is apparently best for this, but you’d have to be a brave soul to be willing to walk around with onion breath all day!
12. Can Prevent Blood Clots
There is a compound found in onions that’s called rutin, which can help prevent blood from clotting. Blood clots can cause thrombosis, and the rutin in onions help block an enzyme, which is released when blood clots form.
13. Soothe Stings and Bites
If you get stung or bitten by an insect, place an onion slice on your sting or bite. The anti-inflammatory properties of onion help reduce the burning, itchiness and swelling caused by insect bites.