The onion, like its cousin garlic, has been used as a folk remedy for nearly 6,000 years. Supposedly, it gave strength and endurance to the Egyptian pyramid builders. During the Civil War, Union General Ulysses S. Grant counted on it to relieve dysentery in his soldiers.
Today, people still use it as a diuretic, blood pressure reducer, expectorant, heart tonic, contraceptive and even as an aphrodisiac. In countless tests, onions have proved to be one of nature’s miracle healing foods, especially for the heart. A pioneering Indian study in the 1960’s found that eating onions lowered over-all cholesterol even for patients on very high fat diets.
Dr. Victor Gurewich, a professor of medicine at Tufts University, observed that good HDL cholesterol levels rose dramatically by 30 percent in heart disease patients who ate half a raw medium size onion a day. He and other researchers have also noted that onions act as anticoagulants – they help the blood break up clots and also prevent blood cells from clumping together and forming clots in the first place which can obstruct the oxygen supply to the brain and muscles.
Health Benefits of Onions
1) Raises the level of good HDL cholesterol and lowers overall cholesterol count.
2) Thins blood and slows down blood clotting.
3) Controls blood sugar.
4) Destroys bacteria.
5) Clears bronchial congestion.
6) Has anti-cancer properties.
Two ancient uses of onions are proving true. Onions have long been used to treat diabetes and now scientists have discovered they contain natural blood sugar reducers. In laboratory animals, these anti-diabetic compounds are more powerful in lowering blood sugar than diphenylamine, a commonly prescribed drug.
Onions also have a strong antibiotic that kills a variety of bacteria responsible for illnesses ranging from diarrhea to tuberculosis. Not only can eating onions prevent you from getting colds, but they may also help you recover quickly because they act as expectorants.
Like chili peppers, they produce signals that break up mucus in the lungs and airways so that it’s coughed or sneezed out. Researchers are also looking into whether onions counteract some allergic reactions.
Finally, the National Cancer Institute is funding research into the role of onions as cancer fighters. Research has shown that onions contain several anti-cancer compounds, including anthocyanins, quercetin, organosulfur compounds such as diallyl disulfide (DDS), S-allylcysteine (SAC) and S-methylcysteine (SMC) and onionin A (ONA).
It has been found that onions with stronger flavors have more effective anti-cancer benefits. The Western yellow onion and pungent yellow onion were found to have the highest amount of anti-cancer chemicals.
The mild flavored varieties like Empire Sweet, Western white, Peruvian sweet and Vidalia came in with the lowest scores for fighting cancer.
Onions are also a very rich source of flavonoids which have been found to be anti-cancer, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-allergenic and anti-inflammatory. Another anti-cancer compound found in onions is Quercetin. Quercetin has also been shown to help lower blood pressure and help prevent histamine release. If you don’t like eating onions, you can buy Quercetin supplements which will provide you with some of the benefits.
What to Look For When Buying Onions
Onions should be firm and without any sprouts. They should have a sweet smell, and the skin should be dry and papery to the touch. Scallions are immature onions and they should be crisp and feel nice and firm.
White and yellow onions are usually best cooked but they can be eaten raw. These stronger raw onions are better for HDL cholesterol levels than milder red onions which don’t have the same bite.
Don’t store onions in the refrigerator; they last longer and stay fresher in a cool, dry place with good circulation. Roasting an onion gives it a sweet flavor; stewing gives them a mild taste.