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Onions have been used to optimize health for centuries

Published 7:24pm Thursday, October 4, 2012

For thousands of years the onion has been used as an ingredient in various food dishes by cultures all over the world. It can be eaten raw, cooked, roasted, fried or dried, but did you know  that onions have also been used for centuries to help heal? Egyptians numbered more than 8,000 ailments that could be alleviated by the onion.
This little vegetable has many benefits that can be used to optimize our health today, too. Onions actually belong to the “lily” family. Members of this family are known as “alliums.” There are more than 600 species of allium. Other members of this family include garlic, leeks, chives, scallions and shallots. Onion varieties include red, yellow, white and green, and each onion has its own unique taste, from very strong to mildly sweet. They have been used for more than 4,000 years for medicinal purposes.
So what makes this vegetable so good for us? Onions contain sulfur (a compound) and quercetin (a flavonoid). Each of these has been shown to help neutralize “free radicals” in the body and help protect cell membranes.  Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms in our bodies that are “unstable” and “highly reactive.” These free radicals are believed to accelerate the progression of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and age related disease.
Quercetin (a flavonoid),  which  acts as an antioxidant, is also found in tea and red wine, but not in high quantities. White onions provide little quercetin, so stick mostly with yellow and red onions. Western Yellow, New York Bold and Northern Red onions have the greatest concentrations of flavonoids, and “phenolics,” so choose onions with the strongest flavor for the most health promoting properties. Don’t give up entirely on white onions though, they still improve health.
For maximum benefit, eat onions raw, but don’t worry… if you prefer  cooked onions, that’s okay, too, because heat doesn’t significantly reduce the onion’s potency. Also, cooked onions are easier to diversify into your diet. The sulfur compounds contained in onions, and all “allium” vegetables include thiosulfinates, sulfides, sulfoxides and other odiferous compounds. Cysteine sulfozides are responsible for the onion’s flavor and its eye irritating characteristics.
It’s believed onions provide  protection from cancers. In central Georgia, where “Vidalia” onions are grown, mortality rates from stomach cancer are one-half that of the rest of the United States. Greek studies show that high onion consumption with additional “allium” vegetables like garlic can decrease stomach cancer, too. Onions contain flavonoids, substances known to protect the heart and cardiovascular system.
Onions also contain natural anti-clotting agents. According to Dr. Victor Gurewich, director of the Tufts Vascular Laboratory, the juice of one yellow or white onion a day, taken over time, can raise HDL (good) cholesterol by more than 30 percent. Onions help prevent thrombosis and reduce hypertension, according to the American Heart Association. Garlic does, too, but most people consume much larger quantities of onions. In addition to all this, onions have antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Onions are a valuable addition to our diets. They provide much flavor while enhancing our health.
Diet or exercise question? Email me at or visit
David Crocker of Landrum has been a nutritionist and master personal trainer for 26 years. He served as strength director of the Spartanburg Y.M.C.A. and head strength coach for the USC-Spartanburg baseball team, S.C. state champion girls gymnastic team and the Converse college equestrian team. He has also been a water safety consultant to the United States Marine Corps, lead trainer to L.H. Fields modeling agency and a teacher for four semesters at USC-Union. David was also a regular guest of the Pam Stone radio show.

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