Onions are great in that they can be used in pretty much any dish. They can be boiled for soups, sautéed for any stir fry or pasta dish, or eaten raw in salads and salsas to name a few. They are easily worked into any diet, with delicious consequences. When eaten raw, they are have a strong and pungent flavor, but when cooked their sugars are unlocked, lending any dish a delectable sweetness. All the better to have plenty of onion in your diet, as they have great health effects that will round out your diet, leaving you feeling better and more energetic.
Onion History and Culture
Onions have been nurturing human health for thousands of years. It is believed humans began cultivating onions during the Egyptian empire, alongside its Allium siblings, leeks and garlic. Not only were they an important source of nutrition, but also a significant religious symbol. Their concentric circles were seen as a representation of the eternal life – a beautiful interpretation. They were even used in burials to cover the eye sockets of the deceased.
The onion was introduced to the west by Christopher Columbus, who brought it back after his travels in the Caribbean. Onions were already present in North America, where they gathered wild onions for medicinal use. Later, the onion would be cultivated by pilgrims in 1648 and be formally introduced as an staple vegetable in the early American diet.
Today, the US produces roughly 6 billion pounds of onion produced on 142,000 acres of land – enough to meet our own demand with enough left over for export. Much of this comes from the Pacific Northwest, namely California, Oregon, Idaho, and Washington. It’s a good thing we produce so many onions, as the average American consumed 20 pounds in 2008.
Onion Health Benefits
The nutrition facts label can be misleading. To look it over, you might think it’s relatively devoid of nutritional qualities. It is, in fact, packed with all sorts of goodies that will benefit your health. For one, onions contain a variety of falvinoids that don’t typically make the nutrition label. Flavinoids are produced and used by plants for daily function and defense, and these same qualities carry over into humans when ingested.
A study by UCLA found that quercetin – which is present in high levels in onions – has beneficial anticancer properties. This lowers your risk of colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer, laryngeal cancer, and lung cancer, to name a few. Quercetin is also thought to be an antibacterial agent, which can fight bad bacteria in the body, as well as improve the health of your gums and teeth. Historically, onion’s strong antibacterial properties were used to treat open wounds.
There are other health benefits apart from quercetin. Onion’s high levels of fiber and antioxidants make it a strong anti-inflammatory food. In conjunction with an overall healthy diet, onions can also help protect the heart and blood vessels from damage, protecting you from heart attacks. Also, data shows that onions regulate blood sugar levels, greatly benefiting those with diabetes.
There are three varieties of onion: red, white, and yellow. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages in the kitchen. Yellow onions are the culinary standard, as they are generally the cheapest in stores and pack the strongest flavor. With the strong, pungent flavor come watering eyes, though. They are best for cooking purposes, as their flavor will not diminish when incorporated with other foods. White onions are more mild and sweeter than yellow onions, so they are great raw, but will release their sweetness when cooked. Red onions are best raw or grilled, for their superior, lighter flavor and beautiful color. They can be diced and cooked, but much of the color will be lost in the dish.
Eating More Onions
As stated earlier, adding more onions to your diet is a simple task. Onions are a storage vegetable and will last for months if stored properly. Place them in a dark, cool, dry place (in a bottom cabinet in the kitchen, or down in your cellar) and grab them whenever you need them. Keep a bowl of them on the counter, so that they are readily available for you to use them. The more accessible they are, the more you’ll eat.
Regular consumption of onions will yield the best health results. 1 – 2 servings per week is recommended, but If you find yourself eating 5 – 6 servings per week, even bettwe. It can be difficult to put a full cup of onion into any dish, so make sure to use it in many dishes, even if you only use a little. For instance, sauté some into your pasta sauce, and then eat some raw in your salad.
Once you figure out the preparation methods that taste best to you, eating more onions will be effortless. Your body will thank you by defending against illness more effectively, and feeling all around healthier.