Don’t cry for onions — embrace them! They may be synonymous with tears and onion breath, but they’re essential to cooks everywhere for their unique flavor. They’re also good for you. It’s true that these underground globes don’t offer a whole lot of nutrients, but what they have in bulk are powerful sulfur-containing compounds, which are responsible for their pungent odor — and many of their health benefits.
According to several studies, onions may help bring down high blood sugar in diabetic animals. In one Egyptian study of diabetic rats, onion juice reduced blood sugar levels by an amazing 70 percent. One of few published studies in humans, from India, dates back some 30 years, but it found that people with diabetes who ate 2 ounces (60 g) of onions a day experienced a significant drop in blood sugar levels. Researchers credit these effects to the sulfur compounds in onions as well as their flavonoids. These powerful antioxidant compounds also help fight some of the side effects of high blood sugar, not to mention heart disease.
Onions even seem to boost HDL, the “good” cholesterol. One study found that people who ate the most onions, along with other foods rich in flavonoids, had a 20 percent lower risk of heart disease. Thanks to their sulfur compounds, onions, like aspirin, also help prevent dangerous blood clots. And they’re known to help lower high blood pressure.
Finally, onions are one of the richest food sources of chromium, a trace mineral that improves the body’s ability to respond to insulin.
Onions’ sulfur compounds and flavonoids may help fend off several forms of cancer. One Chinese study found that men who ate at least 1 tablespoon of chopped onions and other related vegetables (garlic, scallions, chives, and leeks) a day had about half the risk of developing prostate cancer compared to men who ate less than 1/4 tablespoon of these veggies daily. There’s also a link between a high intake of flavonoids and reduced risk of lung cancer.
Evidence suggests that onions may help preserve bone and prevent osteoporosis. And because the sulfur compounds are strongly anti-inflammatory, onions may also help relieve the pain and swelling of arthritis. The green tops of scallions, or spring onions, are rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene.
Glycemic Load: Very low
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