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Nutritious, delicious [and ancient] onions give every meal a boost

By
Kathleen Thomas Gaspar

Now that the pandemic is behind us and the universe is supremely health conscious, it’s obvious that refining our diet to include more onions is just good common sense.

Onions boast numerous healthy attributes — high vitamin C content, good dietary fiber and folic acid, low sodium, no fat and other desirable qualities — but it’s worth noting that mankind has turned to the globes to boost health for millennia.

History shows that ancient Egyptians, known for their worship of cats, also had a penchant for onions, and it appears Allium cepa were right up there with Felis catus as a means of getting to the afterlife.

And it’s worth the question: Did early civilizations believe that onions not only provided them with the key to their hereafter but were also a healthy addition to their meals before they departed?

According to findings of 21st century researchers, the practices of those ancient grower/packers were not off the mark at all and rather than with a grain of salt, we should maybe follow their hieroglyphic advice — with an onion.

On its website the National Onion Association refers to scientific studies have shown onions to be associated with reducing the risk of a number of serious diseases, including stomach cancer, brain cancer, platelet-mediated thrombosis (which can lead to heart attacks and strokes), osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease stemming from high levels of cholesterol, triglycerides and thromboxanes.

That’s good news to Baby Boomers dealing with age-related ailments, and how the onion actually works is also a happy topic for every age and lifestyle.

Additionally, the National Onion Association’s “Nature’s Ninja” is a powerhouse in a number of ways, according to the Association’s website.

The site quotes a prominent scholar, Irwin Goldman, Associate Professor of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who said, “Onions may be among the vegetables that will be prized not only for their addition to our cuisine, but for their value-added health characteristics.”

In addition to their high vitamin C content, fiber and folic acid, onions also contain “calcium, iron and have a high protein quality (ratio of mg amino acid/gram protein),” the site said.

Onions are low in sodium and contain no fat. They do, however, contain quercetin, “a flavonoid (one category of antioxidant compounds).” They also are good sources of organosulfur compounds “that may offer unique health benefits.”

The site said, “Antioxidants are compounds that help delay or slow the oxidative damage to cells and tissue of the body. Studies have indicated that quercetin helps to eliminate free radicals in the body, to inhibit low-density lipoprotein oxidation (an important reaction in the atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease), to protect and regenerate vitamin E (a powerful antioxidant), and to inactivate the harmful effects of chelate metal ions.”

With abundant research to back up the onion as a healthy addition to one’s diet, the National Onion Association also notes on its website, “Onions have been valued for their medicinal qualities by many cultures around the globe. Numerous health benefits have been attributed to the vegetable, including prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disorders. Scientific studies have shown a positive relationship between vegetable intake and risk for these common diseases. This has led many researchers to test whether the proposed medicinal attributes of onions are valid.”

Some studies show that onion in the diet has been “associated with a reduced risk of stomach cancer in humans” as well as “a decreased risk for brain cancer in humans,” inhibited platelet-mediated thrombosis, “a process leading to heart attacks and strokes,” and reduced levels of cholesterol, triglycerides and thromboxanes, “substances involved in the development of cardio-vascular disease” in the blood. Onion consumption has also been linked to a reduction of symptoms associated with osteoporosis, the site said.

“For a deeper understanding of these and other potentially beneficial qualities, scientists have studied specific compounds found in onion bulbs. Onions have a unique combination of three families of compounds that are believed to have salutary effects on human health — fructans, flavonoids and organosulfur compounds. Fructans are small carbohydrate molecules that help maintain gastrointestinal health by sustaining beneficial bacteria. A great deal of research has focused on one flavonoid, quercetin, which is found at particularly high levels in onions. It functions as an antioxidant, deactivating molecules that are injurious to cells in the body.”

The NOA has compiled an impressive library of stats and information that show our favorite vegetable are not only delicious as an addition to meals but also quite beneficial to one’s overall health.

Win/win, in our language. In ancient Egypt, it could be spelled out with a sideways-walking Pharoah carrying a globe, but the meaning is clear: Few other edibles have been consumed longer. And throughout their known history, onions have been one of the most essential and valuable — not to mention delicious and healthy — food items.

Arguably the most versatile ingredient in almost every culture and cuisine, the humble onion surpasses many other staples for value.

Here’s to good taste, good value and good health — and isn’t it grand that the Spanish Sweets from the Treasure Valley of Idaho-E. Oregon have it all!

Kathleen Thomas Gaspar

About Kathleen Thomas Gaspar  |  email

Kathleen is a Colorado native and has been writing about produce for more than three decades and has been a professional journalist for more than four decades. Over the years she’s covered a cornucopia of crops grown both in the United States and abroad, and she’s visited dozens of states – traveling by car from her home base in Colorado to the Northwest and Southeast, as far as Vancouver, BC, and Homestead, FL. Now semi-retired, Kathleen continues to write about produce and is also penning an ongoing series of fiction novels. She’s a wife, mother of two grown sons and grandmother of six, and she and her fly fisherman husband Abe reside in the Banana Belt town of Cañon City.

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