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Onions: Hot And Healthy

Onions are one of the most popular vegetables worldwide. Their pungency, versatility, ease of cultivation, and their good storability make the onion a valuable foodstuff. But the onion has also proven itself as a medicinal plant and is often used as a traditional household remedy, e.g. B. to treat insect bites, scars, cough, or earache.

The onion is an ancient useful and medicinal plant

The onion (Allium cepa) is one of the oldest cultivated plants of mankind. It is said to have been cultivated in China for more than 5,000 years and an ancient Babylonian clay tablet cookbook reveals that it must have been a very popular herb and vegetable in ancient times.

In ancient Egypt, the onion eventually became a cult object due to its spherical shape and concentric rings – a symbol of eternal life. The Egyptians were convinced that the pungent onion aroma could breathe life back into even the dead. So it is not surprising that in the tombs of the pharaohs, e.g. B. Onion remains were found in the famous tomb of Tutankhamun.

Sources from ancient Greece, on the other hand, testify that the onion was already valued as a medicinal plant at that time, e.g. B. as a natural blood thinner. The Roman gladiators, on the other hand, rubbed themselves with the juice of the onion to strengthen their muscles.

And in the 16th century, the famous doctor Paracelsus stated that an onion is worth a whole pharmacy – and modern research has long since confirmed his assessment.

Fructans are effective against influenza viruses

It is interesting that onions contain no starch. Their carbohydrates, on the other hand, are in the form of so-called fructans. These are water-soluble oligo- and polysaccharides that protect the onion from drying out but often lead to complaints such as headaches in people with a sensitive digestive system. B. flatulence.

This is because the fructans are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and thus reach the large intestine unchanged, where they are broken down by bacteria. Of all the onion plants, mild spring onions are best tolerated raw.

On the other hand, those who have no problems with onions can fully enjoy the highly positive effects of fructans on health. For example, studies by the University of Toyama in Japan have shown that fructans from onions are effective against influenza A viruses, i.e. against the flu.

In addition, fructans activate the intestinal flora, promote bowel movements, and increase the absorption of calcium and other minerals.

The onion is rich in vital substances

100 grams of onions contain round:

  • 7.4 mg vitamin C (8 percent of the recommended daily dose): Has an antioxidant effect as a radical scavenger.
  • 156 µg vitamin B6 (8 percent of the recommended daily dose): This is important for amino acid metabolism.
  • 4 µg vitamin B7 (4 percent of the recommended daily dose): Promotes the growth of blood cells, skin, hair, and nerve tissue.
  • 162 mg of potassium (8 percent of the recommended daily dose): This is important for nerves and muscles.
  • 50 mg sulfur (10 percent of the recommended daily dose): Promotes healthy intestinal flora, supports the liver, and has a detoxifying effect.

The sulfur compounds contained in the onion are of particularly great medicinal value. Incidentally, they are also the ones who cause tears to flow when cutting onions.

Sulfur makes tears flow

The sulfur compounds in the onion are the sulfur-containing and antiseptic amino acid called iso-alliin. It is located in the outer cell layers of the onion cells. Inside the cell, however, is the enzyme alliinase.

When these two substances come into contact when cutting the onion, the enzyme breaks down the amino acid into individual parts, creating a tear-inducing substance called propanediol-S-oxide.

However, you can prevent the tears by using a very sharp knife when chopping the onion, simply putting on diving goggles with a nose piece, or letting the onion sit in the fridge for a while before chopping.

In view of the health-promoting properties of the sulfur compounds – namely especially for the cardiovascular system – one is happy to accept a few tears.

Onions are blood thinners and protect against heart attacks

Research has shown that the sulfur-containing substances in onions appear to nourish and nurture the cell membrane of red blood cells so that oxygenation and blood flow can be optimized.

At the same time, the sulfur compounds inhibit blood clotting, so onions can prevent thrombosis. Both together ensure perfect health of the blood vessels and prevent cardiovascular problems.

And so the results of studies that find that a diet rich in onions can reduce the risk of heart attack are not surprising, e.g. B. the study at the Milan Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche “Mario Negri” with more than 1,000 study participants.

While alliin can improve the flow properties of the blood and prevent vascular damage, other ingredients such as B. quercetin lower blood pressure and work against inflammation.

The onion lowers cholesterol levels

At the same time, the sulfur compounds in the onion reduce cholesterol levels – so it seems like the onion really thinks of all risk factors for cardiovascular disease and eliminates them.

Chinese researchers from Chung Shan Medical University Hospital have shown that onion juice, which is particularly high in quercetin, can be particularly helpful in this context. The study involved 24 subjects with slightly elevated cholesterol levels, who were divided into two groups.

While the first group received 100 ml of onion juice daily for 8 weeks, the second group received a placebo. It has been shown that taking onion juice can significantly reduce both LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol in the blood.

Daily: 1 medium-sized onion

In addition to the highly effective sulfur compounds, onions also contain other health-related substances: polyphenols. Yes, there are very few foods that rival onion in terms of polyphenol content. One of the most important polyphenols in onions is the flavonoid quercetin. B. has an anticarcinogenic effect.

In addition to the flavonoids, red onion also contains other polyphenols, mainly the so-called anthocyanins, which are also responsible for the red color. They act i.a. anti-inflammatory and vascular protective.

When peeling the onion, remember that the polyphenols are particularly concentrated in the outermost rings. If you remove these, a red onion loses about 20 percent of quercetin and nearly 75 percent of its anthocyanins.

In order to enjoy a sufficiently high amount of polyphenols from the onion, nutritionists recommend incorporating one medium-sized onion into the diet per day.

Onions reduce the risk of cancer

A number of studies have now shown that people who eat onions regularly are less likely to develop cancer. Dutch researchers from the University of Limburg showed back in 1996 that half an onion a day can reduce the risk of stomach cancer by 50 percent.

An Italian study at the above-mentioned Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche “Mario Negri” in Milan, on the other hand, has shown that onions have a preventive effect on numerous other cancers.

For example, half an onion per day should B. reduce the risk of cancer in the mouth and throat by 84 percent and ovarian cancer by 73 percent.

The onion protects against pancreatic cancer

In a very recent study (March 2016), Czech scientists investigated which types of vegetables are best suited to preventing the particularly dangerous form of pancreatic cancer.

The first place was taken by the sauerkraut, the second by the broccoli and already in third place, we find the cooked onions. This implies that even people who find raw onions less tingly can benefit from the protective effect.

dr Azeem and his team concluded that more than three servings of vegetables per week – including onion – combined with citrus fruits can protect against pancreatic cancer.

The flavonoids in the onion are most likely responsible for this.

The onion supports diabetics

Scientists from Zhejiang University in China have looked closely at how the onion benefits diabetics.

One of the most important effects of the onion is the hypoglycaemic effect, i.e. the reduction in blood sugar levels, with the sulfur compounds and flavonoids playing a particularly important role here.

These substances help to reduce blood sugar, blood lipids, oxidative stress, and reactive oxygen radicals, which e.g. the insulin resistance of the cells is reduced and, if necessary, the release of insulin is increased.

Onions in folk medicine

As already explained at the beginning, the onion is an ancient household remedy that is indispensable in traditional medicine. There are numerous possible uses that have proven themselves over time and are still being passed on from generation to generation.

The onion can be eaten, but it is also beneficial to inhale the onion vapors, ingest syrup or juice, or apply them externally.

The areas of application include e.g. B.

  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • earache
  • Bladder and urinary tract infections
  • flu and colds
  • indigestion
  • states of weakness
  • rheumatic complaints
  • insect bites
  • wounds and scars

Onion juice and onion syrup relieve colds

Since the onion has a strong expectorant effect, it is nowadays primarily used for colds, e.g. B. used for coughs, bronchitis, colds, or asthma.

There are many recipes to harness the healing powers of the onion, e.g. B. in the form of juice and syrup, which loosens the mucus plugs in the bronchi and makes it easier to expectorate.

By the way, it is very easy to make your own onion cough syrup:

Simply boil ½ kg of sliced ​​onions in ½ liter of water with 350 g of whole cane sugar and 100 g of honey until thick, stirring constantly. You can take 4 to 5 tablespoons of it daily.

You can also cut an onion into small cubes, boil it in 2 liters of water and then inhale the onion vapors.

Onion sachets for throat, ear, and bladder infections

Finely chop the onion and wrap it in a thin cotton towel. Heat the onion bag, e.g. B. via water vapor.

You can then place the warm onion pack on the sore ear or throat. You can e.g. B. use a scarf or a headband to attach the onion bag. The exposure time is about half an hour. Repeat this process three times a day.

Onion bags are also ideal for relieving the pain of urinating in bladder infections.

The onion helps with insect bites

If one of an insect, z. by a wasp, it’s good to have an onion handy. Simply cut it in half and rub it into the sting area.

If you squeeze the onion a little, new juice will come out, and you can repeat the treatment of the insect bite. The pain should subside significantly after about five minutes.

In most cases, swelling can even be prevented with the help of the onion.

Onion extract also heals stubborn scars

Scars are considered unsightly and often remind those affected of a bad event for the rest of their lives. The onion is a tried and tested remedy to treat even rampant scars.

An onion extract ointment is often used, which has a decongestant, germicidal and anti-inflammatory effect and prevents excessive connective tissue growth.

Even conventional medicine doctors appreciate the regeneration-promoting properties of onion extract so that it has already been included in the official guidelines for the treatment of scars.

According to the German Dermatological Society, onion extract preparations can be used both for postoperative scar prevention and during and shortly after wound healing.

In the Mediterranean region, where few dishes can do without the onion, it is rightly a symbol of happiness and health.

The onion – A talent in the kitchen

In the kitchen, the spicy onion really occupies a top position. Every German consumes about seven kilograms of onions per year. Whether raw, steamed, or fried: there is really hardly any other vegetable that can be used in so many different ways.

The onion forms the basis of the seasoning in countless dishes, regardless of whether it is vegetable dishes, soups, stews, risotto, sauces, salads, or spreads.

The onion also tastes wonderful as an antipasto – pickled in vinegar or oil, e.g. B. as a pearl onion. It can also be filled and prepared in the oven.

While the yellow onions taste particularly hot, the mild red onions, cut into rings, are ideal for garnishing colorful salads, not least because of their decorative appearance.

However, there are also many dishes. B. the onion soup, a delicious onion cake, or an onion pizza, where the onion appears as the main actress.

6 tips for using onions properly

  • Tip 1: When chopping the onion, make sure to use a sharp knife, otherwise – apart from the tears – it could taste bitter.
  • Tip 2: Only cut onions just before using them so that the aroma does not evaporate.
  • Tip 3: To get rid of the onion smell on your hands, simply rub them with lemon juice.
  • Tip 4: Chewing mint leaves, on the other hand, helps if you have a rendezvous after the onion meal.
  • Tip 5: If onions cause bloating, spices such as caraway, cumin, fennel seeds, ginger, and thyme can counteract this effect.
  • Tip 6: Boiled, steamed or fried onions taste sweeter than raw. This is because the onion’s own sugar is released during the cooking process.

Be careful when buying onions

When buying stored onions, make sure they feel firm and plump. The shell should be clean and absolutely dry. Don’t buy onions that show rotten spots. Shake the onion mesh: if the peel rustles, this is a sign of good drying.

If, on the other hand, the onion feels soft or already has green shoots, this is a clear indication of overstocking.

When buying spring or spring onions, crisp, fresh leaves indicate freshness.

It is gratifying that, according to Greenpeace and the Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL), onions are among the foods least contaminated with pesticides – over 70 percent of the samples were absolutely free of residues.

If you want to be on the safe side, organic onions are of course preferable to those from conventional cultivation.

How to store onions

If you store your onions in an airy, dry, and dark place, you can keep them for several months. However, do not wrap them in foil.

Storage onions do best at temperatures between 1 and 2 degrees Celsius, while spring or spring onions stay fresh for four to five days in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator (in a plastic storage container and wrapped in a damp cloth).

When onions start to sprout, you should eat them as soon as possible.

As you can see, the onion is a very rewarding vegetable that not only tastes great but also keeps your health on its toes.

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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