The Humble Onion Takes Its Place as Health Food

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Over the weekend, my friend Mara started telling me about the BOMB. Nope, that’s not the nuclear weapon, but instead a series of recommended foods that you should eat. In Googling that acronym, I came up with the G-BOMBS diet developed by Dr. Joel Fuhrman and featured on the Dr. Oz Show. So what is G-BOMB? That’s an acronym that stands for greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries and seeds. I had heard of most of those foods as super foods, but hadn’t considered onions in that classification.

    But it turns out that this particular type of vegetable does provide lots of health benefits. Dr. Fuhrman notes that these vegetables have been found to have beneficial effects on both the immune system and the cardiovascular system. They also help protect against diabetes and cancer.  

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    So what makes onions so powerful? It turns out that they’re chock full of flavonoids. According to, flavonoids are plant-based compounds that have antioxidant properties that decrease inflammation, help arteries remain healthy as well as repair cellular damage. In fact, onions are among the top 10 commonly eaten vegetables that have the highest amount of quercetin, an important flavonoid. Additionally, onions have one of the highest levels of polyphenols, which are a large category of phytonutrients. In fact, the polyphenol level in an onion is actually higher than tomatoes carrots and red bell pepper.

    So how much onion do you need to eat to get these benefits? The George Mateljan Foundation states that researchers have found that eating several servings of onions weekly can lower the risk of some types of cancer. In fact, eating up to seven servings of onions each week can decrease the risk of colorectal, laryngeal and ovarian cancer. In addition, eating ½ cup of onion daily can decrease the risk of oral and esophageal cancer. And eating onions seem to be a better way to get quercetin than through a supplement since researchers believe the vegetable provides better protection from oxidative stress.

    However, preparation can make a difference in the onion’s health properties. The George Mateljan Foundation offers some tips to get the most health benefits out of this vegetable. First of all, the onion’s flavonoids, which are the antioxidants that help to fight inflammation and, thus, cancer, are concentrated primarily in the outer layers of the onion. “To maximize your health benefits, peel off as little of the fleshy, edible portion as possible when removing the onion’s outermost paper layers,” the foundation explains. If overpeeled, the onion can lose approximately 20 percent of the quercetin and 75 percent of the anthocyanins, both of which are important flavonoids. Interestingly, cooking styles don’t necessarily change the nutritional bang that onions provide. The foundation points out that simmering onions in soup does not degrade the quality of the quercetin, since it is transferred into the broth. To receive this health benefit, the foundation recommends cooking soup in low heat in order to preserve this critical element.

  • So as you prepare your Thanksgiving meal, which type of onion should you choose? The National Onion Association (NOA) reports that there are three general types of bulb onions – yellow, red and white. “Approximately 87 percent of the crop is devoted to yellow onion production, with about eight percent red onions, and five percent white onions,” the association’s website stated. So what are the differences in these onions? Yellow onions tend to have a full flavor and are often used when cooking. Red onions are used in grilling, charbroiling and roasting, but also can be used in fresh dishes.  White onions often are used in prepared salads and white sauces. They also develop a golden color as well as a sweet flavor when sautéed.

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    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Fuhrman, J. (2012). G-BOMBS: Superfoods for weight loss and longevity. The Dr. Oz Show.

    George Mateljan Foundation. (nd). Onions. (nd). What are flavonoids?

    The National Onion Association. (nd). Colors, flavors, sizes and seasons.

Published On: November 19, 2012