Forget about saying “hold the onions.” Considering the nutritional perks, you might want to opt for double the onions instead. Research from India, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry shows that onions and its kissing cousin, garlic, can boost absorption of some minerals like iron and zinc from grain products significantly.
That’s especially good news for vegetarians and those who are going meatless more often.
While iron and zinc are found in whole grain products, their absorption from plant products like grains and vegetables can be less than ideal, sometimes leaving those who avoid meat with nutrient deficiencies. But in the study, consuming garlic or onion with cereals increased the uptake of iron by about 70 percent, and zinc by up to 160 percent.
Once again, it seems that the wisdom of the ages is now being proven by science. Many of the world’s traditional vegetarian cuisines or dishes use these ingredients in abundant quantities. Indian curries, North African couscous and chick peas combos and even Mexican bean and rice offerings all are chock full of garlic and/or onions.
But onions, garlic and the other members of their botanical family are not just for vegetarians. The allium family, which includes leeks, shallots, green onions and chives along with assorted onions and garlic, potentially offers powerful disease-fighters for everyone – maybe even more so for meat eaters who are at increased risk for certain cancers as well as heart disease and stroke.
For example, meat eaters may be more likely to develop gastric cancers like that of the stomach or colon, two cancers that allium vegetables may protect against (that’s not to say that as long as you top oversized burgers with onions, you can regularly indulge in eating large quantities of meat – sorry!).
What’s fascinating about these vegetables is just how many compounds they contain that may defend against disease. Take garlic as an example. The “stinking rose,” as it’s often called, contains a long list of compounds currently being studied – allicin, diallyl sulphide, diallyl disulphide, kaempferol and selenium – to name just a few.
Many are being investigated in their anti-cancer roles. Breast, prostate and skin cancers including melanoma are some that are currently under the microscope. But it appears that the mechanisms for how these compounds prevent disease may be different with each type of cancer. For instance, garlic may in its anti-bacterial role, fight off H. pylori, a bacteria linked to ulcers and stomach cancer. It also supplies anti-viral action and may help to prevent colds.
Garlic, besides acting as an antioxidant, is also linked to better blood pressure regulation and a decreased likelihood of developing blood clots that can cause heart attacks or stroke.
Onions also have their heart health benefits, including plenty in the way of antioxidant power. These vegetables are also known as prebiotics – substances that stimulate and promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. And having healthy bacteria in your gut is critical for a strong immune system that can fight off both infections and disease.
Many of the substances that defend against disease are the same ones responsible for garlic and onions’ pungent and strong tastes and odours. So if you’re thinking of opting for supplements instead, be aware that you may not reap the benefits you’re seeking. Over the years, numerous studies have been carried out on garlic supplements, many with conflicting results.
One of the reasons for researchers coming up with opposite answers may be due to processing. Comparing aged garlic supplements to those containing to dried, for instance, is like comparing apples to oranges. Then to top it off, it might be that some substances contained in garlic may work synergistically, so the supplement may not be as potent as eating the real thing. In addition garlic supplements may interact with various medications such as blood thinners.
Here are some other interesting allium tidbits:
Raw garlic has been shown to contain more cancer-fighters than cooked. To retain some of garlic’s anti-cancer action in cooked foods, chop the garlic and let it to sit for ten minutes before heating. Research shows that this allows for some of garlic’s cancer-fighting weaponry to stabilize.
Each allium family member appears to differ slightly in its phytonutrients makeup so don’t depend on just one to help ward off disease. Even wild garlic and wild leeks contain different compounds when compared to their regular counterparts.
When buying or using garlic, avoid bulbs that are sprouting – that contain green parts when you cut them open. While the green is safe to consume, it can be bitter. If you have a garden, take advantage of the situation and simply plant the garlic and reap the rewards the following growing season. It is best to separate the cloves before planting.
In the spring, you can harvest the garlic before it is mature – called green garlic – and use in cooking. Then in late spring, garlic scapes, part of the flowering stem, can be used in cooking. Removing the scapes also allows for the plant’s energy to go towards the bulbs which you can harvest in the autumn.
While garlic may ward off vampires, garlic breath is also known to make others keep their distance. To avoid garlic breath, there are some foods to use as garlic chasers to decrease odours: parsley, mushrooms, spinach, kiwi and basil are a few to consider.