5 reasons to eat onions & Pickled Onion recipe

Onions, onions, la la la. Onions, onions, ha ha ha
Root toot doodle-ee-oot doot doo doot
Onions, onions, la la la. Onions, onions, ha ha ha

Yes, I do love onions. The song is not my favourite but watch out as it can become an earworm.

Onions are indeed deserving of a change in status. Why do they need to be relegated only as a garnish on top of a burger or some other sandwich? They are certainly deserving of so much more when you consider their taste, cost and nutritional value.

Onions are part of the illustrious allium botanical family, which besides onions, includes chives, garlic, leeks, onions, scallions, and shallots. While we’re often told to choose colourful produce to reap the most health benefits, allium vegetables are an example of why colour is not always a factor in disease prevention.

The allium family, though usually pale in colour, is indeed a powerful one. I am talking about more than just their pungent and strong tastes and odours that are due to their sulfur-containing compounds. They’re also rich in a variety of flavonoids such as quercetin.

Here are just five reasons to eat onions:

Act as a prebiotic
Having beneficial bacteria in your gut (microbiome) is key for good health. Not only is your microbiome linked to healthy immune system functioning, it’s also associated with benefits from head to toe, including mental health and even the development of diabetes.

Prebiotics are indigestible carbohydrates which both stimulate and promote the growth of these beneficial bacteria. As they’re the fare of choice for the bacteria, including prebiotics on the menu means you’re a good host to those bacteria living in your gut. Be forewarned, though, one of the side effects of prebiotics is gas.

Increase absorption of zinc from plant sources
This is especially important for those eating meatless meals as zinc is a major player in your immune system functioning.

Offer anti-inflammatory action
Countering inflammation in the body is now known to be a key weapon in fighting a variety of diseases including cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, Alzheimer’s and diabetes.

Supply antioxidants

Linked to decreased risk of some cancers including gastric cancer

There are a number of ways that onions may lower the risk of gastric cancer including suppressing the growth of H pylori, the bacteria responsible for stomach ulcers. Those with stomach ulcers are at a greater risk of developing this type of cancer.

Include onions on your menu in a variety of ways. Throw them into salads, and sandwiches. Caramelize a batch and leave them in your refrigerator to add to grain dishes such quinoa or brown rice as you finish cooking them. Sauté them (as your aromatics) to start a pot of soup or roast them whole as a side dish.

Here’s a simple way to dress up onions for salads and sandwiches or even add them atop a stew.  Red onions contain the flavonoid anthocyanin, the pigment responsible for the red/purple colour. Keep some of these on hand in your fridge.

Simple Pickled Red Onions

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
4 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

Add vinegar, sugar, salt and water to a jar, fitted with a lid. Shake until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Add onions and shake again to cover onions. If using the same day, let the onions sit at room temperature for at least one hour. For use later, keep refrigerated for up to one week.


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Categories: Recipes, Research Roundup

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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