It may make you cry and may not be ideal before a date. However, onion is surprisingly healthy, tasty, and versatile.
Find out why you should never underestimate onion again based on science!
Is Onion Good for You?
Onions belong to the genus of leek plants (Allium), including garlic and chives. For a good reason, these plants are cornerstones of various culinary cultures.
Vegetables of this genus contain vitamins, minerals, and highly effective bioactive substances proven to promote health.
The health benefits of onion have been known for over 4000 years. Accordingly, the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Chinese have used onions medicinally to treat tumors (Nicastro et al. 20151).
Are Onion Rings Good for You?
Although we speak of fast food, this is a legitimate question, especially since the main ingredient is healthy onions. But appearances are deceptive.
With onion rings, the dough prevails, which is also fried in cheap industrial vegetable oil. Combining refined vegetable oils and refined carbohydrates is a double assault on your health.
While refined flour promotes inflammation in your gut, frying damages the omega-6 fat to apply oxidative stress to your cells, hence, onion rings are unhealthy.
Nevertheless, you can make a healthier version of this fast-food classic yourself. Therefore, it is essential to use a heat-resistant fat like coconut oil, lard, or ghee.
Are There Benefits of Eating Onion Raw?
Raw onions can be more effective because they contain organic sulfur compounds hiding in their delicate oils.
Heat partially destroys them. However, if the onion is eaten raw, its juice can irritate or be challenging to digest.
Those who cannot tolerate raw onions can still choose from various delicious cooking methods. For example, it is wise to bake onions on their skin. You can imagine this in a similar way to baking potatoes.
While the active ingredients remain in the onion, its taste is milder and has a delicious caramel note.
Which Onion to Use?
Like most leek plants, onions are generally healthy. However, depending on the subspecies, they can have different health benefits.
It has white flesh surrounded by thick brownish-yellow skin. Accordingly, the yellow onion is the most common conventional onion as we know it.
Quercetin – a natural yellow dye – is the essential antioxidant in the onion.
They have a papery, white skin and are milder and sweeter than conventional yellow onions.
Although they are particularly effective against fungal infections, white onion contains the least amount of antioxidants (Lanzotti et al. 20122).
Since red onions can contain twice as many antioxidants as other species, they are probably the best fit for an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle.
The antioxidant anthocyanins in red onions give them their characteristic color. These are flavonoids, as we know them from red wine or green tea.
These unique polyphenols guarantee a variety of health benefits.
Spring onions are usually planted at the end of summer to grow through the winter and be ready for harvest in spring.
You can recognize spring onions by the small, round, white bulb at their base.
Nevertheless, they still have a gentler taste than regular onions, which are longer in the ground and grow larger.
Spring onion health benefits are similar as they are nutritious as other onions.
Health Benefits of Onion
Although onion consists of almost 90% water, it provides a remarkable variety of nutrients.
Minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium or vitamins B6 and B9 should be emphasized (*).
Furthermore, adequate vitamin C makes it a food that promotes collagen formation for skin, hair, and bones.
Nevertheless, real onion benefits lie in its bioactive substance, the polyphenols.
1. Supplies Antioxidants
Onions are full of antioxidants. Above all, they stem from various polyphenols. However, the essential flavonoid quercetin is abundant in all onions.
You can find more than 25 different flavonoids in various types of onions. Additionally, red onions contain over 25 anthocyanins (Slimestad et al. 20073).
These antioxidants prevent the oxidation of fatty acids, both in food and cells.
Antioxidant polyphenols are found precisely in the outer layers of the onion. Therefore, removing the two outer flesh layers can cost up to ¾ of all anthocyanins and up to ¼ of quercetin.
Nevertheless, experts believe the body absorbs quercetin from onions much better than from dietary supplements.
2. Boosts the Immune System
Since the bioactive substances in onions have anti-inflammatory benefits, it is unsurprising that they can strengthen the immune system.
In addition to reducing free radicals, the active ingredients in onion also develop anti-allergic properties.
These effects occur through immune system stimulation, antiviral activities, reduction of proinflammatory cytokines, or histamine release (Mlcek et al .20166).
Due to the reduced histamine release, onions can combat sneezing, weeping, and itching in allergic reactions.
Accordingly, an American Journal of Physiology study found that quercetin relaxes respiratory muscles and may relieve asthma symptoms (Townsend et al. 20137).
3. Offers Antibacterial Properties
That a cheap and abundant food can fight bacteria comes in handy – especially in times of the coronavirus.
Onions can fight potentially dangerous bacteria such as E. coli or S. aureus (Sharma et al. 20188).
Onions can also inhibit the growth of pathogens, such as cholera, which is still a significant public health problem in developing countries (Hannan et al. 20109).
Laboratory experiments show that the flavonoid quercetin is responsible for the onions’ broad antibacterial benefits (Ramos et al. 200610).
Quercetin can damage bacteria, cell walls, and membranes (Wang et al. 201811).
4. Helps Prevent Heart Disease
Both the antioxidant and sulfur compounds in onions counteract blood clotting, which reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes (Chan et al. 200212).
Besides its anti-inflammatory effect, the onion’s ability to lower triglyceride levels reduces heart disease risk in general (Vazquez-Prieto et al. 201113).
5. Lowers Blood Pressure
In a randomized placebo-controlled double-blind trial, researchers determined the antihypertensive effect of quercetin extracted from onions.
In this study, the flavonoid could lower blood pressure, although the subjects were overweight to obese (Brüll et al. 201514).
Since many people argue that the body better absorbs quercetin from food, whole onions could be more beneficial for hypertension than supplements.
6. Help Regulates Blood Sugar
Specific sulfur compounds, quercetin, and chromium in onions can have anti-diabetic effects.
A meta-analysis carried out in 2014 showed that patients with type 2 diabetes had better liver enzymes and lower glycaemic values after eating onions (Akash et al. 201415).
Also, further studies have shown that quercetin interacts with the liver, small intestine, pancreas, muscles, and fatty tissue cells to regulate blood sugar levels throughout the body (Eid et al. 201716).
7. Has Anticancer Properties
According to a study by the University of Guelph, different onion varieties can contribute to the destruction of breast and colon cancer cells (Murayyan et al. 201717).
These anticancer properties have been associated with sulfur compounds and flavonoids in onions.
In this sense, the sulfur compound onionin A in onions can prevent the growth of lung tumors and metastases (Fujiwara et al. 201618).
Besides quercetin, fisetin – another flavonoid – is responsible for the tumor-inhibiting effect (Wang et al. 201819).
Furthermore, studies have shown that people with the highest onion consumption have the lowest cancer rates (Turati et al. 201420).
8. Helps Prevent Belly Fat
Quercetin is one of the few substances that can keep 11β hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase in check (Torres-Piedra et al. 201021).
This enzyme can reactivate the cortisol stored in fat cells, promoting fat formation – even without stress (Ayachi et al. 200622).
9. Boosts Bone Density
A 2009 study by Menopause Magazine found that daily consumption of onions improves bone density in women who have gone through or ended menopause.
Women who ate onions regularly had a 20 percent lower risk of hip fracture than women who had never eaten onions.
Moreover, the latter had 5 percent less bone mass than those eating onions frequently (Matheson et al. 200923).
Similarly, a recent study of 24 middle-aged and postmenopausal women showed that drinking onion juice improved bone mineral density and antioxidant activity (Law et al. 201624).
10. Protects Brain Function
Who does not worry about cognition and brain health over the years?
Studies show that eating onion prevents blood-brain barrier dysfunction and brain water retention (Hyun et al. 201325).
The researchers suspect the effect is again due to the onion’s antioxidants.
Onion Benefits for Liver and Gut
Onions are not only rich in fiber but also in prebiotics.
Healthy intestinal bacteria consume these indigestible fibers, thus contributing to gut health.
As a result, gut bacteria form short-chain fatty acids, such as Acetate or Butyrate. Besides intestinal health, short-chain fatty acids also strengthen the immune system and digestion (Canani et al. 201126).
Moreover, eating onions increases lactobacilli and bifidobacteria in the gut, leading to better digestion (Markowiak et al. 201727).
Furthermore, consuming onion can protect the liver and improve its enzyme production through sulfur compounds (Akash et al. 201428).
Benefits of Onion for Eyes
According to recent studies, the substances in onion juice can positively affect eye health.
Accordingly, one study used onion juice as an eye drop, which could inhibit additional eye flora growth.
Thus, onions can potentially cure common eye infections such as conjunctivitis and blepharitis (Nejabat et al. 201429).
But before administering onion juice as eye drops in a self-experiment, please talk to your doctor.
Nevertheless, according to studies, onion extracts can be healthy for the eyes by preventing corneal clouding (Kim et al. 201630).
Furthermore, some suggest that the sulfides in onions can also prevent cataracts.
Onion Benefits for Hair
Onions are an inexpensive household remedy that has been reported to improve both the growth and strength of hair.
Applying onion juice to hair and scalp can increase the blood flow to the hair follicles and promote hair growth. Thereby, some people also notice increased hair volume.
Due to its sulfur content, onion juice may support hair growth. Since active sulfur compounds stimulate collagen production, they may enhance hair growth.
Collagen is the protein our body needs to produce hair and nails. For this reason, sulfur is also used to treat thin hair.
Accordingly, a study shows that people who had washed their hair with onion juice showed enhanced hair growth.
Therefore, the researchers conclude that onion can be effective against Alopecia areata (AA), an acute type of hair loss (Sharquie et al. 200231).
Furthermore, onion juice may reduce itching and dandruff, restore shine, and prevent hair graying.
To reap these benefits for your hair, massage fresh onion juice into your scalp and hair and leave for 15 minutes.
Afterward, rinse it out and wash the hair with shampoo.
Benefits of Onion for the Skin
Not only the scalp benefits from onions. An onion face mask can also contribute to skin care.
When you massage fresh onion juice into the skin, blood circulation and the skin’s appearance may improve. As a result, the skin looks more youthful and smooth.
Accordingly, a study of post-operative scars has found that onion extract’s application improves redness, softness, texture, and overall skin appearance (Draelos 200832).
With this in mind, a proven home remedy is to apply a 1:1 mixture of onion juice and olive oil to the skin, leave the mask for 20 minutes, and then rinse off.
Such onion masks may apply the following benefits to your skin:
- Brings skin to shine: The antibacterial properties of onion juice also protect your skin. In addition to protecting against free radicals, onion provides A, C, and E vitamins to contribute to skin health and gives it a radiant glow.
- Alleviates acne: Onion’s antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory properties can protect your skin from acne-causing bacteria and infections. Therefore, you can utilize onions against acne and pimples. Also, you may use onion extract or creams to target acne scars.
- Removes skin spots: A 1:1 antiseptic mixture of onion juice and apple cider vinegar helps remove dark spots on the skin (melasma or hyperpigmentation) when used twice daily.
- Reverses skin aging: The antioxidative polyphenols in onions have enormous anti-aging potential. For example, quercetin can slow aging by intercepting free radicals and smoothening the skin. Additionally, sulfur and vitamins contribute to this effect.
If the health benefits of onions for the skin have convinced you, here is an ingenious onion mask recipe that can combine all these effects and give the skin more radiance.
Onion Face Mask Benefits
- 1 Onion
- 2 tbsp Honey
- 1/2 cup Water or Milk (as you prefer)
- 1 pinch Nutmeg (ground)
- 1 dash Apple Cider Vinegar (organic with mother)
- Peel and clean the onion well to remove germs and bacteria from its surface.
- Cut it into pieces and put them in the blender. Add water or milk to puree them.
- Once the onion has turned into a paste, add honey, apple cider vinegar, and nutmeg. Mix well.
- Apply the mask to your clean face. Distribute well, especially to cover stains and bumps.
- Leave to work for 15-20 minutes and then rinse off with plenty of warm water.
Onion Benefits for Women
Because of the unpleasant smell, women especially shy away from eating onions.
If you are one of them, you now know the range of onion benefits you have missed out on so far. The bottom line is that the following benefits of onions, which we have already discussed in detail, are essential for women:
- Prevents cancer
- Promotes heart health
- Protects the skin against aging
- Treats acne and pimples
- Promotes hair growth
Researchers recently recommended onions for postmenopausal women due to phytochemicals improving blood lipids and protecting DNA (Ko et al. 202033).
Not only postmenopausal women but also middle-aged women can benefit from improved bone mineral density and antioxidant activity through the consumption of onions, according to another study (Law et al. 201634).
In short, the potential of onions as a superfood for women is enormous. You may think twice before skipping it since it tastes delicious.
Benefits of Onion for Men
The fact that the onion is especially popular among men has a good reason.
After all, thousands of years ago, the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians already saw onions as a symbol of vitality. Today the onion is considered an aphrodisiac, especially in Africa.
A study on impotence and erectile dysfunction shows this is not just an empty promise (Kamatenesi-Mugisha et al. 200535).
Consequently, a good portion of onion on the plate is probably not wrongly considered manly.
Moreover, a recent study shows that onions can increase the male sex hormone testosterone production.
In addition to preventing cardiovascular and cancer diseases, the onion is one of the few effective remedies for stubborn belly fat induced by stress.
Moreover, men can also take advantage of the benefits of onion juice for hair growth.
Onion Side Effects
Only minor side effects for humans are known concerning the consumption of onions. Perhaps this is why they are a cornerstone of different cultures and cuisines worldwide.
Nevertheless, there are individual cases of allergies or intolerances to onions. So if you experience a strange reaction after eating onions, consult a doctor immediately.
How Much Onion per Day?
Studies link the consumption of 2-3 large onions per week with the most significant benefit in reducing various common cancers (Galeone et al. 200637).
According to these studies, one-third of an onion a day is the healthiest. Nevertheless, it will not be a mishap if you eat more.
To keep onions healthy, store them in a cool, dry room. Once cut, keep onions in the refrigerator. Since both accelerate their spoilage, you should not store whole onions in the fridge or a plastic bag.
The Bottome Line
If you are not afraid to shed a tear now and then, add this superfood next door into your pantry.
Not only because of its delightful taste but also because of its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, onion is a staple food in many cultures.
Furthermore, its antioxidant power can prevent various cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
However, the best thing about onions is that you can hardly use any other vegetable in such a versatile and straightforward way. With onion, you can pimp lots of savory or even sweet dishes.
But remember, brush your teeth if you plan to make out after eating!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Is it good to eat onions everyday?
According to studies, 2-3 big onions per week are ideal. So you may eat 1/3 of onion daily to achieve optimal health benefits.
What are the side effects of onions?
Health authorities consider onion safe if the person concerned has no allergy or intolerance.
Do onions cleanse the body?
Onion has strong antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects, cleansing your body.
Do onions lose nutrients when cooked?
Cooking can damage the organic sulfur compounds in onions. However, other nutrients and polyphenols are not lost. If you don’t like them raw, bake onions like potatoes. This way, the sulfur compounds stay active.
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Mag. Stephan Lederer, MSc. is an author and blogger from Austria who writes in-depth content about health and nutrition. His book series on Interval Fasting landed #1 on the bestseller list in the German Amazon marketplace in 15 categories.
Stephan is a true man of science, having earned multiple diplomas and master's degrees in various fields. He has made it his mission to bridge the gap between conventional wisdom and scientific knowledge. He precisely reviews the content and sources of this blog for currency and accuracy.
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