Onions are used in almost every Indian household be it for preparing lip-smacking curries, stir-fries, refreshing salads, or spicy sandwiches. Raw, roasted, boiled, fried or baked, onions can be cooked in a variety of ways each lending a distinct taste to the preparations. Apart from its culinary use, onions are widely used in traditional medicine for digestive issues like loss of appetite, upset stomach, or gallbladder disorders. Onions are also used in treatment of heart and blood vessel issues like chest pain and high blood pressure. Onion hair masks are also widely used as it has many benefits for hair health from promoting hair growth, preventing itchy scalp, hair loss to treating dandruff. (See pics: National Onion Day 2023: 7 fascinating facts about onions that you need to know)
Onion’s many health benefits
“Onion is widely cultivated and consumed as a vegetable and medicinal plant all over the world. It belongs to the Liliaceae family and is cultivated across Europe, North America, Asia and Africa. Onions are a storehouse of dietary flavonoids and alkenyl cysteine sulfoxides (ACSOs). The anthocyanins in onion are the reason they look red or purple in appearance. Flavonols like quercetin and its derivatives make onion skin yellow and brown in many varieties. Onion is considered antibacterial, antithrombotic, antiplatelet, and also useful in asthma,” says Haripriya. N, Executive Nutritionist, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Chennai in an interview with HT Digital.
Benefits of onion in diabetes prevention and management
“Including onions in the regular cooking helps to control the blood sugar values especially in prediabetes. As per a study, eating raw red onion can help reduce fasting blood sugar levels after 4 hours,” says Haripriya.
Here’s how onions can help control blood sugar levels:
- Specific compounds found in onions, such as quercetin and sulfur compounds, also possess antidiabetic effects. High amounts of fibre, iron, potassium, vitamin C, and various essential micronutrients that promote health in a number of ways.
- Quercetin has been shown to interact with cells in the small intestine, pancreas, skeletal muscle, fat tissue, and liver to control whole-body blood sugar regulation.
- They lower the blood sugar due to the fact they are prebiotics, undigested fibres that pass through the upper digestive tract to the large intestine where they stimulate growth of beneficial bacteria. And surprisingly, gut bacteria are involved in glucose regulation.
- It should be noted that the raw onion is the most beneficial to our health. The low glycaemic index shows that it can help control blood sugar levels in diabetics.
- Ripe onion juice has been shown to provide anti-diabetic properties and prevent hyperglycaemia.
How to consume onions for diabetes management
Onions can be used in fresh raita, dosa, stuffed chapati or salads apart from your regular cooking.
Moderation is the key as onion contains sulfur and may aggravate gastritis or reflux when taken on empty stomach.
Benefits of onions in arthritis
“Arthritis is defined as inflammation that affects the joints. Most common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Onions can help reduce the inflammation in joints as it contains quercetin, flavonoids which is present abundantly in onions known to modulate immune responses,” says Haripriya.
“A study conducted on women with rheumatoid arthritis, were administered a constant dose of quercetin(500mg/day) for a duration of 8 weeks or so. Quercetin supplementation reduced early morning stiffness associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Factors responsible for inflammation were also suppressed,” she adds.
“When a large amount of ROS (reactive oxygen species) produced, which is responsible for inflammation can cause damage to tissues and organs and lead to the accumulation of the even larger amount of ROS. Primarily Quercetin, flavonol and vitamin C present in onions ameliorates several markers of inflammation thereby attenuating oxidative stress,” adds the expert.
Which cooking method is best for onions
Methods of cooking such as sauté and frying do not lead to loss of nutrients (importantly flavonoids) but boiling can lead to a 30% loss of the nutrients present in onions.