Monday, August 9, 2010

Vegetable of the Week: Onion

Sources: http://www.vegetarian-nutrition.info, http://www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov

Origin
The onion is believed to have originated in Asia, though it is likely that onions may have been growing wild on every continent. Dating back to 3500 BC, onions were one of the few foods that did not spoil during the winter months. Ourancestors must have recognized the vegetable's durability and began growing onions for food.
Today, onions are used in a variety of dishes and rank sixth among the world's leading vegetable crops. Onions not only provide flavor; they also provide health-promoting phytochemicals as well as nutrients.

Varieties
Onions (Allium cepa) belong to the lily family, the same family as garlic, leeks, chives, scallions and shallots. There are many different varieties of onion, red, yellow, white, and green, each with their own unique flavor, from very strong to mildly sweet. Onions can be eaten raw, cooked, fried, dried or roasted. They are commonly used to flavor dips, salads, soups, spreads, stir-fry and other dishes.

Tips for Selection
Most onions are sold loose by weight, although some types are sold in bags or small boxes. Look for onions that feel dry and solid all over, with no soft spots or sprouts. The neck should be tightly closed and the outer skin should have a crackly feel and a shiny appearance. Onions should smell mild, even if their flavor is not. Avoid selecting onions with green areas or dark patches.

Storage
Onions should be kept in a cool, dry open space away from bright light. Onions do best in an area that allows for air circulation. Because onions absorb moisture, do not store onions below the sink. Also, do not place onions near potatoes because potatoes give off moisture and produce a gas that causes onions to spoil more quickly. Spring/summer onions usually store for about two weeks and storage onions for about three to four weeks.

Health benefits of Onions
- Early American settlers used wild onions to treat colds, coughs, and asthma, and to repel insects.
- In Chinese medicine, onions have been used to treat angina, coughs, bacterial infections, and breathing problems.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) supports the use of onions for the treatment of poor appetite and to prevent atherosclerosis. In addition, onion extracts are recognized by WHO for providing relief in the treatment of coughs and colds, asthma and bronchitis. Onions are known to decrease bronchial spasms. An onion extract was found to decrease allergy-induced bronchial constriction in asthma patients.
- Onions are a very rich source of fructo-oligosaccharides. These oligomers stimulate the growth of healthy bifidobacteria and suppress the growth of potentially harmful bacteria in the colon. In addition, they can reduce the risk of tumors developing in the colon.
- Onion extracts, rich in a variety of sulfides, provide some protection against tumor growth. Chinese with the highest intake of onions, garlic, and other Allium vegetables have a risk of stomach cancer 40 percent less than those with the lowest intake.

Cardiovascular Help
- Onions contain a number of sulfides similar to those found in garlic which may lower blood lipids and blood pressure.
- Onions are a rich source of flavonoids, substances known to provide protection against cardiovascular disease.
- Onions are also natural anticlotting agents since they possess substances with fibrinolytic activity and can suppress platelet-clumping. The anticlotting effect of onions closely correlates with their sulfur content.

Use and Safety
Onions have a universal appeal. They are safely consumed by most people. However, consuming large quantities of onions can lead to stomach distress and gastrointestinal irritation that may result in nausea and diarrhea. There are no known interactions with drugs except that they can potentiate the action of anticoagulants.

So leave all that anxiety about onion breath aside and have your share of onions this week!

We'd love it if you share your favourite onion recipe with us at contact@easemyhealth.com - best recipe gets featured on Health P.O with due credit :)

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