(Onion prices are soaring high, and the former ‘food-for-the-poor’ is slowly turning into the most expensive item for sale in the market. But the spike has shaken all of us. Onion is a staple in most of our households and, as nutritionist Kavita Devgan explains, for good reason.)
“My grandmother insists that we eat raw onions with every meal. Really! Why is it necessary?” asked a colleague when she saw me chomping on them generously during our lunch meeting together. Here’s my answer.
Earlier, till even a generation ago, all major meals used to have hastily-cut onions as an accompaniment. I grew up seeing my parents, aunts, uncles and family friends take generous bites of onions with every mouthful of rice-dal, or roti subzi. So, I learnt to do it too. Slowly, the habit (as all habits do) grew on me, and now I do the same — cut onions and serve them with every meal. My family is used to it, but most of my friends are surprised when they see this basic salad, and not surprisingly, most of them don’t dig into this side plate much.
Onions stayed the basic salad for me till I was introduced to fancier and colorful plates in restaurants and dinners hosted by friends.
I never really pondered over their importance or need, until science cleared that up for me. And trust me, every new research I read about onions has made me thankful for all these years of chopping and chomping on this humble combination.
Why We Should Be Eating Onions
The benefits of onion go far beyond the much popularized — put it under your armpits, it’ll seem like you are running a temperature and then you can miss school (thank Bollywood for this). Onions are actually a stay-safe and healthy food that deliver health with every bite.
When you eat raw onions, you —
- Get the allicin advantage. Onions are loaded with allicin, a phytochemical that boosts the circulation and warms the body from inside. Allicin also cleanses and nourishes the entire body, particularly the liver. Raw onions also contain allium — compounds that help lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure. So, chewing some raw onion every day is a simple yet effective heart-health boosting habit.
- There’s more! Onions have another chemical compound called quercetin, that fights the histamine that make our nose swell and run. So eating them can help keep seasonal allergies away. Quercetin is a known platelet booster and helps boost exercise endurance by making oxygen more available to the lungs. And if you are worried about pollution and what it is doing to you (aren’t we all!), then it is a perfect antidote as it helps boost the lung capacity and protects the lungs from the harmful effects of atmospheric pollutants and cigarette smoke. Another big benefit of quercetin is that it cuts the risk of stroke too.
- Onions are good sources of hard-to-find prebiotics. Not acquainted with them? Well, these are the food for probiotics whare responsible for keeping our gut healthy (see chapter on fermentation). The logic is simple — the more you can feed your ‘good bugs’, the healthier you will be.
- Finally, onions enhance immunity too. So basically, an onion a day is a good idea as it can give our bodies a fighting chance against scary seasonal virus. After all, which one of us catches the flu when someone in a movie hall sneezes is all a game-play of immunity; those with sturdy immunity escape, while others succumb.
How You Should Be Eating Them
- Ideally, have them raw.
- But if you have troubles with raw onions, you could go for an onion soup. Cook it on slow heat to maximize the benefits, or slice them really thin (they cook faster this way), let them sit for a couple of minutes (enzymes and antioxidants become more available) and cook covered with vegetable stock (or water) for a few minutes till they become soft.
- You can also use onion as a topping for any dish (dal, subzi, stir fry, salad, rice).
- Frying till caramelized or even the way we make our curries is not the best way to get their benefits.
- With onions, another tip is to peel lightly, as quercetin tends to be more concentrated in the outer layers of the flesh.
Now you know why our ancestors ate raw onions everyday (sometimes with every meal). Clearly, they knew about the goldmine of benefits these deliver. About time we all cultivate that habit too. Don’t let this one get lost in the haze of passing time!
(Kavita is a nutritionist, weight management consultant and health writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People (Jaico) and Ultimate Grandmother Hacks: 50 Kickass Traditional Habits for a Fitter You (Rupa).)
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