Heirloom Meals: Savoring Yesterday's Traditions Today

Monday January 12, 2015

The Curative Power of Onions

Last winter I contracted the flu. And oddly enough, it was indeed a contract.  It held on so long, I thought I might never be well again.  Would my legs always feel like leaden soldiers? My doctor even told me to lean into the flu, embrace the convalesence. And I did.  What I learned during that bout of the flu changed my life.  It was time to take care of myself and I knew food would be my first line of defense. Food and nutrition would become my medicine.

I want to be perfectly clear to you, I am not a nutritionist. What I am is a skilled home cook who believes food is medicine. I have an interest in understanding the healing qualities of foods and have personally experienced this power by changing my diet.

I am working with the National Onion Association and we thought sharing the healing benefits of onions would be great for January as we are solidly in cold and flu season.  

Let's begin by thinking about onions, just for a second. If slicing an onion can make you cry, then there must be some potent vitamins and minerals contained in that sphere.

Before we delve into how onions can heal us, I wanted to refute an old wive’s tale that cut onions absorb germs.  Again, I want you stop and ponder this.  If cut onions absorb bacteria, then millions of us would be sick from the cut onions we store in the fridge.  My guess is if people think placing a peeled, sliced onion by their bedside keeps the flu away, it must be psychosomatic, the power of suggestion or a placebo effect. But they do NOT, I repeat, do NOT absorb germs.

With that said, onions pack a serious nutrient punch and eating more of them can boost your immune system. Here are just a few of the nutrients that can make a difference with your health:

  • Quercitin – It is a flavonoid. Flavonoids are what laymen call antioxidants. It is the skin that contain them so next time you make vegetable broth or chicken soup, toss the skins into the pot. (of course, remove them before serving.) Red onions have the most and I use them in my soups this time of year.
  • Sulfur – According to Harriet Sugar Miller, an expert in the nutrition-cancer connections, and her sources, sulfur attaches to molecules that take carcinogens out of your system. She suggests western yellow onions have the most sulfur. If you are going to eat onions for health, it is good to know which ones offer the best healing qualities.
  • Other nutrients – Onions are high in vitamin C, B6, calcium and a host of others. For me, I am so happy to know that this seemingly mundane, daily staple holds so much power in my diet.

So, I admit, I might even contemplate putting sliced onions in my socks to potentially draw out the toxins if I had a really bad case of the flu again. Afterall, desperation is part of the flu experience.  And by all means give it a try if you are feeling punk. And maybe, just maybe it would work. Far be it from me to be the naysayer about old remedies. 

But, I think it wise to take obvious precautions during the cold and flu season. Wash you hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands.  And then boost your immune system with foods that are high in vitamin C and have antiviral and bacteria fighting qualities.  Onions are on the top of my list. Chicken or miso soup anyone?

Disclosure: I was compensated by the National Onion Association for this post. All opinions, text and photographs are my own.