By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
The longer you follow my advice and recommendations for healthy-vibe living, the more you’ll realize that there are a few foods I just can’t live without—and you shouldn’t either. One of them is onions.
Onions are one of Nature’s most incredible creations. In addition to being packed with nutrients, they’re a cook’s dream. Depending on how they’re prepared, onions can add a sharp (raw), savory (cooked), or even sweet (caramelized) flavor to virtually any dish (or beverage). I’m constantly using them to liven up salads, sandwiches, and soups, and I wouldn’t dream of making a batch of pasta sauce without them. (In fact, I can’t imagine an Italian meal without onions somewhere on the table!).
Still, I know from years of recommending them to patients that onions can be a hard sell. The pungent aroma and biting flavor can be too much for some people—and then there’s the bad breath that many find off-putting.
That’s why I want to tell you about onion juice. It’s a good way to gain the health benefits of onions, without being overwhelmed by them.
Onion Juice—“It’s a Thing” as the Kids Say
The best way to eat onions will always be raw, because the nutrient concentrations are highest. Juicing preserves all of those nutrients, but takes off some of the edge that you may find unpleasant.
Here’s how to do it:
Toss a peeled and quartered onion into the blender, and add a teaspoon of raw honey or some apples or carrots. Add a little filtered water, too to make it go down easier. It will still be an acquired taste—and you’ll have to experiment to find the right mix ratio for you—but the sweetness of the honey and carrots or apples should cut down on the “bite” of the onion and make it a little more palatable. Feel free to add other veggies like celery or cucumber to the mix.
Just be careful not to use exclusively the juice and skip out on eating the pulp of the vegetables. If you do that, you’ll miss out on all the health benefits of fiber, which are countless!
And, for some of the best honey you can find, check out my Vervana Raw Honey (if it’s still available by the time you read this – I have less than 50 jars left!).
Onion—and Onion Juice—Health Benefits
As I mentioned, onions are loaded with nutrition—so much so that they’re one of my top superfoods. Here are just a few of the ways you can expect your health to improve as a result of making onions and/or onion juice a regular part of your meals:
Onion Benefit #1: Your Inflammation Levels Will Fall
In my opinion, this is the Number One health benefit of onions, because reducing inflammation is the sine qua non of healthy aging. If you want to prevent progressive, long-term issues like heart disease and cognitive decline, you have to slow the inflammatory response in your body—no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
There are three nutrients in onions that help with this: quercetin, selenium, and the phytonutrients known as organosulfides.
Quercetin is a potent antioxidant that helps neutralize free radicals and prevent cell damage, which keeps inflammation in check. The trace mineral selenium is also a free radical scavenger, but I like it more for its ability to block NF-kappaB activity—one of the body’s major inflammatory pathways. Selenium also helps regulate the immune response, so it’s helpful in managing chronic inflammatory conditions like arthritis or IBD.
Finally, there’s organosulfides. These nutrients contain sulfur, which is needed for the production of glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant. Here’s what you need to know about glutathione—it’s basically your body’s trash collector. It works primarily in the liver, gathering up and binding toxins for excretion. Eating a lot of sulfur-containing foods, like onions and onion juice, helps check keep glutathione levels high, which reduces the likelihood that toxic buildup will lead to inflammation.
(As a side note, organosulfides are also the compounds in onions that cause you to cry as you cut them. But knowing how good they are for you, maybe you won’t mind the tears as much next time!)
Onion Benefit #2: Your Digestion Will Improve
If we’re being honest, most of us aren’t going to eat enough onion in a day to really move the needle when it comes to getting the recommended daily dose of fiber (I aim for 25-35 grams).
Still, every little bit helps—plus the fiber that onions contain is great for our gut bacteria.
Specifically, onions are a good source of inulin. This type of fiber is a favorite food of Bifidobacterium, a prominent strain of bacteria in the colon. These bugs help us break down and absorb food, and they keep our colon moving—so we’re better able to absorb nutrients and less likely to become constipated.
Onion Benefit #3: You’ll Be Less Likely to Have a Heart Attack
During my days in active practice, I always encouraged my patients with hypertension to eat as many onions as they (and their spouses) could stand. Why? Quercetin—the flavonoid that helps reduce inflammation—also brings down blood pressure.
This isn’t the only way that onions benefit heart health, though. They’ve also been linked with better arterial function and less blood clotting. One study even found that drinking onion juice can help balance cholesterol levels and reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (the one scenario in which cholesterol is truly dangerous, in my opinion).
The net result? Your risk of having a heart attack or stroke drops.
Onion Benefit #4: Your Hair, Skin, and Nails Will Look Great
Since sulfur is a primary ingredient needed for healthy hair and nails, upping your onion consumption is a great way to naturally improve your appearance. Plus, onions are rich in vitamin C, which is needed to build and maintain the collagen that keeps your skin firm.
For the more adventurous among you, there’s even a home remedy that claims onion juice, when applied directly to the scalp, may be able to help thicken and possibly regrow hair.
If you’re interested in trying an onion paste as a hair or skin enhancer, here’s a recipe that should cut down on the odor but still do the job:
After juicing your onion, mix it in a bowl with a plain, mild yogurt and add a drop or two of lavender oil (or another essential oil you like). Use the mixture as a face mask or a leave-in conditioner for your hair.
No matter how you consume onions, just remember one thing—do it! The health benefits of onions and onion juice aren’t something you want to pass up. And if you’ve got a great onion juice recipe, please share it and your experience in the comments!
References and Resources:
- Chen JH, et al. Chronic consumption of raw but not boiled Welsh onion juice inhibits rat platelet function. J Nutr. 2000 Jan;130(1):34–7.
- Duntas LH. Selenium and inflammation: underlying anti-inflammatory mechanisms. Horm Metab Res. 2009 Jun;41(6):443–7.
- Hansen EA, Folts JD, and Goldman IL. Steam-cooking rapidly destroys and reverses onion-induced antiplatelet activity. Nutr J. 2012 Sep 20;11:76.
- Hertog MG, et al. Dietary antioxidant flavonoids and risk of coronary heart disease: the Zutphen Elderly Study. Lancet. 1993 Oct 23;342(8878):1007-11.
- Huang Z, et al. The role of selenium in inflammation and immunity: From molecular mechanisms to therapeutic opportunities. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2012 Apr 1; 16(7): 705–43.
- Larson AJ, Symons JD, and Jalili T. Therapeutic potential of quercetin to decrease blood pressure: review of efficacyand mechanisms. Adv Nutr. 2012 Jan; 3(1):39–46.
- Law YY, et al. Consumption of onion juice modulates oxidative stress and attenuates the risk of bone disorders in middle-aged and post-menopausal healthy subjects. Food Funct. 2016 Feb;7(2):902–12
- Lu TM, et al. Hypocholesterolemic efficacy of quercetin rich onion juice in healthy mild hypercholesterolemic adults: a pilot study. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2015 Dec;70(4):395–400.
- Perez-Vizcaino F, et al. Antihypertensive effects of the flavonoid quercetin. Pharmacol Rep. 2009 Jan–Feb;61(1):67–75.
- Sharquie KE and Al-Obaidi HK. Onion juice (Allium cepa L.), a new topical treatment for alopecia areata. J Dermatol. 2002 Jun;29(6):343–6.
- Slavin J. Fiber and prebiotics: mechanisms and health benefits. Nutrients. 2013 Apr;5(4):1417–1435.
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