Onions are one of the most overlooked ingredients and are actually a powerhouse of multiple nutrients and natural compounds that could be beneficial not just for your heart health but also for diabetes management.
Experts say that including onions in food preparations for your daily diet could ensure better heart health and blood glucose management in the long run. Onions are botanically classified under the Allium vegetable category along with garlic which also shares some of these heart-friendly traits like onion. Both are densely packed with plant nutrients, fiber, organic sulfur molecules and antioxidants which make them an integral part of a balanced and healthy diet.
Heart health benefits of onions
Talking about the health benefits of onion, Dr Sanjay Chugh, Senior Consultant and Associate Director of Cardiology and Interventional Cardiology at Narayana Healthcare Superspeciality Hospital, Gurugram says, the organic sulfur compounds in onion may help reduce plaque formation in the coronary arteries and also reduce the chances of cholesterol molecules getting stuck to them which obstructs smooth blood flow.
“Because the organic sulfur content in onions has anticoagulant properties that prevent the formation of blood clots and ensure better blood circulation. These compounds are also known to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in blood vessels,” Dr Chugh says.
Delhi-based dietitian Avni Kaul points out that onions are rich in polyphenols (plant-based micronutrients) including quercetin which is considered to be good for heart health. She points out that a few other health benefits of onion are — it helps with vasodilation (blood-vessel widening) and boosts nitric oxide production, helps to improve circulation and reduces arterial stiffness. In fact, onion is also high in dietary nitrate which is broken down into nitric oxide (the human body’s natural blood pressure regulator).
“In a way, onions could help prevent blood vessel damage and thereby in the long run reduce the risk of heart disease by improving blood circulation and lipid profile. This also reduces the overall stress and strain on the heart while pumping blood,” Kaul adds.
Diabetes-friendly qualities of onion
Dr Sridevi Atluri, Consultant Diabetes and Endocrinology, Manipal Hospital, Whitefield says what makes onion a diabetes-friendly vegetable is its low glycemic index (GI of 12) which means it gets absorbed slowly in the body and the glucose levels do not shoot up suddenly. She adds that the sulfur and quercetin also make onion a diabetes-friendly food that can be added to the diet.
“The strong pungent smell and taste of onions are due to the sulfur. A few other nutrients and sulfur present in onions help to reduce oxidative stress which in turn reduces insulin resistance and improves glycemic control,” explains Dr Atluri.
Bangalore-based dietitian Ranjani Raman shares that other health benefits of onions are that they also contain a good amount of fiber which can slow down the glucose release to assist diabetes management.
“Onions have all beneficial micronutrients like folate, vitamins B and C, potassium and also vitamin K in onions which are good for overall well-being. Vitamin C in onions boosts immunity which is crucial for those with diabetes,” explains Raman.
The right way to cook onions
Experts say it is best to consume onions raw or lightly cooked by adding them to salads, soups, sandwiches or salsas. “Raw onions retain more beneficial compounds, such as quercetin and sulfur,” explains Kaul.
She says that to get the maximum health benefits of onions, it is best to use low-heat methods like sautéing or roasting when cooking a curry because the high-heat cooking may reduce or destroy some of the beneficial compounds.
Precautions – what to look out for
Onions are high in FODMAPS or short-chain carbohydrates which make it problematic for the small intestines to absorb them during digestion leading to gastric issues. People with some gastric problems are often advised to avoid onions or eat them only after consulting their doctor.
“Onions can also cause digestive discomfort in some individuals, leading to symptoms like gas, bloating or heartburn,” says Kaul.
People with certain medical conditions, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), may experience worsened symptoms after consuming onions and should monitor their intake.
- Plant compounds like quercetin, chromium and sulfur found in onions play a significant role in blood glucose management.
- It is best to have a moderate amount of raw onion to get maximum antioxidants from this root vegetable.
- People who are allergic to onion or have digestive issues should monitor the amount of onion consumption in their diet or consult a dietitian.