Onions are a common vegetable cultivated and used around the world. It is part of a family of plants called the allium family. Other popular members of this family are garlic, scallions, leeks, shallots, and chives. As a food item, they are usually served cooked, as a vegetable or part of a prepared savoury dish, but can also be eaten raw or used to make pickles or chutneys. They are pungent when chopped and contain certain chemical substances which may irritate the eyes. Onions have been around for a long time. it has been in use for as far back as 5000BC not only for their flavor, but the bulb’s durability in storage and transport. Ancient Egyptians also revered the onion bulb, viewing its spherical shape and concentric rings as symbols of eternal life. Ancient Romans also believed that the onion had the ability to improve ocular ailments, aid in sleep, and heal everything from oral sores and toothaches to dog bites, lumbago, and even dysentery.
The nutrition facts about Onions
A bulb of medium sized onion contains approximately:
- 44 calories
- 13g carbohydrates
- 1g protein
- <1g total fat
- <1g saturated fat
- 2.5g fiber
- 6g sugar
- 216mg potassium
- 15mg magnesium
- 11mg vitamin C
- 0.178mg vitamin B6
- 22.40 mg- 51.82 mg of quercetin
What is the nutritional benefit of onions?
From the above components, it is clear that onions have many benefits.
It is rich in antioxidant compounds: Onions are loaded with plant chemicals including flavonoids, which have both an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect. When consumed regularly and in sufficient quantity, these compounds may help protect against chronic conditions such as cancer and diabetes. In fact, onions contain over 25 different flavonoids and are one of the richest sources in our diets. Onions also have sulfur-containing compounds, which have been demonstrated to be protective against certain cancers.
Heart health: Onions may have a beneficial role to play for cardiovascular health. The naturally occurring compounds within the bulbs’ layers can help fight inflammation and lower cholesterol levels, thereby protecting against heart disease. A study linked one particular polyphenol in onions called quercetin with lowering blood pressure in patients with hypertension. Red onions in particular contain higher amounts of quercetin. Quercetin, has protective antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-thrombotic (blood clotting) effects and this may contribute to the vegetable’s heart-friendly properties.
Bone health: This may be because of their antioxidant properties, which reduces oxidative stress and appears to reduce bone loss. Researchers reported that onion consumption seems to have a beneficial effect on bone density in peri-menopausal and postmenopausal women 50 years and older, and older women who consume onions most frequently may decrease their risk of hip fracture by more than 20% versus those who never consume onions.
Digestion: Onions are rich in fiber, especially the non-digestible type that is needed to maintain gut health. The gut bacteria use it as fuel to help increase their numbers and produce by-products called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These SCFAs are important for maintaining the health and integrity of the gut and supporting the immunity and digestion.
Anti-cancer properties: Allium vegetables, like onions and garlic, are rich in antioxidants and provide organosulfur compounds that can reduce the risk of certain cancers including prostate cancer. They make an excellent addition to any cancer prevention diet. A Chinese study found that regular consumption of allium vegetables (of which the onion is a member) could reduce the incidence of colorectal cancer by as much as 79 percent, while another one showed a clear link between the amount of onions and garlic consumption and the reduced risk of breast cancer.
Antibacterial properties: Onions have valuable antibacterial properties against the likes of Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphyloccus aureus especially older, stored onions that appear most potent. This is due to quercetin which can inhibit the growth of Helicobacter pylori and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Other properties: Onions have also been found to have anti-diabetic effect in animals and a blood sugar lowering effect in humans. Also, a diet rich in flavonoids commonly found in onions can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias.
Can babies eat onions?
The answer is yes, Onions can be safely given to babies as soon as they begin solid foods, starting around 6 months old. All the health benefits of onions also extend to babies, especially as they need nutrients in small amounts which onions can readily provide. For example, one small onion contains about 1 gram of fiber, and babies only require about 5 grams of this nutrient per day. Besides their nutrition benefits, onions also offer the perk of adding flavor to baby’s food without sodium or anything artificial.
How to give babies onions?
When introducing onions, start by including them in a cooked dish, such as a purée with other veggies. Introduce them as part of the baby’s regular diet consisting of several solids. It can be cooked, mashed, or pureed to add flavor to different recipes, such as fruit and vegetable purees, porridges, and soups. It can also be added tomeatballs, casseroles, or an omelet if the baby is accustomed to solids already.Older babies can consume cooked onion as finger foods, such as cooked onion rings. Toddlers can consume steamed, baked, grilled, and roasted onions, along with other foods. Avoid serving raw onion to babies since it could be difficult to digest and may constitute a choking hazard for these little ones.
Caution however should be taken if the baby is allergic to onions. Even though this is not common, onion should be excluded from diet if a child shows allergic reactions like skin rashes, swellings, and difficulty in breathing after taking food rich in onions. It is also important to confirm the allergy is not due to other components used to prepare the dish rather than the onion itself, however, once this is confirmed, it is advised that onion be removed from the diet of such children.
If you have wondering if to add onions to the diet of these little ones, go ahead and do it, you have nothing to lose and your baby has everything to gain from eating onions!