Onions: worth the tears

Not only do onions add flavour to our food, but they also impart numerous health benefits

woman cutting onionsOnions are one of the most popular vegetables throughout the world and are available round the year. They come in various types—brown onions, white onions, red onions and spring onions. The more pungent varieties of onion possess the greatest concentration of health-promoting phytochemicals.

The nutrient content

The versatile onion comes from the same family as garlic and chives—the lily family, which has a high content of sulphur compounds [cysteine sulfoxides]. These compounds are responsible for the pungent smell and taste, and the tear-inducing quality of onions.

Onions are an excellent source of chromium [a micro-mineral that affects the action of the insulin]. One cup of raw onion contains over 20 per cent of the daily value for this important trace mineral. Therefore, it is usually inclusive in a regular diabetic diet. Compared with other fresh vegetables, onions are low-calorie, free from saturated fats and cholesterol, moderate in protein but still have a very high food value.

Medicinal properties

Ancient people were aware of the health benefits of this vegetable and hence, consumed it regularly.

  • Onions help improve cardiovascular health by aiding thinning of the blood, which in turn, prevents the red blood cells from forming clumps or plaques.
  • The flavnoids like quercetin present in onions helps inhibit the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein [bad cholesterol] and increase high-density lipoprotein. This helps in preventing diseases like atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease.
  • Apart from helping in diabetes control, onions are also beneficial in the treatment of urinary tract disorders. Boil an onion in water, filter the water, cool it and drink it to cure any urinary infection. It also helps reduce the burning sensations experienced while passing urine if there is a staphylococcus-induced infection. Further, having onion-sugar syrup regularly provides instant relief from unnecessary urine retention in the bladder.
  • Eating onions helps improve several stomach anxieties.
  • The Vitamin C present in onions helps kill harmful bacteria, relieve the inflammatory congestion and at the same time improves the efficiency of our immune system. Onions help drain out mucus from cavities and facilitate the melting of phlegm, alleviating the symptoms of sinus.
  • The vitamin C and quercetin lend onions anti-inflammatory properties that provide relief in conditions like arthritis.

More benefits

Some other health benefits of onions are:

  • Onions helps in high blood pressure and insomnia. Just put slices of onion in a jar and inhale the smell before going to bed. You will fall asleep in barely fifteen minutes.
  • Being a diuretic, onions increase the secretion of urine thus preventing oedema.
  • Onions are slightly laxative and partially prevent constipation because it is also a good source of fibre.
  • The flavonoids in onion actively inhibit the growth of cancerous cells and prevent stomach cancer.
  • Onions are very good for the health of hair, finger and toe nails.

Helpful hints

Buying guide

  • Always choose onions that are firm and have a tight skin.
  • Generally choose the ones that are heavy for their sizes.
  • The onions should be free from any moulds or sprouts. The skin must have a brittle and papery feel.

Store well

  • Onions can be stored for several weeks [if not months] without compromising their taste or nutritional value. However, store them in a dark place in a single layer as sunlight can make them taste bitter.
  • Ensure that the storage area is dry, as moisture can make them mushy and develop mould.
  • Do not store whole onions next to whole potatoes, it might spoil them both.

The best part about onions is that they are easily available and can be had any time. However, remember that consuming very large quantities of raw onions at once can lead to gastrointestinal irritation.

Nutritive value of Onions [100g]
Calories 50 kcal
Protein 1.2g
Carbohydrates 11g
Total fats 0g
Saturated fats 0g
Vitamin C 11mg
Calcium 46mg
Sodium 4mg
Potassium 127mg
Chromium 0.009mg
Deepshikha Agarwal
Deepshikha Agarwal is a Mumbai-based dietician and sports nutritionist. She writes nutrition-related columns in newspapers and conducts corporate workshops. She also teaches and conducts lectures on diet and wellness isues.


  1. When onions are cut, fine droplets are released which are taken in through the nose, and to a lesser extent, the eyes. They are what causes tears. I now use a fan to blow those droplets in another direction, and it works perfectly. Other solutions are to cut them underwater, in the sink, (troublesome) or to keep them refrigerated (semi-effective only). You could try wearing goggles, and a nose pin.


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