Onions and their close cousins — garlic, chives, scallions, shallots and leeks — are in the allium family. They are valuable allies in the fight against diabetes because they help lower blood sugar levels, increase sensitivity to insulin and prevent diabetic complications such as heart disease and stroke. Packed with phytonutrients, they are a good source of beneficial vitamin C, contain no fat and are loaded with dietary fiber.
1. Onions reduce blood sugar levels. The sulfur compound allyl propyl disulfide (APDS) in onions lowers blood sugar spikes, a major issue for diabetics. APDS increases the availability of the hormone insulin, which acts on just about all body cells and increases their ability to transport glucose across their plasma membranes into the cell, where glucose is oxidized for energy or converted to glycogen or fat for storage. Garlic also tackles blood sugar levels effectively, with the added bonus that it both helps repair the pancreas and stimulate more insulin production.
2. Onions help your heart. Onions and garlic are rich sources of dietary flavonoids, a class of plant compounds known for their antioxidant activity. Antioxidants are essential to good health because they scavenge for free radicals released due to oxidative stress in the body that can damage cells, tissue, organs, and lead to heart disease and stroke. Researchers at Cornell University found that flavonoids like those contained in onions are associated with a reduced risk for cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
3. Quercetin in onions protects your eyes. Onions, especially onion skins, contain the potent antioxidant flavonoid called quercetin, which helps protect against the eye problems associated with diabetes, especially retinopathy. The amount of quercetin your body absorbs from onions is more than 300% greater than that of apples and twice what you get from tea. UK researchers estimate that onions contain between 22-52 mg of quercetin per medium-sized onion, and that the daily consumption of onions increases the accumulation of quercetin in the blood. The next time you make broth or stock, throw in onion skins you’ve saved in the freezer.
4. Onions address chromium deficiency. Chromium is a trace mineral essential for metabolizing glucose and helping promote insulin sensitivity. Some studies show that onions and other foods high in chromium help decrease fasting blood glucose levels, improve glucose tolerance and decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
According to Dr. Kurt D. Grange, Ph.D., chromium deficiency may be a widespread problem in the US, since the body’s reserves of chromium are depleted by consuming refined sugar and white flour and by insufficient exercise. In addition, chromium levels in your body naturally decrease with age. Chromium deficiency can lead to glucose intolerance, obesity and type 2 diabetes. One cup of onions supplies 20% of your daily chromium needs.
5. Strong onions guard against blood clots. Researchers at both the University of Wisconsin and Cornell University found that the more pungent the onion, the more health benefits you’ll receive in terms of antiplatelet activity. Antiplatelet activity keeps blood cells less “sticky,” so they don’t clump together and form clots that can lead to heart attack or stroke. So, go ahead shed a few tears in the kitchen as you chop. It will do you good.
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