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Ask a Specialist: Onions and Your Health

Monday, Aug. 05, 2013


Kathleen Riggs


USU Extension – Family & Consumer Sciences

Utah State University

Phone: (435) 586-8132


Ask a Specialist: Onions and Your Health

LOGAN – The National Onion Association is 100 years old this year. While most people either love onions or completely avoid them, it’s fitting this year to highlight the fragrant vegetable, where it came from and the importance it plays as part of a healthy diet.

According to the National Onion Association’s website,, onions may be one of the earliest cultivated crops because they were less perishable than other foods of the time, were transportable, were easy to grow and could be grown in a variety of soils and climates. In addition, the onion was useful for sustaining human life. Onions prevented thirst and could be dried and preserved for later consumption when food might be scarce.


In today’s diets, onions not only provide flavor, they also provide important nutrients and health-promoting phytochemicals. High in vitamin C, onions are also a good source of dietary fiber and folic acid. In addition, they contain calcium and iron, are low in sodium and contain no fat.

Onions also contain quercetin, a flavonoid that is a type of antioxidant. Antioxidants are compounds that help delay damage to cells and tissues. Specifically, this means that onions promote heart health and assist in preserving and re-generating naturally occurring Vitamin E in the body. The bottom line is that onions are a healthy food choice.

Consider these tips to select, use and store this nutritional powerhouse.

·         Fresh green onions or leeks with tops still attached should be kept refrigerated at the grocery store or farmers market and also when you get them home.

·         Dry bulb onions with paper-like skin on the outside should be firm and have little or no scent. Avoid bulbs with cuts, bruises or blemishes.

·         Slicing and dicing an onion can become a teary experience, due to the release of sulfuric compounds. To reduce tearing, the National Onion Association suggests chilling the onion about 30 minutes before cutting it, using a sharp knife and cutting from the top first, then leaving the root end uncut for as long as possible since this contains the highest concentration of sulfuric compounds.

·         Whole dry bulb onions should be kept in a cool, dry, dark place with plenty of air movement. Do not store onions in plastic. Lack of ventilation will reduce their storage life. Refrigeration is only necessary when trying to extend the shelf life of sweet or mild onion varieties with high water content, but be sure to use a low humidity setting since they must be kept dry.


For information on growing and harvesting onions from the garden, contact your local USU Extension Office.


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