Onions, especially yellow or red, are root vegetables with various health benefits. They are richer in vitamins than brown and white onions. Yellow onions, for instance, contain more than 10 times more antioxidants than white onions, according to Joram Nyandat, a food technologist.
It is vital to have onions as ingredients in kachumbari for the antioxidants and compounds that help fight inflammation.
Nyandat explains that “if you blend onion with garlic, crush and mix with water, boil, it then becomes a strong antibiotic that treats flu, common cold, running nose, and cough.”
The onions also help in reducing cholesterol levels which goes a long way in protecting the body against clots, lowers high blood pressure, and reduces the risks of heart disease.
Hannis Patel, a nutritionist with the Hindu Council of Kenya, adds that onions contain vitamins C and B and potassium, making it beneficial for those trying to lower their blood pressure.
Onions also have Quercetin, a plant pigment that is also a component in making antibiotics for the above conditions. Hannis adds that the onion is a heart friendly root vegetable due to the high levels of other properties including anti-bacterial and antioxidants. They are healthy whether cooked or raw.
Faith Rotich, a nutritionist, says raw onions have higher levels of sulphur compounds ideal for protecting the body against cancer, bad cholesterol production as well as lowering the body’s blood sugar.
But, she says cooking onions significantly reduces the level of antioxidants. When eaten at night, onions support improved testosterone production in males and enhance sperm motion. The red onion juice increases erectile responses and penile strength, thus improving sexual stamina, nutritionists say.
The sulfoxides are activated when onions are cut and crushed. Studies show they help improve the quality of sleep in healthy adults when taken as concentrated supplement extract as it “improves health in bones”. Hannis says taking plenty of raw onions at night is believed to improve sleep.
However, some plants grown for their edible bulb have side effects. Some onions contain compounds that can cause allergic symptoms like asthma, running nose, nasal congestion, red eyes, itchy eyes, itchy nose and contact dermatitis characterised by a red itchy rash.
Other side effects of onions include gastrointestinal upsets including heartburn, bloating, abdominal discomfort, nausea and vomiting in some individuals. This may aggravate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome in those affected.
The symptoms are more common when onions are eaten raw, but the benefits of eating onions far outweigh the side effects.