Your pantry is a powerhouse of ingredients that provide countless health benefits. One vegetable that is readily available in most households and used on a daily basis is the onion. But while you may know it’s a flavor enhancer, did you know that onion bulbs can also lower blood sugar levels?
“There are various studies showing that onion bulbs have hypoglycemic effects due to the presence of sulfur compounds. Allium cepa or onion bulbs have a long history of medicinal use. The fleshy bulbs that grow underground are mainly used for medicinal and edible purposes, but other Parts are also used in traditional medicine,” Dr. Archana Batra, nutritionist and certified diabetes educator.
A review article published in the journal Nutrition in 2014 noted that onions may have hypoglycemic effects in people with diabetes. The review authors say that sulfur compounds in onions, namely S-methylcysteine and the flavonoid quercetin, may be responsible for affecting blood sugar. Another notable review, presented at the Endocrine Society’s 97th Annual Meeting in San Diego in 2015, found that onion bulb extract “substantially reduced” high blood sugar and total cholesterol levels when taken with the antidiabetic drug metformin.
As part of the study, three groups of rats with medically induced diabetes were given three different doses (200 mg, 400 mg and 600 mg/kg body weight) of onion extract to see if it enhanced the effects of the drug.
The researchers also gave the drug and onions to three groups of normoglycemic non-diabetic rats. In diabetic rats, the 400 and 600 mg/kg body weights had “severely reduced” blood sugar levels of 50% and 35%, respectively, compared to baseline, the study found. Onion extract also lowered total cholesterol levels in diabetic rats, with 400 mg and 600 mg having the best effect.
The study’s lead author, Anthony Ojieh of Abraka Delta State University in Nigeria, said in a press release at the time: “Onion is inexpensive and readily available and has been used as a dietary supplement. It has the potential to be used to treat people with diabetes. .”
Notably, the study also found that onion extract caused weight gain in non-diabetic rats, but not in diabetic rats. “Onions don’t have many calories,” Oger explained. “However, it appears to increase metabolic rate and thus appetite, leading to increased feeding that requires ‘further investigation’.”
Here’s what you should know.
Onions, especially red onions, are high in fiber. Green onions have the least fiber in the family. “Fiber takes time to break down and digest, resulting in the slow release of sugar into the bloodstream. Fiber also increases stool bulk, which helps relieve constipation, a common problem in people with diabetes.” Bartra
The two flavonols found in onions are anthocyanins, which give some varieties their reddish-purple color, and quercetin and its derivatives. Quercetin is a pigment found in red and yellow onions, says Dr. Batra. She added: “The hypoglycemic effect of onion bulbs can also be attributed to sulfur-containing compounds such as allylpropyl disulfide (APDS), which compete with insulin (also a disulfide) for insulin inactivation sites. Lowers blood sugar levels in the liver of plants. Quercetin and these sulfur compounds found in onions exhibit hypoglycemic properties by modulating the activity of certain enzymes involved in carbohydrate metabolism and increasing insulin secretion and sensitivity.”
How many should you have?
In particular, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) encourages people to eat more non-starchy vegetables because they are low in calories and carbohydrates. According to the ADA, eat at least three to five servings of non-starchy vegetables, such as onions, per day, with one serving being 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup uncooked. “However, if you eat more than 1 cup of cooked onions or 2 cups of raw onions in one meal, your daily intake may increase by more carbohydrates,” it said.