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Strong-flavored onions show promise for fighting cancer

October 20, 2004. Although milder onions are popular, the bitter and more pungent onions seem to have more flavonoid compounds and appear to be more healthful, according to researchers at Cornell University.

Onions, photo by VixsOnions with the strongest flavor — particularly New York Bold, Western Yellow and shallots — are the best varieties for inhibiting the growth of liver and colon cancer cells.

Shallots have six times the phenolic content of the onion variety with the lowest content (Vidalia). Western Yellow onions have 11 times more flavonoids than Western Whites, the onions with fewest flavonoids.

“No one knows yet how many daily servings of onions you’d have to eat to maximize protection against cancer, but our study suggests that people who are more health-conscious might want to go with the stronger onions rather than the mild ones,” says study leader Rui Hai Liu, M.D., Ph.D., a chemist with Cornell’s Department of Food Science in Ithaca, N.Y.

Researchers have known for some time that onions may help fight cancer, but the current study is believed to be the first to compare cancer-fighting abilities among commonly consumed onion varieties. The new study will appear in the Nov. 3 print issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society.

Liu and his associates analyzed 10 common onion varieties and shallots for total antioxidant activity and their ability to fight the growth of cancer in human cell lines. Although shallots resemble onions, they are actually a separate, distinctive species. Fresh, uncooked samples were used, with extracts taken from the bulbs with the outer skin removed.

Shallots and onion varieties with the strongest flavor — Western Yellow, New York Bold and Northern Red — had the highest total antioxidant activity, an indication that they may have a stronger ability to destroy charged molecules called free radicals, an excess of which are thought to increase the risk of disease, particularly cancer, the researcher says.

Onion varieties with the mildest flavor — Empire Sweet, Western White, Peruvian Sweet, Mexico, Texas 1015, Imperial Valley Sweet and Vidalia — had the lowest total antioxidant activity, Liu says.

In tests against liver and colon cancer cells, onions were significantly better at inhibiting the growth of colon cancer cells than liver cancer cells, an indication that they are potentially better at fighting colon cancer, the researcher says. The strongest cancer-fighters tested were the New York Bold variety, Western Yellow and shallots. The sweetest tasting onions, including the beloved Vidalia, showed relatively little cancer-fighting ability, he notes.

Green onions and cocktail onions were not tested in this study, nor did the researcher test whether cooking made a difference in terms of cancer-fighting ability. Liu cautions that human studies are needed before any definitive links between onion consumption and cancer-prevention can be established.

Onions are known mostly for their ability to add flavor to a variety of food dishes, including meats, pizza, soups and salads. But they are increasingly becoming known for their potential health benefits. Onions are rich in a flavor compound known as quercetin, a potent antioxidant that has been linked to protection against cataracts and heart disease as well as cancer. They are also sodium, fat and cholesterol free.

Onions can be part of a healthy diet. The National Cancer Institute recommends eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day because researchers now believe that about one-third of cancer cases could be prevented by diet. A number of other studies have found that phytochemicals and antioxidants in fruits and vegetables could be effective against cardiovascular disease and certain cancers, such as lung cancer, prostate cancer and melanoma.

Foods Fight Cancer Better Than Vitamin Pills

Oct 7, 2004. Recent nutrition research published in the medical journal The Lancet confirms what most people already feel in their gut — the best way to protect yourself from digestive cancers is by eating right, not taking a pill. Full story »»

Dining out can blind you to what you eat

September 27, 2004. Ignorance is bliss, which may be what lures people tired of a healthy diet to break away amd head for a fast food restaurant. We all underestimate the amount of fat and calories in restaurant meals, sometimes by very significant amounts. What can we do about this? Full story »»

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Citrus Fights Cancer April 6, 1999 Citrus limonoides, found in orange peel and other citrus rinds, could have significant health benefits, scientists said last month at the American Chemical Society conference. The active compound may have anti-cancer effects. Citrus limonoids are present in commercial orange juice at about the same level as vitamin C. A Japanese company is producing an orange juice with triple the level of limonoid glucosides.
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Citrus Fights Cancer April 6, 1999

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photos from: stockxchange

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Testing onions at Cornell

Rui Hai Liu, associate professor of food science, testing onion varieties in his lab with a rotary evaporator, which is used for antioxidant extraction.


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