Nutrition Articles

A Fat-Free Super Food That's Big on Taste

Onions Pack a Low-Calorie Punch of Flavor & Nutrition

Page 1 of 3
The idea that placing dishes of raw onions around the home would stave off illness dates back to the massive flu outbreak of 1919. The thinking went that halved onions could absorb germs. Even though that particular onion "fact" is merely a fiction, there are still plenty of good to recommend them: namely, great low-calorie flavor, plus a few legitimate health benefits to boot.

All about Alliums
You may think of onions as those white slices that come on your hamburger, but there's more to onions than you think. Onions are part of the Allium family, which includes a whole range of flavorful root vegetables: garlic; red, white and yellow onions; scallions (also called green or spring onions); shallots, leeks and chives. All alliums grow as underground bulbs with above-ground leaves and a flower stalk.
Onions contain beneficial polyphenols, sulfur compounds and vitamin C. The sulfur compounds produce their distinctive sharp odor and strong flavor, while also providing some health benefits because of their anti-clotting, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. (Note that much of the research on the health benefits of alliums has focused on garlic, while onions are less thoroughly tested.)

These sulfur compounds are also responsible for making you "cry" when you slice an onion; when these compounds waft upward and mix with your natural tears, they form a mild (and irritating) sulfuric acid.

Nutrition by Variety
Did you know that the greatest nutritional value is contained in the outer rings of an onion? When you peel an onion, be sure to remove only the papery skin and any outer layer that's damaged—don't over peel!

All varieties of onions contain zero fat and cholesterol, and most have less than one gram of sodium, while they provide plenty of vitamins.
red, white and yellow onionsRed, white and yellow "cooking" or "storage" onions are widely available year-round; their papery skins help extend their shelf life. Red onions are typically stronger and more pungent. These onions are high in vitamin C.

Vidalia onionSweet onion varieties include Vidalia, Walla Walla and candy; these are mild and sweet-tasting, and are excellent in most recipes. They are also a good source of vitamin C and contain a small amount of calcium.

leeksLeeks grow in upright cylinders instead of round bulbs; they're typically buried deep in sandy soil to produce a longer white portion. Leeks are commonly sautéed as a flavor base in soups and sauces. They pack quite a vitamin punch with high levels of vitamin C and A, plus calcium and iron.
Continued ›
Page 1 of 3   Next Page ›
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!

About The Author

Bryn Mooth Bryn Mooth
Bryn Mooth is an independent copywriter and journalist focused on food, wellness and design; she's also a Master Gardener and enthusiastic green thumb. She shares seasonal recipes, kitchen techniques, healthy eating tips and food wisdom on her blog

Member Comments

    Putting onions around the house is not a weird idea actually. When I have a cold, I cut an onion and put it in a bowl by my bed so it can help me breathe through the night. For those of us who don't like to take cold medications, it works like a charm. - 10/14/2014 8:24:48 AM
  • I love onion o mostly everything I eat and so do my family. - 6/13/2013 3:27:42 PM
  • Good one. We love onions of all kinds. - 4/24/2013 8:52:49 AM
  • I usually learn very little from articles on food but this one was very informative to me! I red it moments after asking for a thick slice of red even though my sliders already had sautéed onion on them! I ate the whole thing. It's very easy to grow your own garlic by the way
    - 4/22/2013 11:32:13 PM
  • I guess they're all wonderful UNLESS you are highly allergic to to onions, shallots, leeks, chives, garlic etc - they are toxic to me! I used to think I was the only person in the world allergic to the allium family since NO ONE I knew ever heard of it and even accused me of making it up! ugh! Then along came the Internet and a search for onion/garlic allergy showed me that there are thousands like me! All you folks enjoy your onions and garlic but please back away after you've eaten them! I can smell you across the room and it's not very pleasant. :-) - 4/22/2013 5:38:41 PM
  • Onions, all types and garlic are staples in my home. I use them in most of my cooking. The article was very informative. - 4/22/2013 5:23:19 PM
  • I love red onions, Walla Walla Sweet onions, Leeks and shallots. I use them in my pasta sauces and salsa that I can in the summer and fall. - 4/22/2013 2:09:23 PM
  • I used to hate onions. WOuldn't eat them unless they were deep-fried in batter!

    As I've grown, though, I've developed a bit of a love affair with them. My favorite way to eat them is stir-fried in something, the current obsession is red onions, asparagus, and portabella mushrooms with a bit of olive oil and generous amounts of pepper and garlic.

    Now, as for sweet onions? As a native Georgian, there's only one kind of sweet onion: Vidalias. And by the way, that's Vie-DAY-lee-uh, not vih-DAH-lee-uh. Say it the second way in Vidalia, and they'll know you're a tourist. ;) - 4/22/2013 10:12:16 AM
  • Onions and garlic - can't live without 'em! - 4/22/2013 10:01:37 AM
    That's a great idea about planting the chives around house plants! - 4/10/2013 9:38:13 PM
    I grow a lot of chives. It may shock you all to know that I grow them in and around my houseplants. There are always some pretty green fronds to snip and I also have some I save for the lavender flowers which are lovely over salads and dips! Some I sprinkle over large areas of garden beds and often get patches of them rather than weeds too. - 4/10/2013 10:54:17 AM
  • This is a very informative article! I cook with onions often, but thought they were just a tasty addition to meals. Now it is nice to know of their nutritional benefits. - 4/10/2013 7:16:53 AM

x Lose 10 Pounds by July 6! Sign up with Email Sign up with Facebook
By clicking one of the above buttons, you're indicating that you have read and agree to SparkPeople's Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy and that you're at least 18 years of age.