It’s My Party Everyone hates when you cut onions and your eyes begin to tear, but did you know that the sulfur compounds that make your eyes water have a health benefit?
Onions, garlic, leeks, chives, shallots, and scallions are rich in cancer-fighting organosulfur compounds, which are produced when the cell walls of these vegetables are broken down by chopping, crushing, or chewing. So when you cut onions and your eyes begin to tear, you are creating these anti-cancer sulfur compounds. These compounds are thought to be mostly responsible for the cancer-protective effects of this family of vegetables. But to gain the most benefit from these tasty vegetables they must be eaten raw and chewed well or chopped finely before cooking to initiate the chemical reaction that form those guardian-angel sulfur compounds.
Onions and the other vegetables of the Allium family can be added to any and every vegetable dish for great flavor and anti-cancer benefits.
Just How Great Are the Benefits? In scientific studies, organosulfur compounds prevent the development of cancers by detoxifying carcinogens and halting cancer cell growth. Garlic and onion phytochemicals are also anti-angiogenic, which means that they canprevent tumors from obtaining a blood supply to fuel their growth.1 In studies of breast cancer cells, garlic and onion phytochemicals have caused cell death or halted cell division, preventing the cancer cells from multiplying.2-4
In addition, one large European study found striking risk reductions in participants who consumed the greatest quantities of onions or garlic for oral, esophageal, colorectal, laryngeal, breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers. We are talking about a 55- to 80-percent reduction of almost all major cancers. Amazing!5
And That’s Not All Onions, garlic, and their family members also contain flavonoids and phenols. White onions are not as rich in these antioxidant compounds as yellow and red, and shallots are especially high in polyphenol levels. Red onions are particularly rich in anthocyanins (also abundant in berries) and quercetin.6 Flavonoids such as quercetin can contribute to preventing damaged cells from advancing to cancer, and also have anti-inflammatory effects that may contribute to cancer prevention.7-10
Cook with these vegetables and you add flavor to your dishes and cancer-fighting power to your diet.
How to cut an onion to maximize anti-cancer compounds and minimize eye irritation:
If your eyes are sensitive, make sure that the onion is cold before you cut it. Even putting the onion in the freezer for 5 minutes is sufficient.
You can use a fan to blow the gaseous compounds away from you if you like.
Cut the end of the root off with the root facing away from you, preserving as much of the onion adjacent to the root as possible. The root is the part of the onion with the highest concentration of these anti-cancer compounds.
Make sure to then cut or chop the onion finely, slice thinly, or put it in a food processor before adding to your soup, salad, or vegetable dish to maximize the production of sulfur compounds. And, chew it very well, too.
References 1. Powolny A, Singh S. Multitargeted prevention and therapy of cancer by diallyl trisulfide and related Allium vegetable-derived organosulfur compounds. Cancer Lett 2008;269:305-314. 2. Modem S, Dicarlo SE, Reddy TR. Fresh Garlic Extract Induces Growth Arrest and Morphological Differentiation of MCF7 Breast Cancer Cells. Genes Cancer 2012;3:177-186. 3. Na HK, Kim EH, Choi MA, et al. Diallyl trisulfide induces apoptosis in human breast cancer cells through ROS-mediated activation of JNK and AP-1. Biochem Pharmacol 2012. 4. Malki A, El-Saadani M, Sultan AS. Garlic constituent diallyl trisulfide induced apoptosis in MCF7 human breast cancer cells. Cancer Biol Ther 2009;8:2175-2185. 5. Galeone C, Pelucchi C, Levi F, et al. Onion and garlic use and human cancer. Am J Clin Nutr 2006;84:1027-1032. 6. Slimestad R, Fossen T, Vagen IM. Onions: a source of unique dietary flavonoids. J Agric Food Chem 2007;55:10067-10080. 7. Ravasco P, Aranha MM, Borralho PM, et al. Colorectal cancer: can nutrients modulate NF-kappaB and apoptosis? Clin Nutr 2010;29:42-46. 8. Miyamoto S, Yasui Y, Ohigashi H, et al. Dietary flavonoids suppress azoxymethane-induced colonic preneoplastic lesions in male C57BL/KsJ-db/db mice. Chem Biol Interact 2010;183:276-283. 9. Shan BE, Wang MX, Li RQ. Quercetin inhibit human SW480 colon cancer growth in association with inhibition of cyclin D1 and survivin expression through Wnt/beta-catenin signaling pathway. Cancer Invest 2009;27:604-612. 10. Pierini R, Gee JM, Belshaw NJ, et al. Flavonoids and intestinal cancers. Br J Nutr 2008;99 E Suppl 1:ES53-59.