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22 October 2004
Combating Cancer With Onions

Strong-flavored onions can put a crimp in your social life, but they may be potent cancer-fighters say researchers at Cornell University. Preliminary lab studies suggest that members of the strongest flavored onion families such as New York Bold, Western Yellow and shallots are the best for inhibiting the growth of liver and colon cancer cells. "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. Liu's study appears in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Onions are increasingly becoming known for their potential health benefits. They are rich in a flavor compound known as quercetin, a potent antioxidant that has been linked to protection against cataracts and heart disease. 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.

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 free radicals, an excess of which are thought to increase the risk of disease, particularly cancer.

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, said Liu. The sweetest tasting onions, including the beloved Vidalia, showed relatively little cancer-fighting ability.

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