Onions have been identified by new research as having a key role in the battle against diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. ANDREW BALDWIN reports
CHOPPING them may make you cry and they can leave you with pungent breath, but onions may also improve your memory, scientists say.
Researchers at Hokkaido Tokai University in Japan have found that people suffering from memory loss who ate the vegetable, which had been lightly cooked, found it improved their recall abilities.
Experts believe the findings could be important in the fight against brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
The researchers discovered an antioxidant in onions that binds with harmful toxins in the brain and flushes them out of the body. The compound, which contains sulphur, is found in many members of the allium family, including garlic.
Food expert Ian Marber said: “Onions are one of the richest and most readily available sources of sulphur-containing compounds which have been shown to slow down the deterioration of memory usually associated with ageing.
“Onion extract has also been shown to maintain the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is involved in processing emotions as well as memory.”
But he warned that onions that are over-cooked may lose their memory-helping properties. They should instead be cooked on a low heat.
Jennifer Tellez, Huddersfield branch secretary of the Parkinson’s Society, said it was interesting research as far as it went.
“There may well be something in it. But we regularly see articles in the press about new wonder drugs so at the moment we have to take what they say with a pinch of salt.
“Onions are already known for their benefits, as is garlic, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all.”
A recent French study found that a high flavonoid intake can reduce memory loss associated with ageing. Onions contain a flavonoid called quercetin, and in greater quantities than in tea and apples.
About 600,000 tons of onions are consumed across the UK per year with the highest demand in the north-east, Lancashire and Scotland.
Greengrocer Andrew Bray finds that he sells more English onions than the foreign variety at his shop in Huddersfield Road, Holmfirth.
“People in general want English more, but we sell more of the Spanish ones to the catering trade. They’re easier to peel and don’t make your eyes water.”
Andrew says there is plenty of other evidence crediting onions with success at combating the common cold, hay fever and heart disease.
“All those old wives’ tales about fruit and veg being beneficial are being backed by research. It all bears out that phrase that you are what you eat,” he says.
Jonathan Tole, the chairman of British Onions, said: “British growers are hoping that this new research will now allow the humble onion, often eclipsed by more exotic fruit and vegetables, to regain its position as a nutritional powerhouse.”
Onions (Allium cepa) are part of the lily family.
The biennial vegetable is believed to have originated in south-west Asia and has been cultivated for more than 7,000 years.
They rank sixth among the world’s leading vegetable crops.
The Egyptians worshipped them – their spherical shape and concentric rings were seen to symbolise eternal life.
In ancient Greece, athletes were fed onions in the belief they balanced the blood.
During the Middle Ages tenants were allowed to pay part of their rent in onions.