Food & Drink

Onions, cucumbers are bursting with nutrients

Here are two more veggies with health benefits: onions and cucumbers. Who knew?

Onions

Value: In addition to their health benefits, they add amazing flavor to almost all foods.

Nutrients: Onions belong to the lily family, as do garlic, scallions and leeks. A half cup is a good source of vitamin C (5.9 milligrams, 10 percent of the recommended daily value). A half cup of onion also is a source of potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and dietary fiber.

Health perks: Onions contain more quercetin than any other common fruit or vegetable.

"This potent anti- oxidant has been linked to a reduction in the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer's, prostatitis and a variety of cancers (such as prostate and lung cancer). One Finnish study also found that men who ate the most foods high in quercetin had 60 percent less lung cancer, 25 percent less asthma and 20 percent less diabetes and heart- disease deaths than the general population," says Nicholas D. Gillitt, a nutrition researcher at Dole Nutrition Institute.

In addition to quercetin, onions contain disulfides, trisulfides, cepaene and vinyl dithiins, all phytochemicals known for their anti-cancer and anti-microbial properties. And, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, onions also show anti-platelet activity (platelet accumulation is linked to heart disease), and also might protect against gastric ulcers by preventing growth of Helicobacter pylori, a microorganism.

Finally, onions contain inulin, a probiotic fiber that can selectively improve the proportion of good bacteria in the colon. "These 'good' gut bugs, as well as providing a physical barrier to infection, have been linked to improved absorption of important minerals like calcium and magnesium," Gillitt says.

Nutrition stats for 1/2 cup chopped onion (80 g.): 32 calories, 0.08 g. fat, 7.47 g. carbohydrates, 1.4 g. dietary fiber, 0.88 g. protein.

How to buy: According to chef and food expert Aliza Green, author of Field Guide to Produce, you should "look for onions that are dry, firm and shiny, with thin skin. The necks should be tightly closed, with no sprouts emerging. Green sprouts are a sign of age and an indication that the onion sprouts will taste bitter. The outer skins should be papery and shiny, with a crackly feel, and can be loose or tightly fitting." Additionally, Green says, "Onions should smell mild, even if their flavor is not. Avoid those with green areas or dark patches."

How to store: In a loosely woven bag — not plastic — in a cool, dark, dry and well-ventilated area, usually the refrigerator. For longer storage, wrap each onion separately in foil and refrigerate. Do not store onions under the sink or with potatoes, because potatoes give off moisture that can cause onions to spoil.

Cucumbers

Value: One of the cucumber's greatest values is what it does not have — calories. A half cup of sliced cucumber has less than 10 calories. And the expression "cool as a cucumber"? Because of its water content and strong flesh, it can be as much as 20 degrees cooler inside than outside — and the high water content is a thirst quencher.

Nutrients: One 8¼-inch cucumber has 1.5 grams of fiber and is a good source of vitamin C (8.4 mg., or 14 percent of the recommended daily value). It's also a source of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin B6 — all essential for cell metabolism, red blood cell production, a healthy immune system and other important health functions. It's also a source of vitamin A, which might help with eye health and reduce the risk of heart disease (the negative studies on vitamin A were related to supplements, not food). Cucumbers also have a decent amount of calcium (48 mg., 5 percent of recommended daily values), iron (0.84 mg., 4.68 percent of DV), magnesium (39 mg., 10 percent of DV), e_SDHpphosphorus (72 mg., 7 percent of DV), potassium (442 mg., 13 percent of DV), zinc (0.6 mg., 4 percent of DV) and copper (0.123 mg., 6.17 percent of DV).

Health perks: One cucumber has about 50 micrograms of vitamin K, about one-third the recommended dose. The majority of the population fails to get enough K, which is required to make at least three proteins essential for bone formation. "Studies have also linked diets adequate in vitamin K with a reduced risk of hip fracture in the elderly," says Gillitt. He says there is encouraging research suggesting that vitamin K might inhibit the growth of tumors and cancer cells.

Nutrition stats for one cucumber (81/4 inches): 45 calories, 0.33 g. fat, 10.93 g. carbohydrates, 1.5 g. fiber, 1.96 g. protein.

How to buy: According to Green, you should choose cucumbers that are well-shaped, firm and deep green.

How to store: In the crisper drawer of the refrigerator for no more than one week.

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