Some of the smelliest and less socially-acceptable vegetables we could eat actually have amazing health benefits and they are all members of the allium family. Specifically speaking, these vegetables include garlic, onions, chives, leeks, and shallots. For example, garlic helps to lower cholesterol and onions contain quercetin, a potent antioxidant. Chives contain allicin which helps lower blood pressure, one cup of leeks contain more than 52% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin K, and shallots contain a non-digestible carbohydrate that promotes healthy digestion. But this is only the beginning. This family of vegetables is packed with many other nutrients, low in fat and sodium, and can add flavor to your meals without adding excess calories.
Garlic is actually an edible bulb from a plant in the lily family and has been around for thousands of years. Garlic has not only been used to flavor the stew pot but has also been used for medicinal purposes by more cultures around the world than just about any other plant. In Egypt, it was used by the pyramid builders who believed garlic gave them strength and it has been found in the tombs of the Pharaohs dating back to 3,200 B.C. The Greek athletes used it to increase their strength and the Greek soldiers used it to heal battle wounds. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote that it was an inexpensive near “cure all” for a wide variety of ailments.
Most commonly in today’s medical practices, garlic is used as a dietary supplement for high cholesterol, heart disease, helping to slow the development of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), high blood pressure and to lower the risk of certain cancers (stomach and colon). You’d have to eat a mountain of garlic to benefit from it in it’s natural form so it’s best to take your garlic as a dried or powdered supplement in tablet or capsule form.
Garlic does not appear to have any adverse side effects other than bad breath and body odor. In some cases it can cause an upset stomach or possibly an allergic reaction. However, the aforementioned side effects generally occur when raw garlic is consumed and not from the supplements. It should also be noted that garlic can thin the blood, similar to the way in which aspirin does, so use of garlic should be avoided if you are taking Warfarin or should cease if you are planning to have surgery or dental work done. People who are already taking blood thinners should avoid taking garlic.
Onions are an excellent source of the vitamins C, B6, folic acid, B1, K, and biotin, and the minerals chromium, calcium and fiber. They are very low in calories (100 grams = 44 calories) and are considered a complex carbohydrate which contain a whopping 1.4 grams of fiber per 100 grams. Onions also contain flavonoids, powerful antioxidants which have shown to have an antitumor effect and immune-enhancing properties. Specifically, onions contain quercetin, an antioxidant which has been linked to inhibiting stomach cancer and is also a blood thinner. Onions have been shown to help lower cholesterol, raise HDL (the good cholesterol), ward off blood clots, lower blood pressure, assist with controlling asthma and chronic bronchitis and help your body to fight infections.
Onions contain a variety of organic sulphur compounds. These sulphur-containing amino acids, called methionine and cysteine, are very effective at removing heavy metals such as mercury from the body. Along with these compounds, onions also contain vitamin C which is great for removing lead, arsenic and cadmium from the body.
Onions have also been shown to have the ability to help lower blood sugar. The active component in the onion works to lower glucose by competing with insulin for breakdown sites in the liver, thereby increasing the life span of the insulin. Onions also contain a compound that inhibits the production of chemicals that cause the bronchial muscle to spasm making it beneficial for asthmatics. The antibacterial activity of onions helps them destroy disease-causing pathogens, including E. Coli and salmonella.
Chives are so much more than a topping for baked potatoes! They contain allicin, which helps lower LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, raise HDL cholesterol, and improve your overall health. Easy to grow in a pot on your window sill or in the back yard garden, chives contain an agent called glutathione which enables your body to identify toxins and eliminate them. Tossed into soups, stews, pasta and salads, this little beauty may also help prevent blood clots.
Including chives in your cooking may help your body digest the rest of the meal and make better use of the nutrients in your food as they destroy bacteria, yeast and fungi in your intestinal tract, allowing your system to work as it should. They also contain antibacterial capabilities that kill at least 30 strains of salmonella.
One tablespoon of chives contains 9 mg of potaqssium, 3 mg of calcium, 78 mcg of beta-carotene, 3 mcg of folic acid and 6 mcg of vitamin K. Chives also provide magnesium, iron and trace amounts of some of the B vitamins, protein and fiber.
Leeks contain significant amounts of vitamins K and A, the mineral manganese, vitamin C, folate, vitamin B6, iron and a reasonable amount of fiber.
Leeks contain important amounts of the flavonoid kaempferol, which has repeatedly been shown to help protect our blood vessel linings from damage. Often overlooked in leeks is their important concentration of the B vitamin folate. Folate is present in leeks in one of its bioactive forms (5-methyltetrahydrofolate, or 5MTHF) and it is present throughout the plant (including the full leaf portion, not only the lower leaf and bulb). Also present in leeks are impressive concentrations of antioxidant polyphenols. These polyphenols play a direct role in protecting our blood vessels and blood cells from oxidative damage. Given their substantial polyphenol content, including their notable amounts of kaempferol, we would expect to see overlap with garlic and onions in terms of support for many health problems related to oxidative stress and chronic low-level inflammation. These health problems would include atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, and allergic airway inflammation. 1
If you’re choosing leeks, make your individual portion ½ cup or greater and try to include at least one cup of chopped leeks in your recipes. You can cut them very thinly and sauté them up with mushrooms or use them in a Potato Leek Soup. Here’s a tip for cooking with leeks: let them sit for five minutes after cutting to preserve their health-promoting qualities.
Shallots are related to onions but they have a sweeter, milder flavor. One half-cup serving of shallots contains:
- 60 calories
- 13 g carbohydrates
- no fat or cholesterol
- 10 mg of sodium
- 20% of your RDA of vitamin A
- 10% of your RDA of vitamin C (vitamin C helps facilitate the absorption of iron)
- 6% of your RDA of iron
- 2% of your RDA of calcium
Shallots contain several antioxidant phytochemicals, including phenolics (potent antioxidants) and flavonoids. These phytochemicals have antioxidant and antiproliferative activities that may protect against cancer. Shallots have a higher phenolic content than many onions, making them particularly effective against liver cancer cells. 2
Shallots are also a source of allicin. Allicin also decreases blood vessel stiffness by releasing the vasodialator chemical nitric oxide (NO) and thereby helping to bring about a reduction in blood pressure. Further research studies suggest that allicin blocks platelet clot formation in the blood vessels which will help decrease the overall risk of coronary artery disease (CAD), peripheral vascular diseases (PVD), and stroke. 3
1. Whole Foods, Leeks
2. The Nutritional Value of Shallots
3. Shallots – Nutrition Facts
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner, registered with Natural Health Practitioners Canada, who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 10 years experience in her area of expertise, naturopathic medicine, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch ® Practitioner and Reflexologist.
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replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.