Archive for May, 2012

My father was born in Belgium and came to the US via Ellis Island when he was just a baby. He didn’t speak English until he began school at the age of 9 and left before he completed grade 8. He spent his early years working in the sugar beet fields of Southeast Michigan and did this every summer until he began school. After leaving school he began working in local factories and did that until he joined the army during World War II. From the stories he shared with us about his childhood it was clear his life was more like the poor lower classes in a Charles Dickens novel than that of the 1940s heroine Nancy Drew.

My father was the oldest of three boys. He was also the only one of them who spoke Flemish. I didn’t realize until I was much older the full implication of this simple fact and the impact it must have had on his family. Although his father spoke English fluently our grandmother did not. And whenever Flemish was used in the home Daddy would urge his family and especially his brothers to use English instead.  Whether it was the pressure to fit in to an English speaking environment or to force his mother to learn English–the overall impact was that his two younger brothers never learned to speak Flemish and were limited in their efforts to communicate with their own mother.

Although our mother was not from the tight knit Belgian (or Buffalo) community in our hometown, she was a savvy lady and if their orthodoxy made sense to her–she willingly embraced it. One thing she wholeheartedly bought into was the homeopathic practices and tonics our grandmother used. Chief among these was the viscous potion used for colds, respiratory infections and the flu. Whenever we got sick Mom or daddy would make a batch of the brew that consisted of stewed onions thickened with brown sugar. Sometimes–when our colds were deep in our chest and it called for really strong medicine–they’d make a poultice with the stuff and plaster it on our chests.

When my mom learned the real value came from the onions promoted for their medicinal value from cancer prevention to cardiovascular health–she dropped the brown sugar and made French Onion Soup instead when we got sick. I don’t think there was anything more horrid than that onion and brown sugar toxic brew so it was with a great deal of relief that we transitioned from the old country potion to the New World soup. When mom later learned that garlic shared many of the same medicinal values as onions she added that to her wonderful soup. So, eat French Onion Soup–it’s good for your soul and your health!

So, what’s they hype on onions?  http://www.vegetarian-nutrition.info/updates/onions.php

Early American settlers used wild onions to treat colds, coughs, and asthma, and to repel insects. In Chinese medicine, onions have been used to treat angina, coughs, bacterial infections, and breathing problems.

The World Health Organization (WHO) supports the use of onions for the treatment of poor appetite and to prevent atherosclerosis. In addition, onion extracts are recognized by WHO for providing relief in the treatment of coughs and colds, asthma and bronchitis. Onions are known to decrease bronchial spasms. An onion extract was found to decrease allergy-induced bronchial constriction in asthma patients.

Onions are a very rich source of fructo-oligosaccharides. These oligomers stimulate the growth of healthy bifidobacteria and suppress the growth of potentially harmful bacteria in the colon. In addition, they can reduce the risk of tumors developing in the colon.

Cardiovascular Help

Onions contain a number of sulfides similar to those found in garlic which may lower blood lipids and blood pressure. In India, communities that never consumed onions or garlic had blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels substantially higher, and blood clotting times shorter, than the communities that ate liberal amounts of garlic and onions. Onions are a rich source of flavonoids, substances known to provide protection against cardiovascular disease. Onions are also natural anticlotting agents since they possess substances with fibrinolytic activity and can suppress platelet-clumping. The anticlotting effect of onions closely correlates with their sulfur content.

Cancer Prevention      

Onion extracts, rich in a variety of sulfides, provide some protection against tumor growth. In central Georgia where Vidalia onions are grown, mortality rates from stomach cancer are about one-half the average level for the United States. Studies in Greece have shown a high consumption of onions, garlic and other allium herbs to be protective against stomach cancer.

Chinese with the highest intake of onions, garlic, and other Allium vegetables have a risk of stomach cancer 40 percent less than those with the lowest intake. Elderly Dutch men and women with the highest onion consumption (at least one-half onion/day) had one-half the level of stomach cancer compared with those consuming no onions at all.

Western Yellow, New York Bold, and Northern Red onions have the richest concentration of flavonoids and phenolics, providing them with the greatest antioxidant and anti-proliferative activity of 10 onions tested. The mild-tasting Western White and Vidalia onions had the lowest antioxidant content and lowest anti-proliferative activity. The consumer trend to increasingly purchase the less pungent, milder onion varieties may not be the best, since the onions with a stronger flavor and higher astringency appear to have superior health-promoting properties.


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