The Health Benefits of Onions

Onions are a humble vegetable with a wealth of health benefits for runners

March 28, 2013
onions on cutting board

Love them, or hate preparing them, onions boost an array of health benefits that'll make them the next natural addition to any salad, dinner plate, or breakfast dish. 

More: The 10 Best Ways to Add Color to Your Diet


Check out these benefits of onion that are worth the (possible) discomfort of cutting them:

Protects Your Brain
Onions are a good source of the antioxidant quercetin. This flavonoid may help offset oxidative damage to muscle fibers and body tissues caused by intense exercise. In fact, in a study using lab animals, quercetin helped prevent oxidative damage to brain tissue after a long workout.

Keeps Your Heart Healthy
The pungent odor from onions (and garlic) comes from sulfur-containing compounds called allyl sulfides. These compounds, combined with onions' rich quercetin content, may help protect blood vessels from damage caused by cholesterol, boosting heart and vascular health.

Strengthens Bones
In a study published in 2009, women who ate onions daily had greater bone density than those who didn't eat onions. And among older women, onion-eaters had a 20 percent lower risk of hip fractures. Researchers think sulfurous compounds, quercetin, and other antioxidants may be responsible for the beneficial effect.

More: The 12 Greatest Disease-Fighting Foods

Reduces Cancer Risk
A host of flavonoid compounds in onions (including quercetin) may help ward off cancer by preventing damage to genetic material inside cells, ultimately blocking cancer-causing agents from wreaking havoc. Studies show that frequent onion-eaters have lower risk for some types of cancer and heart disease compared with people who don't eat them.

Aids Digestion
Onions contain a special type of carbohydrate called fructo-oligosaccharides (or FOS) that, while not digestible by our enzymes, serve as food for our intestinal-tract bacteria. FOS promotes the growth of healthy, immune-boosting bacteria-while keeping the bad bacteria at bay-and also helps improve digestive function by relieving constipation.


Fast Food: Runner-friendly dishes in 20 minutes or less

5 minutes
Grilled Onions. Slice a red or sweet onion into 1⁄4-inch-thick slices; drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook on a hot grill, 2 minutes per side. Use on burgers or sandwiches or add to salads.

10 minutes
Onion-Mushroom Sauté. In a pan heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sauté one sliced onion with 1 1⁄2 cups sliced mushrooms for 5 minutes; add 1⁄2 cup red wine and salt and pepper. Simmer 4 minutes. Serve on top of fish or lean meat.

15 minutes
Onion Soup. Slice an onion into circles; sauté 5 minutes. Heat beef broth in a pot; add onions, pepper, and salt. Cook 5 minutes. Ladle into bowls with Swiss cheese on bottom. Top with toast and cheese. Broil 3 minutes.

20 minutes
Onion-Topped Pizza. Heat oven to 425 degrees F. Roll whole-wheat pizza dough to fit a pizza pan. Top with pesto, shredded mozzarella and Gruyere cheeses, and 1 thinly sliced red onion. Sprinkle with chile pepper flakes. Bake 15 minutes.