Can this readily-available vegetable help lower blood sugar level?

Your kitchen pantry is a powerhouse of various ingredients that come packed with innumerable health benefits. One such vegetable, which is readily available and is used every day in most households, is the onion. But, while you may know of it as a flavour enhancer, did you know that the onion bulb is also known to lower blood sugar levels?

“There are various studies suggesting that onion bulbs have blood sugar lowering properties due to the presence of sulfur compounds. Allium cepa or onion bulb has a long history of medicinal use. The fleshy bulb that grows beneath the ground is primarily used medicinally and for food, but other parts of the plant are also used in traditional medicines,” said Dr Archana Batra, nutritionist, and certified diabetes educator.

A 2014 review article published in Nutrition noted that onions may have a hypoglycemic effect on people with diabetes. The authors of the review said that sulfur compounds in onions, namely S-methylcysteine and the flavonoid quercetin, may be responsible for the effects on blood sugar. Another noteworthy review findings presented at 2015-The Endocrine Society’s 97th annual meeting in San Diego suggested that the extract of an onion bulb can “strongly lower” high blood sugar and total cholesterol levels when given alongside the anti-diabetic drug, metformin.

As part of the research, three groups of rats with medically-induced diabetes were given various three doses (200mg, 400mg, and 600mg per kilogram of body weight) of the onion extract to see if it would enhance the drug’s effect.

The researchers also gave the drug and onion to three groups of non-diabetic rats with normal blood sugar. The study found that, of the diabetic rats, those given 400mg and 600mg per kilogram of body weight “strongly reduced” their blood sugar levels by 50 per cent and 35 per cent respectively compared with a baseline level. The onion extract also lowered the total cholesterol level in diabetic rats, with 400mg and 600mg having the greatest effects.

onion Onion have many benefits (Source: Pixabay)

The lead study author Anthony Ojieh of Delta State University in Abraka, Nigeria, said in a press release at that time, “Onion is cheap and available and has been used as a nutritional supplement. It has the potential for use in treating patients with diabetes.”

Notably, the study also found that the onion extract led to weight gain among the nondiabetic rats, but not the diabetic rats. “Onion is not high in calories,” Ojieh explained. “However, it seems to increase the metabolic rate and, with that, to increase the appetite, leading to an increase in feeding which needed ‘further investigation’”.

Here’s what to know.

Onions, particularly red onions, are high in fibre. Spring onions have the least amount of fibre in the family. “Fibre takes time to break down and digest, resulting in a slower release of sugars into the bloodstream. Fibre also adds bulk to your stool, which may aid in the relief of constipation, a common problem among diabetics,” Dr Batra told

diabetes Here’s how diabetes and onions are connected (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

The two flavonols present in onion are Anthocyanins, which give some varieties a red/purple colour, and quercetin and its derivatives. Quercetin is a pigment present in the red and yellow onions, said Dr Batra. She added, “Blood glucose lowering effects of onion bulbs can also be attributed to sulphur-containing compounds, such as allyl propyl disulphide (APDS), which lowers blood glucose levels by competing with insulin (also a disulphide) for insulin inactivating sites in the liver. Quecertin and these sulphur compounds found in onions exhibits hypoglycemic properties by regulating the activities of certain enzymes involved in carbohydrate metabolism, and increasing insulin secretion and sensitivity.”

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How much should one have?

Notably, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) encourages eating more non-starchy vegetables because they’re low in calories and carbohydrates. As per ADA, eating at least three to five servings of non-starchy vegetables, such as onions, a day, where one serving is equal to one-half cup cooked or 1 cup raw is a good amount. “However, if one is eating more than one cup cooked or two cups of raw onions at a meal, one is likely to add more carbs to their daily intake,” it reads.

Dr Batra said that both type 1 and type 2 diabetics had “lower blood glucose levels after eating fresh onions as per some studies”. “Onions can be used in salads, vegetables, sandwiches, soups, and stews, etc. A sustainable strategy for managing any level of health condition is to practice moderation in all things,” she said.

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