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How Alliums Can Ease Allergies, Fight Infections, and Help You Live Longer


written by Skye Sherman - May 30, 2022
medically reviewed by Dr. Christine Bishara, MD - Jul 19, 2022

Photo Credit: by tiffany.ironfan, Instagram.com
Photo Credit: by tiffany.ironfan, Instagram.com

We all know that the food we eat affects our health, in big and small ways, but have you ever thought of food as medicine? Everything you consume can be helping you or hurting you, depending on your unique genetic profile and other factors such as your lifestyle, environment, and more.

If you eat with the seasons, your body will get many of the nutrients it especially needs at particular times of year. Of course, in our modern world, you can eat any food you want pretty much all year long, but sticking to what’s in season will guarantee your food is always fresh, vibrant, and flavorful.

In the spring, many people around the world shop for fresh green garlic to cook with. Not only is this ingredient delicious, there are many powerful health benefits of eating garlic and other alliums. What are alliums, exactly? And how can they affect your health? In this article, we’ll explore how alliums work and how they can ease allergies, infections, and more. Read on to learn about the power of this delicious springtime crop. Studies show that alliums may prevent or ease the effects of allergies. Just like raw carrots can affect your hormones, fresh garlic may have an impact on specific aspects of your health as well. Aiding your body through functional nutrition by being strategic about the food you eat can set you up for success in your overall health and life.

What are alliums, exactly? And how can they affect your health? In this article, we’ll explore how alliums work and how they can ease allergies, infections, and more. Read on to learn about the power of this delicious springtime crop.

What are alliums?

First things first. What are alliums?

According to Food Revolution Network, alliums are “a unique family of plants that are widely used in both traditional medicine and everyday food. … The word Allium is Latin for ‘garlic.’ But the allium family includes onions, garlic, leeks, scallions, chives, and shallots.” There are actually 800 species total in the allium genus, but the above are its most well known and widely recognized members. Believe it or not, they are members of the lily family (but taste much better than a lily, we think!).

Other members of the allium family are ramps, green garlic, garlic scapes, and spring onions. Garlic scapes are the green shoots that grow off of the cloves, though most commonly, you’ll find garlic cloves or bulbs in the supermarket. Food Waste Feast adds, “Chives are also a member of the allium family, but typically used more like an herb.”

Alliums are a great food because they are easy to grow, even in an at-home garden, and they provide ample nutrition and nutrients. They are also very versatile cooking ingredients. They can be slow cooked or flash-fried or whipped into a sizzling stir fry. As Food Waste Feast puts it, “They can be slow cooked and mellow, acting as supporting flavor for more prominent ingredients, or they can be in-your-face and in charge with a raw and aggressive bite.”

Plus, the flavors play well with many other ingredients and flavors! You can eat alliums raw, pickled, charred, roasted, sauteed, fried, baked, grilled, and more. You can do almost anything with alliums, eat them in any form, and use them in any recipe. Their texture can be crunchy when raw or soft and silky when cooked. You can cut them, slice them, chop them, dice them… the options are practically endless.

Food Waste Feast also recommends these simple tips when you buy alliums:

● “The majority of onions and garlic that you find at the supermarket are 'cured', which means they’ve been dried for storage. These bulbs, with papery skins and no green parts, can last for a long time somewhere dry, dark and cool with a bit of air - don’t leave them in plastic bags where moisture can gather. Once an onion or a garlic clove has been peeled, store in a sealed container in the fridge.”

● “Even if the outer layers of onions are brown or bruised, you can discard them until you find an untouched layer.”

● “All parts of the allium are flavorful, so save your onion ends and your garlic skins and leek stalks in a bag in the fridge or freezer for vegetable stock.”

● “Don’t waste your scallion greens! In Chinese cooking, scallion greens are an essential ingredient … ignore recipes where it says scallion white only and add the greens, or use them thinly sliced as a garnish.”

As you can see, alliums are a wonder plant in more ways than one.

The health benefits of alliums: preventing allergies

Healthline points out, “When you think of food and allergies, you may think of keeping certain foods out of your diet to avoid an adverse reaction. … [but] seasonal allergies, also called hay fever or allergic rhinitis, only occur during certain parts of the year — usually the spring or summer. They develop when the immune system overreacts to allergens, like plant pollen, which results in lots of congestion, sneezing, and itching. While treatment usually involves over-the-counter medicines, lifestyle changes may also help ease your springtime woes. Adding certain foods to your diet could actually help relieve symptoms like the nose-dripping and eye-watering. From reducing inflammation to boosting the immune system, there are a number of dietary choices that may help mitigate the miseries of seasonal allergies.”

Yes, you read that right: if you suffer from seasonal allergies, there are foods that might make your life easier when the season kicks into high gear. Onions are one of those foods.

The article goes on to explain: “Onions are an excellent natural source of quercetin, a bioflavonoid you may have seen sold on its own as a dietary supplement. Some research suggests that quercetin acts as a natural antihistamine, reducing the symptoms of seasonal allergies. … Raw red onions have the highest concentration of quercetin, followed by white onions and scallions. Cooking reduces the quercetin content of onions, so for maximum impact, eat onions raw. You might try them in salads, in dips (like guacamole), or as sandwich toppings.”

Of course, remember that onions and other alliums aren’t meant to replace your doctor-prescribed treatment for seasonal allergies and other medical conditions. Still, they might be able to help you reduce inflammation and ease your overall allergic response with fewer sneezes along the way.

Alliums can even function as anti-fungal foods to fight infections

According to The Statesman, “Garlic is often used to treat fungal infections like ringworm. … Garlic cloves can also be consumed orally every day to kill the fungus from inside. Eating garlic gives the treatment more potency internally and applying it externally can help you get rid of fungal allergy visible outside.”

To apply garlic externally, the article recommends making a paste of garlic cloves and adding a little coconut oil, then mixing and applying it as a thin layer on the affected area. You can cover it with gauze then leave it on for two hours and rinse it off, repeating twice a day as long as the garlic paste does not cause any swelling, stinging, or redness.

Onions, too, can fight infection and even boost your immune system. The article continues, “Onion contains allicin, a nutrient that slows down the growth of Candida and kills off bad bacteria found in the body. Onions are also rich in vitamin C and other phytochemicals that support the immune system. Consuming onions helps the body to flush out excess fluids since many Candida sufferers experience extreme water retention. Consuming this vegetable regularly can prevent and cure fungal infections.”

In fact, onions have been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years to cure many ailments, from infections to bad flus and coughs.

Of course, you should always consult your doctor when you’re dealing with allergies, an infection, or any other medical concerns. And if the allium treatment causes any additional issues, make sure to stop immediately and seek medical attention and advice from a licensed medical professional.

What else can alliums do? Anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, fighting colds, and more

Onions contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, so their health benefits don’t end at allergy and flu relief. They are also rich in prebiotics, which supports a healthy gut flora and bacteria levels, which provides all the more support for your immune system and overall health.

According to nutritionist Kathleen DiChiara, quercetin (which onions contain in abundance) acts as an antioxidant “that may be linked to preventing cancer [and] also has heart health benefits, reduces bladder infections, promotes prostate health and lowers blood pressure.”

Research also shows that quercetin can boost your heart health, relieve asthma symptoms, strengthen your immune system, work as a powerful anti-cancer agent, promote good digestion, lower or regulate blood sugar, and more.

The nutritionist also points out that “These flavorful bulbs are packed with nutrients – vitamins C and B6, biotin, chromium, and dietary fiber. Also a good source of folic acid, and vitamins B1 and K” and that onions are also “an excellent source of flavonoids (primarily quercetin) … [and] flavonoids are responsible for pigments in many fruits and vegetables. Studies have shown that they may help reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.”

But onions aren’t the only alliums with a wide range of health benefits. Healthline reports, “Current research shows that garlic may have some real health benefits, such as protection against the common cold and the ability to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. … A large 12-week study found that a daily garlic supplement reduced the number of colds by 63% compared with a placebo. The average length of cold symptoms was also reduced by 70%, from 5 days in the placebo group to just 1.5 days in the garlic group. Another study found that a high dose of aged garlic extract (2.56 grams per day) reduced the number of days sick with cold or flu by 61%.”

Obviously, if the cold is going around or if you’re often subject to getting a cold, you should add some garlic into the mix!

But the power of alliums doesn’t end there. The active compounds in garlic can also reduce blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels (which may lower the risk of heart disease), help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia thanks to the presence of certain antioxidants, improve athletic performance, detoxify heavy metals in the body, improve bone health, and more.

Obviously, with all of these benefits, another natural benefit would be helping you live longer. Thanks to garlic’s beneficial effects on risk factors like high blood pressure, fighting diseases, warding off infections, and boosting your immune system, eating garlic regularly in your diet may help you live longer.

The potential dangers of alliums

As with any and all foods, there are some people who have unfortunate sensitivities, allergies, or intolerances. A nutritionist on HealthyFood.com shares, “They are rich in sulfur compounds, which provide the sharp pungent flavor they have when raw (on cooking, these compounds break down and the taste becomes sweeter). This, together with their high insoluble fiber content, causes gas and discomfort in certain people. For people with irritable bowel syndrome, they can trigger attacks.”

This does not apply to everyone, but it is a risk factor for consuming alliums. If you are sensitive to or intolerant of alliums, you probably know about it, because these foods will make you uncomfortable or cause unfortunate symptoms each time you eat them.

The article continues, “While total avoidance may be the best strategy, this comes at a cost. Apart from making cooking difficult, it means missing out on the very valuable nutrients this family of vegetables provide.”

Still, sometimes you can find suitable replacements for the flavors and textures. If you find yourself with an intolerance to alliums, you should talk to your doctor about the best options for you, to make sure you are still getting the valuable nutrients and health benefits that alliums can provide in your diet. It’s important to enjoy your food and be nourished by it, so don’t miss out on this most basic and necessary of human pleasures.

How to eat alliums: try this healthy recipe using plenty of alliums

Looking for a delicious recipe where you can get a hearty dose of alliums in a nutritious meal? This recipe takes advantage of fresh green garlic and onions in season, plus an additional inclusion of garlic cloves to add an irresistible fragrance and flavor.

Remember that chopping the onion might make you cry, but at least now you know the reason why is because of a protective enzyme that alliums emit. It won’t harm you, but it might make your eyes sting while you prep your dinner! You can try lighting a candle or match near your work station, which has been shown to help ease the tears that chopping an onion may cause.

Photo Credit: by tiffany.ironfan, Instagram.com
Photo Credit: by tiffany.ironfan, Instagram.com

GREEN GARLIC STIR-FRY WITH PORK

Ingredients:

● Green garlic 300g

● Onion 60g

● 4 cloves of garlic

● Pork or pork belly 200g

● Cooking wine, oil, white pepper powder, sesame oil, salt, soy sauce

Instructions:

1. Cut the pork into thin slices.

2. Combine 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1/2 teaspoon cooking wine, and 1/4 teaspoon white pepper powder. Mix well and pour over the pork slices to marinate for 20 minutes.

3. Cut the green garlic into sections. Separate the garlic head from the garlic leaves.

4. Cut the onion into thin slices.

5. Mince the garlic cloves.

6. Heat the oil in a hot pan and add the pork slices. Stir-fry until lightly browned and set aside.

7. Stir-fry the garlic in the remaining oil in the pot, then add in the meat slices and garlic leaves. Stir fry evenly.

8. Season with soy sauce and salt to taste.

9. Serve and enjoy all the tasty benefits of alliums for you and your family!

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