“An onion a day keeps the doctor away.” Not exactly the way you remember that phrase? Well, ancient Egyptians believed it. They used the lowly vegetable to treat everything from arthritis to asthma. George Washington ate roasted onions to cure a cold. Now today’s researchers say onions may do all of that — and far more.
Here at Texas A-and-M’s Vegetable Improvement Center, researchers are developing “super onions” to prevent cancer.
Leonard Pike, Ph.D., Director, Vegetable Improvement Center/Texas A&M Univ., College Station:
“In the onions, for example, there are several sulphur compounds that will actually inhibit cancer cell division. So when we consume these in our diet, they play a major role in inhibiting cancer of the esophagus and cancer of the colon, for example.”
The discovery of these and other anti-cancer compounds are taking onion breeding in a whole new direction.
Leonard Pike, Ph.D.:
“We selected for the color and the shape and the yield. And we had no selection whatsoever on these health factors or even nutrition in some case. Now we’re putting it all together and we’re selecting for shape, color, flavor, texture, nutrition, and health, all at the same time.”
It might be possible to purify these anti-cancer substances and put them in pill form. But the best approach will probably still be to eat raw fruits and vegetables.
Michael Wargovich, Ph.D., Cancer Prevention Specialist, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center/Houston:
“The bad news is that a lot of these anti-carcinogens are destroyed by long-term cooking, by a lot of heat, by boiling, by stewing. You’re really left with the fiber that’s in fruits and vegetables and not much of the good stuff.
Dr. Pike predicts we’ll see these new breeds of foods in the stores within five years.
Leonard Pike, Ph.D.:
“We’re gonna be selling onions or maybe potatoes or other vegetables that’s gonna be labeled in some way and promoted by the grocery store people that you know that you’re getting an improved product.”
In the meantime, eating five servings of fruits and vegetables every day is good medicine.
Other foods with strong anti-cancer properties include garlic, cabbage, soybeans, broccoli and cauliflower. For any of them to be of value, though, you have to eat them regularly.