Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Healthiest Onions

Read It And Weep

Onions are a very healthy food. If you study cultures and lands that regularly consume onions and garlic, you will find that they have lower rates of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. I try to incorporate garlic and onion, as well as their elegant cousin, the shallot (Allium ascalonicum), a small but subtly flavored relative of the onion, into my diet whenever possible.

But, as you may have noticed, there have been changes in the onion business that bear watching. I went to the grocery last night and noticed that the price of onions has been on the rise. Where I used to pay 39 cents per pound, the price has jumped to over a dollar a pound! Shallots are $4 per pound. The "Sweet" varieties like the Vidalia onion used to be novel and more expensive. Now they are running at less than a dollar a pound.

Originally, the only variety of sweet onion available in most markets was a form of yellow granex known by the name Vidalia. Traditionally, these were harvested in southeast Georgia from late April till mid-June and were available only during the summer months. Now the Vidalia season has been extended for several months by use of controlled atmosphere (CA) storage. The principal characteristic of CA storage is a modification of the atmosphere in the storage facility. This involves decreasing the oxygen content of the air to 3 percent and maintaining the onions at a temperature of 34 degrees Fahrenheit. So there are now Vidalia and other sweet onions available in many markets year-round.

Vidalia onions have a very mild taste and do not make your eyes water when you cut them up. In time Vidalia was joined on the shelves by other varieties of sweet onions - Maui, Walla Walla, and Maya. These are all delicious. Some are available all year long and at 50 percent lower cost than standard yellow or red onions.

Chemical analysis has shown that the reason that these onions are so sweet is because of a lack of sulfur in the soil in the particular counties in which they are grown. Sulfur is necessary to produce the characteristically sharp taste and odor of typical onions. But therein lies the problem. Do these sulfur-lacking sweet onions convey the same health benefit as typical sharp onions? After all, we also know that sulfur is involved in the production of some of the very phenolic and flavonoid compounds that give the onion family its health benefit. (I am thinking in particular of organic allyl sulfur, the most desirable compound in onions and garlic.)

This question has been answered by food chemists at Cornell University and the results will not come as welcome news down in Jeff Davis County.

These Cornell scientists, led by Dr. R.H. Liu, compared the phenolic and flavonoid content of 10 varieties of onion that are commonly available in the United States, as well as shallots. The ten varieties were as follows:

1. Empire Sweet
2. Imperial Valley Sweet; and
3. Mexico
4. New York Bold
5. Northern Red
6. Peruvian Sweet
7. Texas 1015
8. Vidalia
9. Western White
10. Western Yellow

These were evaluated for their total phenolic and flavonoid content as well as their antioxidant and antiproliferative (i.e., anticancer) activity. Shallots had the highest total phenolic content among all the varieties tested, with a 6-fold difference observed when compared to Vidalia onions. Western Yellows exhibited the highest total flavonoid content of all the onion varieties tested, with an 11-fold difference when compared to the phenol-poor Western Whites. Shallots exhibited the highest total antioxidant activity.

Leaving aside the antioxidant-rich shallots, the onions were ranked as follows for antioxidant activity:

1. Western Yellow
2. New York Bold
3. Northern Red
4. Mexico
5. Empire Sweet
6. Western White
7. Peruvian Sweet
8. Texas 1015
9. Imperial Valley Sweet
10. Vidalia

The Cornell scientists also exposed various cancer cell lines to these onion varieties to see what effect the onions had on cell proliferation. The most effective of all in inhibiting cancer cells were - again - shallots, followed by New York Bold, Western Yellow and Northern Reds. The rest of the varieties all demonstrated weak anti-proliferative activity against these cancer cell lines. "These results may influence consumers toward purchasing onion varieties exhibiting greater potential health benefits," the authors wrote.

I know these results will influence my own shopping habits. The next time I purchase onions I will be looking for Western Yellow, New York Bold and/or Northern Red (a particularly good variety for salads). I will also get some shallots when my budget can afford them and they look nice and plump. Sweet onions, such as Vidalias or Maya, are indeed delicious and relatively inexpensive. But they simply do not convey a fraction of the health benefits of yellow or red onions, or of shallots.

Monday, February 04, 2008

"Who I Am Makes A Difference"

What would happen if instead of looking for problems and what is wrong with others, we looked for the good and recognized the worth of those around us every day? What kind of impact would that have on your workplace or school. Here is the story of an experiment called

The Blue Ribbon

A teacher in New York decided to honor each of her seniors in High School by telling them the difference each of them had made. She called each student to the front of the class, one at a time.

First, she told each of them how thy had made a difference to her, and the class. Then she presented each of them with a blue ribbon, imprinted with gold letters, which read, "Who I Am Makes A Difference."

Afterwards, the teacher decided to do a class project, to see what kind of impact recognition would have on a Community. She gave each of the students three more blue ribbons, and instructed them to go out and spread this acknowledgment ceremony. Then they were to follow up on the results, see who honored whom, and report to the class in about a week.

One of the boys in the class went to a junior executive in a nearby Company, and honored him for helping him with his career planning. He gave him a blue ribbon, and put it on his shirt. Then he gave him two extra ribbons and said, "We're doing a class project on recognition, and we'd like for you to go out, find somebody to honor, give them a blue ribbon, then give them the extra blue ribbon so they can acknowledge a third person, to keep this acknowledgment ceremony going. Then please report back to me and tell me what happened."

Later that day, the junior executive went in to see his boss, who had been noted, by the way, as being kind of a grouchy fellow. He sat his boss down, and he told him that he deeply admired him for being a creative genius. The boss seemed very surprised. The junior executive asked him if he would accept the gift of the blue ribbon, and would he give him permission to put it on him. his surprised boss said, "Well, sure." The junior executive took the blue ribbon and placed it right on his boss's jacket, above his heart.

As he gave him the last extra ribbon, he said, "Would you take this extra ribbon, and pass it on by honoring somebody else. The young boy who first gave me the ribbons is doing a project in school, and we want to keep this recognition ceremony going and find out how it affects people."

That night, the boss came home to his 14-year-old son, and sat him down. He said, "The most incredible thing happened to me today. I was in my office, and one of the junior executives came in and told me he admired me, and gave me a blue ribbon for being a creative genius. Imagine! He thinks I am a creative genius! Then he put a blue ribbon that says, "Who I Am Makes A Difference," on my jacket above my heart. He gave me an extra ribbon and asked me to find somebody else to honor. As I was driving home tonight, I started thinking about whom I would honor with this ribbon and I thought about you. I want to honor you. My days are hectic and when I come home, I do not pay a lot of attention to you. sometimes I scream at you for not getting good enough grades in school, and for your bedroom being a mess. Somehow, tonight, i just wanted to sit here and, well, just let you know that you do make a difference to me. Besides your mother, you are the most important person in my life. You're a great kid, and I love you!"

The startled boy started to sob and sob, and he could not stop crying. His whole body shook. He looked up at his father and said through his tears, "Dad, earlier tonight I sat in my room and wrote a letter to you and Mom, explaining why I had took my life, and I asked you to forgive me. I was going to commit suicide tonight after you were asleep. I just did not think that you cared at all. The letter is upstairs. I don't think I need it after all."

His father walked upstairs and found a heartfelt letter full of anguish and pain.

The boss went back to work a changed man. He was no longer a grouch, but made sure to let all of his employees know that they made a difference. The junior executive helped several other young people with career planning, and never forgot to let them know that they made a difference in his like . . . one being the boss' son. In addition, the young boy and his classmates learned a valuable lesson,
"Who you are DOES make a difference."

Here is a video that was made by a 15 year old girl that I found on Youtube.com. It is her blue ribbon that she gave to the troops that are serving so that we might all remain free. They make a difference for you and me every day.