The Humble Onion
Having accumulated a load of onions from my weekly box of vegetables from Riverford, I decided to tap into my French side and make a classic "tarte a l'oignon". For the next two days both my husband and I not only reaked of onions but it just felt like we had something stuck in our digestive track. The yogic diet excludes onions, but given that I’m already a vegetarian (which is hard enough in a French household), I have always been pretty lax on the “no onion”’ rule. Given my two days of onionness, I was tempted to bring that rule back, but before I did, I thought I would do a little bit of research. Why are we told in yoga to avoid it, whilst in other diets it is considered good for the health? I won't claim to be a nutritionist, or a scientist, but I love finding things out about the body. So here is my 2 cents worth.
In F(l)avour of Onions
Traditionally, onions are viewed to have medicinal properties, and like garlic, are good at fighting coughs, colds and asthma. If you have a cold, you can simmer an onion with water until soft and mix with some manuka honey and have a spoonful every few hours. A friend in Singapore did a similar thing with garlic and swore by it to fight tonsillitis - fry it and mix with some honey, take a spoonful regularly. Either way you may want to brush your teeth afterwards.
Onions are often also used to heal infections and reduce inflammation. Onions contain inulin (a prebiotic fibre) which encourages the production of healthy probiotics in the gut. If you are wondering what the difference is between prebiotics and probiotics - prebiotics are a fibre compound that feed the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut, whilst probiotics (sources include yogurt) introduce good bacteria into the gut.
Another tip I found, if you have an insect bite, it is said if you rub raw onion on the bite it will help with the pain. I'll remember that one for the next time someone in the family gets a nasty insect bite.
Onions in Yoga
In the yogic diet (as well as in Ayurveda), foods are grouped either at sattvic (pure), rajasic (causing over stimulation) and tamasic (causing darkness and lethargy).
Yogis are encouraged to eat sattvic food, foods including fresh fruits and vegetables (apart from onions and garlic), grains, legumes, dairy because they bring mental clarity.
Onions and garlic are considered both rajasic and tamasic. These two qualities are thought to bring mental dullness, increase emotional desire, making meditation difficult.
Interestingly in Ayurvedic medicine, if you are trying to pacify a “Kapha” dosha (think of dosha as a characteristic), then you should include onions in your diet as they stimulate the digestive system. Someone with a Kapha dosha tends to be overweight, likes to sleep a bit too much or may be suffering from depression. If you are interested in finding out what dosha you are, watch this space, I will be covering doshas in a future article.
My box of onions is building up (again!!), and I may not be making soup a l'oignon or another tarte a l'oignon in the immediate future, but I am not going to rule out this humble vegetable either. Although there are other sources of prebiotic fibre, for example from apples and artichokes (my favourite!) onions seem to have benefits which can't be ignored - perhaps just in smaller doses.