Alliums, a Superhero Food Group

Alliums: garlic, onions, leeks, scallions, chives, shallots

Alliums are a veggie family that all of us should get to know and love. They don’t just add zip to meals. Given their nutritional punch, they’ve been used medicinally for thousands of years.

The word allium means “garlic” in Latin. But alliums encompass so much more. They’re a slew of bulbous plants that include:

  • Onions: in all shapes, sizes, and colors.
  • Garlic: whole, chopped, and minced.
  • Leeks: long broadleaf plants that are dark green at the leafy end, fading to white at the bulb, all of which is edible.
  • Chives: thin, delicate green sprigs you can chew on straight from the garden or chop into salads and other dishes.
  • Shallots: resembling small, purplish onions with a delicate flavor.
  • Scallions: easily mistaken for leeks, with similar long greens ending in white bulbs.

All alliums contain what are called “organosulfur compounds.” In other words, their cells contain sulfur atoms. And when you disrupt those cells by crushing, cutting, or chewing the plants… stand back. They pack a pungent odor that can permeate your kitchen and, let’s face it, your breath.

But that distinctive characteristic not only adds flavor to your menu but also packs truly amazing health-promoting effects. Alliums are known as antihistamine, antibiotic, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antibacterial, anticancer agents. Phew!

A 2017 study in the Journal of Hypertension looked at the link between “habitual” consumption of alliums (in this case, garlic and onions) and found that this is one heck of a habit, helping to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, among both men and women. Garlic, in particular, has been found to help decrease bad cholesterol (LDL) and boost good cholesterol (HDL).

Note that alliums may trigger symptoms for folks with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, so if you fall under that umbrella you may want to avoid them or at least discuss with your doctor.

But for most of us, this is one superhero food group that’s at home for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

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