Though it probably sounds like a recipe for bad breath, a diet with plenty of garlic and onions may also be a great way of obtaining essential nutrients. A study featured in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that when eaten in conjunction with whole grains, garlic and onions appear to increase your body’s intake of iron and zinc.
The study examined the effect that garlic and onion have on obtaining iron and zinc from cereals (rice and sorghum) and legumes (chickpeas and mung beans). Researchers looked at the effect on both raw and cooked grains. Results showed that garlic enhanced the body’s absorption of iron in sorghum, rice, mung beans, and chickpeas in both raw and cooked grains, with more benefits coming from the cooked variety. In fact, the most notable outcome was that of garlic on zinc in cooked sorghum: researchers observed more than a 150 percent increase in the bioavailability of zinc. As for onions, they had a significantly positive effect on the absorption of minerals from all four grains examined, both raw and cooked, though the effect was stronger in raw grains.
While minor differences were observed, overall both garlic and onion exhibit a positive effect on the body’s absorption of iron and zinc present in cereals and legumes. The results of this study are very promising. Garlic and onions are indeed “functional foods”: they may have health benefits beyond basic nutrition.
This study carries particular importance for vegetarians. While most people easily obtain their iron and zinc through meat consumption, vegetarians are harder pressed to find these minerals in an omnivorous diet. The form of iron found in plant foods is a non-heme iron, which is not absorbed as easily. For this reason, many vegetarians take supplements. However, because it is easier for the body to absorb nutrients from foods rather than supplements, a food-based strategy like eating garlic and onions with whole grains is a much better approach to prevent iron and other mineral deficiencies.
Whether you’re a vegetarian or just someone looking for a healthy meatless meal, give the flavor and mineral enhancing ingredients garlic and onions a try. The increased iron and zinc intake alone will make the experience worthwhile, even if nobody will be willing to kiss you for a while.