Scallions: The Immune-Boosting, Disease-Fighting Powerhouses
By Rachael Link, MS, RD
Frequently used as a garnish to throw in a bit of color to a dish, scallions are often overlooked and overshadowed by other ingredients.
Believe it or not, though, this vegetable has a whole lot more to offer than some added color. In fact, scallions are low in calories, rich in nutrients and boast some serious health benefits, from enhancing immunity to shrinking fat cells.
Convenient, easy to use and incredibly versatile, including a few servings of scallions in your diet can do so much more than simply brighten up your plate.
What Are Scallions?
Scallions go by many names, including spring onion, green onion, Welsh onion and Allium fistulosum. They are cultivated and used around the globe but are actually native to China.
As a member of the Allium family of plants, scallions are a close relative of garlic, onions, leeks, shallots and chives and share many of the same health-promoting compounds.
Scallions have long green stems with a thin white bulb. They are harvested early, before the bulb is able to swell and expand, which sets them apart from other members of the same plant family.
Both parts of the green onion are edible and can be used in cooking. The green tops have a mild, onion-like flavor while the white base is slightly more intense in its taste.
Although scallions are enjoyed around the world in many unique dishes, they are considered a staple in a handful of Asian cuisines and are frequently found as a star ingredient in Chinese, Japanese and Korean foods.
Scallions, along with other vegetables in the same family, are also often a major component of many different diets due to their versatility and health profile. The macrobiotic diet, for example, is a plant-based diet that encourages a high intake of fresh vegetables, such as scallions. Scallions can also fit into Paleo, vegan and raw food diets, among others.
Benefits of Scallions
1. Aid in Weight Loss
Scallions are low in calories but nutrient-dense foods, making them an excellent addition to your diet if you’re looking to shed a few pounds. They also contain a good chunk of fiber, providing you with up to 10 percent of your daily fiber needs for just 32 calories. Fiber can help promote weight loss by keeping you feeling full and reducing hunger.
In addition to helping cut calories and increase fiber, some studies have found that scallions may also alter the expression of certain genes that are involved in obesity. A 2011 animal study conducted by the Center of Herbal Resources Research at the Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine fed mice scallion extract for 6.5 weeks and found that it reduced body weight and shrunk fat cells. It also increased levels of a specific protein that aids in the breakdown of fat. (1)
In another Korean animal study, an herbal supplement containing a mix of scallion and violet extract was given to obese mice, which caused a decrease in both body weight and fat cell size. (2)
Including scallions in your diet along with plenty of other low-calorie foods like fruits and vegetables is one easy method to help keep your waistline under control.
2. Help Blood Clotting
Scallions are practically bursting with vitamin K. In fact, just a half cup can meet and exceed your vitamin K requirement for the entire day. Vitamin K is a necessary nutrient for many aspects of health, but its critical role in blood clotting stands out in particular.
Blood clotting is important to prevent excessive bleeding as a result of injury. It allows your platelets and plasma, two components of your blood, to form a clot when you’re injured, which can help you avoid further blood loss. A deficiency in vitamin K can cause symptoms like easy bruising and bleeding, typically from the gums or the nose.
3. Boost Immunity
Some research has found that scallions can help jump-start your immune system to prevent illness and infection. This happens primarily by altering the levels of specific cells in the immune system that work to ward off disease and fight foreign invaders in the body.
In a 2013 animal study conducted by the National Institute of Vegetable and Tea Science at the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization, mice were fed scallions, which was found to enhance immune function by increasing the activity of these important immune cells. (3) Another study published in the journal Food Chemistry isolated a specific compound found in scallions and showed that it increased the production of antibodies to help fight against influenza. (4)
4. Enhance Heart Health
Heart disease is a major health problem worldwide and the leading cause of death in the United States. (6) Certain foods, like scallions, have actually been shown to help promote heart heath. In the 2011 animal study conducted by the Center of Herbal Resources Research at the Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine mentioned above, scallion extract was able to significantly decrease several heart disease risk factors like total cholesterol, triglycerides and bad LDL cholesterol.
Another animal study out of Taiwan published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology showed that treating rats with scallion extract caused an improvement in blood flow. (7)
Additionally, scallions are loaded with vitamin K, which may help protect your heart. Vitamin K prevents the stiffening of the arteries by blocking the formation of calcium deposits on the walls of the arteries. (8) One study looked at the diets of 16,057 women over a four-year period and found that a higher intake of some forms of vitamin K were linked to a lower risk of heart disease. (9)
Along with scallions, a balanced and nutritious diet plus plenty of regular physical activity can keep your heart healthy and strong.
5. Improve Bone Health
In addition to preventing heart disease and improving blood clotting, the vitamin K found in scallions may also help strengthen your bones. Vitamin K improves bone heath by increasing the production of a certain protein needed to maintain bone calcium and increase bone density. (10)
A study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research supplemented 241 patients with osteoporosis using vitamin K, which lowered the risk of fractures for participants and helped them maintain their bone density. (11) Another study published in 2000 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a low vitamin K intake was associated with an increased risk of hip fractures in elderly men and women. (12)
The vitamin K in scallions may work in combination with calcium and vitamin D, so be sure to get some sunlight each day and include plenty of calcium-rich foods in your diet to boost your bone health even more.
6. May Block Cancer Growth
One of the most impressive benefits of scallions is that they contain compounds that may help reduce the growth of certain types of cancer. In a 2012 animal study, mice with colon cancer were fed scallion extract. This was found to suppress the growth of tumors, lower inflammation and increase the survival rate of the mice. (13)
Another study from the National Cancer Institute in Maryland showed that a higher intake of scallions was associated with a 30 percent lower risk of prostate cancer. (14)
Scallions also contain a compound called allicin, which is well-known for its cancer-fighting abilities. In one study out of China, treating stomach cancer cells with allicin simultaneously stopped the growth of cancer and helped killed off cancer cells. (15)
Although more research is needed, these studies show that scallions may have some potent properties that could aid in cancer prevention, making them a potential cancer-fighting food.
Scallions are low in calories but contain a good amount of vitamin K, dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin A and folate.
One cup (100 grams) of chopped scallions contains approximately: (16)
- 32 calories
- 7.3 grams carbohydrates
- 1.8 grams protein
- 0.2 gram fat
- 2.6 grams fiber
- 207 micrograms vitamin K (259 percent DV)
- 18.8 milligrams vitamin C (31 percent DV)
- 997 IU vitamin A (20 percent DV)
- 64 micrograms folate (16 percent DV)
- 1.5 milligrams iron (8 percent DV)
- 276 milligrams potassium (8 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram manganese (8 percent DV)
- 72 milligrams calcium (7 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram riboflavin (5 percent DV)
- 20 milligrams magnesium (5 percent DV)
Scallions vs. Green Onions
Scallions are known by a number of names, including green onions, spring onions and bunching onions. These vegetables all belong to the same species, though, which is known by its scientific name as Allium fistulosum.
However, while scallions/green onions are harvested before their bulbs swell, spring onions are slightly more mature and tend to have a larger bulb and a more pronounced flavor.
Scallions are also closely related to a number of other similar vegetables, including leeks, chives and shallots. Although these are all in the same family of plants, there are some differences between them in terms of flavor and appearance.
Leeks, for example, are larger and have a more subtle yet sweet flavor profile. Chives, on the other hand, come from a flowering purple plant but only the hollow scapes are used, typically as an herb or garnish in dishes.
Meanwhile, shallots have long green stems with brown, elongated bulbs that grow in clusters like garlic. They are often described as having a stronger flavor than green onions but still taste mild with a hint of onion.
How to Use Scallions and Where to Find Them
Scallions are widely available, easy to use and can be incorporated into an array of diverse dishes.
You can find them fresh at any grocery store in the produce section. Look for a bunch that has bright green tops with a firm white base.
Keep them in the fridge until you’re ready to use them. Then, trim just a bit off the bottom and top, and cut, slice or dice to your desired size.
Scallions can be cooked, grilled, enjoyed raw or used as a garnish to add a pop of color and flavor to your meal.
Ready to give them a try? Here are a few scallion/green onion recipes to get you started:
- Chinese Scallion Pancakes
- Steamed Scallion Buns
- Cauliflower Fried Rice Recipe
- Double Layer Nachos Recipe
Scallions have a rich history of use throughout the world. In fact, even the name “scallion” can be traced way back to the Greek word “askolonion,” which is named after the ancient city of Ashkelon.
Today, scallions are an integral part of many traditional dishes and festivities. During Passover Seder, for instance, it is tradition for Sephardic Jews to sing “Dayenu” and begin a game that involves whipping their family members with scallions.
In Vietnam, green onions are fermented and used in dưa hành, a dish that is traditionally served for the Vietnamese New Year.
Scallions are also a staple ingredient in palapa, a Filipino condiment used to spice up dishes or top off fried foods.
In Japan, scallions are used in everything from rice dishes to hot pots, while in Mexico, grilled green onions called cebollitas (or “little onions”) are a barbecue favorite.
An allergy to onions, while rare, can cause an adverse reaction to scallions. Symptoms of an onion allergy include shortness of breath, vomiting, wheezing, itching or skin irritation. If you experience these or any other negative symptom after eating scallions, you should discontinue use and consult with your doctor.
Those who are on Warfarin or another blood thinner should also be mindful about their intake of scallions. Warfarin is a medication used to prevent blood clots. Those on blood thinners are advised to monitor and maintain regular vitamin K intake.
While this doesn’t mean that you need to avoid all vitamin K foods completely, it is important to make sure you’re eating about the same amount each day to prevent interfering with your medication.
Final Thoughts on Scallions
Between their jam-packed nutrient profile and their long list of health benefits, scallions can be a great addition to any diet.
These vegetables are high in several important nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin C and fiber, yet low in calories, making them the perfect way to trim your waistline and bump up your vitamin intake without sacrificing flavor.
Use green onions as a garnish to add some vibrance to your plate. Alternatively, have them take center stage and let their flavor shine through in scallion pancakes, frittatas or sauces.
Scallions can help round out an otherwise nutritious and well-balanced diet containing plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein and, when coupled with a healthy lifestyle and physical activity, can make a major impact on your health.
Read Next: What Is a Shallot Most Beneficial For?
From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut only affects the digestive system, but in reality it can affect more. Because Leaky Gut is so common, and such an enigma, I’m offering a free webinar on all things leaky gut. Click here to learn more about the webinar.
Rachael LinkDr. AxeOctober 5, 2017