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onions and garlic

In the first population-based study to examine the association between onion and garlic consumption and breast cancer in Puerto Rico, researchers at the University of Buffalo and University of Puerto Rico found that women who consumed sofrito more than once per day had a 67% decrease in risk compared with women who never ate it.

The research, which was conducted between 2008 and 2014, included 314 women with breast cancer and 346 control subjects. The idea for the study stemmed from previous scientific evidence showing that eating onions and garlic—key ingredients in sofrito—may have a protective effect against cancer. Study participants were enrolled in the Atabey Study of Breast Cancer, a case-control study named after the Puerto Rican goddess of fertility.

“Studying Puerto Rican women who consume a lot of onions and garlic as sofrito was unique,” said lead author Gauri Desai, adding that it was total intake of onions and garlic, not sofrito alone, that was associated with reduced breast cancer risk.

Puerto Rico was chosen as the location for the study because women there consume larger amounts of onions and garlic than those in Europe and the United States, due largely to the popularity of sofrito. Onions and garlic are also eaten regularly in “guisos” (stews), as well as in bean- and rice-based dishes in Puerto Rican cuisine. In addition, “Puerto Rico has lower breast cancer rates compared to the mainland U.S., which makes it an important population to study,” explained Desai.

The protective effect of onions and garlic may be due to flavonoids and organosulfur compounds. In particular, garlic contains compounds such as S-allyl cysteine, diallyl sulfide, and diallyl disulfide, while onions contain alk(en)yl cysteine sulfoxides. “These compounds show anticarcinogenic properties in humans, as well as in experimental animal studies,” said Lina Mu, senior author and associate professor of epidemiology and environmental health at the University of Buffalo.

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