Today is National Garlic Day. I love garlic. But it doesn’t love me. Garlic is, of course, delicious but, now as I get older, I find that eating garlic on, say, a Monday will ensure that I’ll still be tasting it on Thursday. I used to eat roasted garlic as an appetizer, for goodness sake, and now even the smell makes me queasy.
Garlic is a plant in the Allium family and is closely related to onions, shallots and leeks. It grows in many parts of the world and is a popular ingredient in cooking due to its strong smell and delicious taste. However, throughout ancient history, the main use of garlic was for its health and medicinal properties. Its use was well documented by all the major civilizations, including the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans and the Chinese. There are about 10-20 cloves in a single bulb, give or take.
Note that the statements below all contain the words “can” or “may” and nothing says “does.” So take these statements with a grain of salt (garlic salt–tee hee). Did you know?
- Garlic contains a sulfur compound called Allicin, which has potent medicinal properties. Most of the health effects are caused by Allicin formed when a garlic clove is chopped, crushed or chewed. Allicin is also responsible for the distinct garlic smell. Allicin enters the body from the digestive tract and travels all over the body, where it exerts its potent biological effects.
- Garlic is highly nutritious and has few calories. A one-ounce serving of garlic contains manganese, vitamin B6, vitamin C, selenium, fiber, calcium, copper, potassium, and various other nutrients. It basically contains a little bit of almost everything we need, along with just 42 calories, 1.8 grams of protein, and 9 grams of carbs.
- Garlic can combat sickness, including the common cold. Garlic supplementation is known to boost the function of the immune system. If you often get colds, adding garlic to your diet could be incredibly helpful.
- The active compounds in garlic can reduce blood pressure. Studies have found fairly high supplementation doses of garlic to have a significant impact on reducing blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. The amount of allicin needed is equivalent to about four cloves of garlic per day.
- Garlic improves cholesterol levels, which may lower the risk of heart disease. For those with high cholesterol, garlic supplementation appears to reduce total and/or LDL cholesterol by about 10-15%.
- Garlic contains antioxidants that may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Oxidative damage from free radicals contributes to the aging process. Garlic contains antioxidants that support the body’s protective mechanisms against oxidative damage. High doses of garlic supplements have been shown to increase antioxidant enzymes in humans, as well as significantly reduce oxidative stress in those with high blood pressure.
- Garlic may help you live longer. Given the beneficial effects on important risk factors like blood pressure, it makes sense that garlic could help you live longer. The fact that it can fight infectious disease is also an important factor, because these are common causes of death, especially in the elderly or people with dysfunctional immune systems.
- Athletic performance can be improved with garlic supplementation. Studies suggest that exercise-induced fatigue may be reduced with garlic.
- Eating garlic can help detoxify heavy metals in the body. At high doses, the sulfur compounds in garlic have been shown to protect against organ damage from heavy metal toxicity.
- Garlic may improve bone health. Foods like garlic and onions have also been shown to have beneficial effects on osteoarthritis.
- Garlic is easy to include in your diet and tastes delicious. Garlic complements most savory dishes, particularly soups and sauces. The strong taste of garlic can also add a punch to otherwise bland recipes. Garlic comes in several forms, from whole cloves and smooth pastes to powders and supplements like garlic extract and garlic oil. The minimum effective dose for therapeutic effects is one clove eaten with meals, two or three times a day.
Keep in mind, however, that there are some downsides to garlic, such as bad breath. There are also some people who are allergic to it. (Maybe that’s my problem?) If you have a bleeding disorder or are taking blood thinning medications, then talk to your doctor before increasing your garlic consumption.
The active compound allicin only forms when garlic is crushed or cleaved when it is raw. If you cook it before crushing it, then it won’t have the same health effects. Therefore, the best way to consume garlic is raw, or to crush and cut it and leave it out for a while before you add it to your recipes.
- Crush or slice all your garlic before you eat it. This increases the allicin content.
- Before you cook with your crushed garlic, let it stand for 10 minutes.
- Use a lot of garlic — more than one clove per meal, if you can.
- Why not press a few cloves of fresh garlic with a garlic press, then mix with extra virgin olive oil and a bit of salt? Voila! Now you have a healthy and super satisfying dressing.
Today is also National High Five Day. Be sure to high five those around you, and stay a good distance away if you’ve eaten garlic today.