Garlic is a usual suspect in the kitchen, meaning it is normally included in a wide variety of recipes for its unique and pungent flavor. While we often consider garlic to be a spice, it is indeed a vegetable and is a part of the allium family, and is close related to the onion, shallot, leek and chive. While garlic is first known for it’s flavour purposes in the kitchen, it is also a well known powerful tonic that can be used to boost health.
The powers of garlic begin in the taste and aroma sensations, which trigger and activate our salivary glands and digestive “juices”. Without tasting and smelling, our stomachs would not be ‘ready’ for food, and we’d have trouble digesting food and making use of the nutrients found within. This is partly why supplementation is never as effective as eating a whole food diet. If you just swallow a capsule, like say a garlic capsule, you have completely bypassed the first stage of digestion – plus I don’t think your mouth is going to begin salivating for a vegetable capsule! For those who have a diminished sense of taste, garlic can be a flavour enhancer and a very useful addition to a meal to again trigger the first phase of digestion.
Some Big Health Benefits of Garlic
This pungent bulb benefits us in more ways than just digestion. However, in Ayurvedic medicine, pungent tastes such as that from garlic benefits both the lungs and large intestine, those who have the Dosha types of Kapha and Vata are best suited for garlic consumption. Garlic is a rich source of organosulfur compounds, which are not only responsible for the pungent flavour and aroma, but also for many of the potential health benefits.
There is high potential for the organosulfur compounds that are derived from garlic to prevent and treat chronic diseases; such as cancer, inflammatory and cardiovascular diseases. There are two classes of organosulfur compounds which are found in whole garlic cloves, γ-glutamylcysteines, and cysteine sulfoxides, not that you need to memorize these names.
What you really need understand about garlic is how these beneficial compounds are activated. When whole raw garlic cloves are crushed, minced, pressed or chopped, an enzyme known as alliinase is released. When alliinase is released or “damaged” from the pressing or mincing the garlic it begins convert a compound called alliin into ‘sulfenic acids’.
Interestingly enough, a similar reaction happens as well in onions, when you chop an onion you are breaking open cells and creating sulfenic acids, which in the onions case produce a gas that reacts with the water in your eyes, making them water!
When the sulfenic acids react with each other in garlic, they form allicin and that is when the pungent smell fills your kitchen and the benefits become available!
So in short, when fresh garlic is chopped or crushed, the enzyme alliinase converts alliin into allicin, which is responsible for the aroma of fresh garlic and the benefits associated with consuming it.
You can find entire books written about this stinking rose, studies have demonstrated the positive effects of garlic on more than 150 different diseases.
Top categories for garlic’s benefits are:
- Improving cardiovascular health and circulation, garlic has been shown to protect against blood clotting, plaque buildup, blood lipid levels and can reduce blood pressure
- Reducing inflammation. Garlic can reduce the risk of osteoarthritis and other diseases and conditions associated with inflammation
- Boosting immune function. Garlic has antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and antiparasitic properties
- Cancer fighting. Beneficial for brain, lung, breast, gastric, and pancreatic cancers.
Science is still uncovering the answers behind exactly how the beneficial compounds in garlic are absorbed in the body, while it has been studied that allicin is absorbed in the intestines, as 90% of nutrients are, allicin has never been detected in the blood, urine or stool even after consumption of 25 g of fresh garlic or 60 mg of pure allicin. These findings suggest that allicin is rapidly metabolized and it has been found that the actual smell of “garlic breath” is a proposed indicator for the bioavailability of allicin! So the smell of garlic on your breath is the outcome of the metabolized allicin, which can be measured in exhaled air!
How to Use Garlic for MAXIMUM Benefit
Now that you’ve got an understanding of how garlic is metabolized into those much talked about components of allicin and alliin you should also know how to use garlic to reap the benefits. Just as olive oil should not be heated, garlic should not be immediately browned or cooked as it loses these beneficial properties! The most important step to unlocking garlic’s health benefits is mincing or pressing it and allowing it to sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes so that the enzyme reaction can happen which produces the valued allicin. If you just throw minced garlic into a pan without letting it sit, this reaction does not happen. After allicin is created, the minced garlic can withstand about 10-15 minutes of medium-low heat without damaging the allicin, however it is actually still best when raw!
Here’s a quick chart of how many nutrients get lost over time.
- 5-15 minutes = minimal loss of nutrients
- 15-30 minutes = moderate loss of nutrients
- 45+ minutes = substantial loss of nutrients
Now while eating raw garlic may not sound very appealing, let me tell you – it is powerful stuff and I’ve included a few recipes at the end to uptake these garlic powers.
In my own practice, I would recommend garlic for:
- Colds & flu
- Sore throat
- High blood pressure
- Lowering LDL cholesterol levels
- Killing parasites
- Regulating blood sugar
- Ear infections
- Increasing bile flow
- Immune stimulation
- Anti-microbial properties
- Busting candida
Another awesome fact is that garlic is accessible everywhere! It is used all around the world, making it an easy remedy to get your hands on when on vacation.
Now aside from just the potential allicin content in garlic, like many natural foods, garlic has more than just one benefit, this is a whole food with a wide array of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Along with allicin, garlic is also rich in manganese, calcium, phosphorus, and selenium, plus vitamins B6 and C.
So load up on your garlic and include it into your homemade salad dressing, dips and use it as a garnish. Also remember that if it sprouts, don’t throw it out. Sprouted garlic is not only safe to eat but it may be even healthier than non-sprouted garlic.
In many scenarios, sprouted foods contain more antioxidant activity than fresher, younger versions. The reason for this is because garlic is asexual, meaning when garlic sprouts you can actually plant it and a garlic plant will grow, just as with grains and edible seeds. So the benefits of sprouted garlic should not be surprising when you consider that nutritional changes typically occur in plants when they sprout.
When seedlings grow into baby green plants, they make many new compounds, including those that protect the young plant against pathogens. The same thing is happening when green shoots grow from old heads of garlic!
So have a clove or two of garlic a day and keep using it when it sprouts, if you’re concerned with garlic breath. Just remind yourself that your delicious smelling breath means that the garlic’s beneficial healing properties are being utilized!