Along with flavoring your food, garlic can also confer multiple benefits on your health. It has been linked to a reduced risk of colo-rectal cancer and has shown protection against heart disease.
Garlic is a member of the Allium sativum family, which includes onions, shallots, leeks and chives. It is one of the oldest cultivated plants and has origins in Southeast Asia. The active components in garlic are sulfur containing compounds, including thiosulfinates (i.e. allicin), sulfoxides (i.e. alliin) and dithiines, but the most important component is the sulfur itself. Garlic also has high levels of selenium (which may help reduce the risk of cancer), manganese (helps maintain bone health, regulate blood sugar and synthesize fatty acids and cholesterol) and Vitamins B6 and C. This article from the New York Times illustrates the sulfur compounds as defense mechanisms for allium vegetables, given their pungent odor and flavor.
The benefits of the sulfur containing compounds are most readily available when the garlic is peeled and chopped and left to sit out for 15-20 minutes before cooking. Heating unpeeled cloves will deactivate the enzyme. Results from research studies show an inverse relationship between the amount of fresh/cooked garlic consumed and levels of colorectal cancer (more garlic = less cancer). The studies did not look at powdered garlic or garlic supplements, which do not show the same benefits as fresh cloves.
The cardio-protective benefits of cancer include reduced cholesterol, lower blood pressure and lower risk for blood clots. It is believed that these benefits are derived from both the sulfur compounds and the anti-inflammatory mechanisms in garlic. Garlic can help prevent damage from oxidation, which in turn contributes to inflammation, and both of these processes contribute to heart disease. Vitamin C prevents oxidation, as does vitamin B6, which helps lower levels of damaging homocysteine. Selenium works with your body to produce an anti-inflammatory called glutathione peroxidase.
With all of these health benefits and no discovered adverse side effects of eating garlic, it’s an easy way to keep your body healthy. Simply add garlic to soup, a stir fry, salad dressing, sauce and pasta, meat, poultry, fish and shellfish dishes. It is also delicious cut in half, drizzled with olive oil and roasted in the oven.
Today is week 7 of Summerfest, and you can find a list of blogs with inspiring garlic recipes at A Way to Garden. With fall just around the corner it’s the perfect time to try something new!