If you’ve been avoiding garlic with concerns about your breath, it’s time to reconsider including it in your diet, not only for its flavor, but also for its abundant health benefits. Garlic has been used medicinally in almost every culture for millennia, and is an important contributor to the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. So, chew on sprig of parsley to purify your breath, while we bite into the “stinking rose” and see what garlic is all about!
COOKS NOTES: Like onion, garlic’s fragrant and pungent flavor comes from allicin, a sulfur-based bioflavonoid with potent health benefits. Allicin is formed when the bulb is crushed or chopped, activating an enzyme (allinase) that reacts with an amino acid in the bulb (alliin) to create allicin. It takes about 10 minutes for maximum allicin levels to form, so allow chopped garlic to sit before adding to dressings, sauces or pesto. If you find raw garlic too pungent, heat is the remedy to break down allicin. Just briefly sauté chopped garlic, but avoid browning it, which brings out an unpleasant bitterness.
To impart the mildest flavor of garlic, without bringing out the allicin, whole cloves can be toasted in olive oil and then removed from a pan before cooking other foods. The garlic bulb is also lovely roasted whole, when it caramelizes into a sweet and savory paste, easily spread on vegetables, crackers or integrated into sauces. Hopefully garlic has earned a place in your kitchen, and you’ll feel free to add it to taste to soups, sauces and roasted veggies and protein.
KEY NUTRIENTS, PHYTONUTRIENTS AND HEALTH BENEFITS: Among other actions, allicin works as a potent antioxidant to reduce oxidative damage to our cells and fuel our body’s detoxification enzyme systems
Early research on allicin suggests it also:
- Combats a variety of cancers through a range of mechanisms, and appears to reduce the risk of cancer of colon, breast, lung and skin.
- Reduces the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure, reducing platelet aggregation and LDL cholesterol.
- Works as an antimicrobial: garlic inhibits the growth of a variety of bacteria, yeast and viruses in cell cultures
- Binds heavy metals: acts a “chelating agent” to remove heavy metals from the body.
Next time you feel like you’re under the siege of a terrible cold or flu virus, try chewing a raw clove of garlic (preferably with some nuts to cut the burn). Follow it with a cup of hot tea as your body responds to its powerful phytonutrients. I think you’ll agree it gives your immune system a boost, cuts mucous and generally helps you feel better.
HEALTH NOTE: Garlic is a FODMAP containing food. FODMAPs are carbohydrates that bacteria in the gut can ferment into gas, contributing to bloating, gas and cramping of irritable bowel syndrome. Garlic is not a trigger for IBS in everyone, so experiment with eliminating it from your diet for a week to see if you have less gas and bloating.
Ayurvedic medicine considers garlic and onion too stimulating to the palate for those in deep meditative states. Instead, they use the herbal powder called “asafetida” to add a similar but less intense flavor. Asafetida is a pungent herb with a more “fetid” quality than either of its alternatives. Though it may offer some benefit to those with refined spiritual senses, I’ll take onion and garlic, both their flavor and good medicine. Bring them on!!!
FEATURED RECIPES: (Virtually all….reduce or eliminate it if desired.)
- Chimichurri sauces
- Red Lentil Dal
- Vitalizing Chicken Soup
- Chipotle Chicken Soup
- Roasted Red Pepper, Butternut Squash and Yam Soup
- Creamy Split Pea Soup
- Marinara Sauce
- Cajun Sauce