Garlic: Big Benefits, Small Package

Notable Personality Factors:

Garlic’s reputation as a miracle cure goes back to antiquity.  Bulbs decorated the walls of Egyptian tombs dating from 3000 B.C., presumably as part of some religious ritual.  Hippocrates and Plato praised garlic for its medicinal properties, and folklore refers to it as the remedy for warding off everything from parasitic infections to vampire attacks.  As part of the Allium family of vegetables (along with onions and leeks), garlic is known as much for its culinary qualities and distinctive aroma as it is for its therapeutic benefits.  Today, garlic is grown worldwide, and used to season all sorts of dishes.

Therapeutic & Healing Powers:***

More so than almost any other vegetable, it’s tough to separate fact from fiction when it comes to defining garlic’s therapeutic properties.  In general, however, most agree that garlic’s nutritional benefits fall into three fundamental categories.

Cardiovascular: One of the most impressive benefits brought to us by the mighty garlic plant is the impact it has on cardiovascular health.  Allicin, along with other health-promoting compounds found in garlic, have been shown to help lower total cholesterol and reduce triglycerides in the blood. This, in turn, supports healthy blood chemistry and helps protect against hardening of the arteries — and that’s just the beginning!  Garlic helps thin the blood and prevent the formation of blood clots, thereby decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, and naturally lowers blood pressure by increasing the elasticity of blood vessels.  Considering its cholesterol-lowering, triglyceride reducing, anti-clotting, anti-hypertensive effects, garlic has a well-deserved reputation for promoting a healthy heart.

Anti-Infectious: Despite all of the cardiovascular benefits, garlic is best known for its anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal characteristics.  Garlic has been called the “Russian Penicillin,” based on its anti-bacterial properties; the Japanese have popularized kyolic, a liquid extract of cold-processed garlic, as a treatment for bacteria and viruses; and a wide array of plant compounds in garlic have been shown to have anti-fungal activities as well.  Whether it’s protecting the body against bacteria, viruses, or fungi, garlic’s anti-infectious properties help fortify the immune system and defend against all kinds of outside intruders.

Anti-Cancerous: In addition to supporting heart health and warding off infections, garlic is being linked more and more to lower risks of all types of cancers.  Garlic is rich in anti-cancer compounds that are being studied for their ability to inhibit cancer growth and protect the body against dangerous carcinogens.

Nutrient Value:

Garlic is rich in health-promoting sulfur compounds, such as allicin, which are largely responsible for its therapeutic benefits, its distinctive taste, and its sharp odor. It’s an excellent source of minerals — such as manganese, selenium, and calcium — and is also a good source of vitamin B6 and vitamin C.

Selection and Care:

Look for firm bulbs with tightly packed cloves encased in thin, papery skin.  Avoid garlic that has begun to sprout, or that is graying, soft, and decaying in spots.

Optimal Use & Combining:

Roasted or raw garlic adds a flavorful and therapeutic punch to almost anything: mashed potatoes, pasta, salad dressings, soups.  It can even be used as a spread on whole grain bread (in its roasted form)!  Make sure to chop or crush the garlic, particularly before heating, as this activates enzymatic processes that convert the health-promoting compounds found in garlic into a form that is usable by the body.

***This article is not intended to treat or diagnose any type of health condition or disease. Any nutritional considerations for any health complication should be discussed with your physician or healthcare provider.

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  1. max — November 14, 2014 @ 11:23 am