Spotlight on Garlic
Garlic has been used for thousands of years as both a food and a health supplement. In addition to its robust flavor, garlic provides many potential health benefits. A relative of the onion, garlic is a hardy plant that grows year-round throughout many parts of the world. Known primarily for its distinct, pungent aroma, garlic packs a surprising amount of power into a very small package. If it’s not already a part of your diet, consider adding it; you’ll probably be glad you did.
According to legend, garlic was used all the way back in ancient Egypt. The workers who built the pyramids were said to have been given a ration of it to increase their stamina. The earliest recorded uses of garlic trace back to India and China, where centuries later it is still an integral part of the cuisine. In addition to its culinary uses, garlic is also intertwined with the culture and rituals of many civilizations. And as any lover of vampire lore will know, garlic is a vital tool in warding off certain unwelcome visitors!
As a nutritional and health supplement, garlic has a long list of reputed benefits. It is thought to possess antibiotic and possibly even antiviral properties, and was long used for those purposes up until modern antibiotics were invented in the 20th Century. Garlic has also been touted as an aid in combating the common cold, although no definitive studies have been done to date.
Possibly the most interesting angle of study into garlic’s potential benefits involves cardiovascular health. We are gradually learning more about the positive impact garlic might have on reducing plaque in the arteries, as well as lowering blood pressure. In fact, garlic supplements now advertise as their primary benefit the effect they might have on improving heart health.
The active component in garlic is a substance called allicin. It is present in the raw plant, and is what gives it its distinctive smell and causes the burning sensation when eaten raw. There is debate about whether cooking garlic destroys the beneficial allicin compounds; for this reason, if you’re incorporating it into your diet on a regular basis it might be a good idea to vary the preparation so that you ingest both cooked and raw forms of the plant.
If you’re familiar with eating garlic and enjoy the taste, that’s great. On the other hand, if it is not a taste you are accustomed to or you do not enjoy it, there are certainly ways to work around that. First, if you’re consuming garlic for the first time, it’s best to start slowly, especially if eating it raw. In that form, it can cause some burning and also indigestion at first; drinking milk will help greatly in reducing any side effects, as it neutralizes any harsh effects of the allicin. And if you’re one of those people who just doesn’t like the taste or the smell garlic causes on the breath, a great alternative is taking it in the form of capsules, from a brand such as Garlique or Kyolic.
Speaking of smell, fear of garlic breath should not be a hurdle to consuming one of the most flavorful, healthiest foods on the planet. A simple solution to “garlic breath” is chewing some fresh parsley. In fact, there is even evidence that parsley has strong health benefits of its own, so when garlic and parsley are consumed together they may have a synergistic impact.
Lastly, garlic is extremely cheap, so you can experiment with recipes almost endlessly until you find the perfect one (although sautéing it in olive oil and adding it to your favorite dish is hard to beat!).