Garlic has a long history of culinary and medicinal use and has been cultivated for over 5000 years. A member of
the Allium family, garlic is rich in sulfur containing compounds. These constituents are the source of
garlic's strong odor; they are also responsible for its many health enhancing properties. Garlic is also a good
source of manganese, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and selenium.
Many studies have illustrated the benefits of garlic consumption on blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and platelet
aggregation. Recent laboratory and clinical studies have focused more on its potential effect in preventing cardiovascular
disease. Plaque in the coronary arteries develops when cholesterol circulating in the blood is oxidized by free radicals,
resulting in damage to arterial walls. Garlic decreases the number of free radicals present in the blood stream. This
prevents the harmful oxidation reactions, essentially decreasing the promotion of plaque formation.
The heart healthy properties of garlic are not limited to only its sulfur compounds, but are also due in part to vitamin and mineral content:
- Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant in the bloodstream, further protecting cholesterol from oxidation.
- Vitamin B6 aids in the prevention of heart disease by decreasing levels of homocysteine, a biochemical byproduct that damages the walls of the coronary arteries.
- Selenium and manganese are involved in the production of the body's own internally produced antioxidants.
Allicin, one of garlic's sulfur compounds, is a potent antibacterial and antiviral. Research studies have shown
allicin to be a good remedy against the common cold, flu, and stomach viruses. Recent studies revealed that
garlic may even be an effective treatment for strains of bacteria that have become resistant to drugs. Researchers
have demonstrated significant antibacterial activity against many pathogens, including the inhibition of
methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in infected laboratory animals.
Adding Garlic to Your Diet
It is important to chop or crush garlic cloves before using. This activates enzymes within the clove to maximize
the compound responsible for many of garlic's healthful properties.
Some like to simply eat whole cloves of garlic to reap its many health benefits, others make garlic tea to stave off
colds. Personally, I enjoy tossing some crushed cloves into olive oil for an easy, warming, and delicious whole grain bread dip.