Updated June 2019
Do you LOVE garlic? Or not so much? I’m a huge garlic-lover. And luckily for me, my husband Kirk loves garlic too! So we eat garlic almost daily, in our salad dressing, stir fries, and other cooked dishes.
As it turns out, the health benefits of garlic have been known for thousands of years. Archaeological evidence indicates that garlic has been used in cooking for over 7,000 years. The ancient Egyptians fed garlic to their slaves and soldiers to keep them healthy. While the ancient Greeks used garlic to treat toothaches and chest pain among other things.
There have been almost 1,500 pharmacological studies on allicin, one of garlic’s main phytonutrients. And the health benefits resulting from these studies on allicin are impressive. However, to get the most health benefits out of your garlic, you need to properly prepare and cook it.
Allicin: the Queen of Garlic
So what are some of the health benefits of garlic, and how should you prepare it to get the most allicin?
Interestingly, the compound allicin doesn’t actually occur in the garlic itself. It is formed by a chemical reaction between the amino acid allinin, and the enzyme allinase, when the garlic is chopped, grated, or crushed. In nature, this chemical reaction is intended to protect the garlic plant from damage. However, the allicin that is created to protect the plant turns out to have a major health benefits to us as well.
To reap all of the health benefits of garlic, it should first be finely chopped, grated, or crushed. Then allowed to sit for 10-15 minutes, as it takes a few minutes for the allicin to fully form.
Ideally the chopped/grated/crushed garlic should be added into food near the end of cooking. Over cooking garlic can reduce the amount of allicin. Allicin also starts to degrade shortly after being chopped. So it’s best to eat it fresh and not use pre-chopped garlic. And it’s worth noting that microwaving entirely destroys allicin.
5 Health Benefits of Garlic
Garlic is at the the top of the super-foods listed in Johnny Bowden’s 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. Here are some of the amazing things that garlic and allicin can do for your health:
- Garlic is great for your heart and may help prevent strokes: it lowers bad cholesterol (LDL), raises good cholesterol (HDL), lowers triglycerides, and has anti-platelet properties that prevent blood clots from forming.
- Garlic fights cancer: in regions of the world where garlic is eaten most, the rate of colon and stomach cancer is the lowest; studies have also shown another compound in garlic, diallyl disulfide, inhibits the growth of leukemia cells in test tubes.
- Garlic helps control weight gain: numerous studies have shown allicin can help with weight loss as well as helping to prevent weight gain.
- Garlic helps your immune system: it is antimicrobial, anti viral, anti-fungal and anti-parasitic, so no matter what may be attacking your body, garlic can help fight it off.
- Garlic contains antioxidants: which help to clean up free radicals in the body and ensure that cells regenerate as they should, staying healthy.
Is Chinese Garlic a Problem?
You may have seen articles about the dangers of Chinese garlic in the news. Most of these myths have been debunked. But it’s worth noting that your garlic should still have telltale “roots” at the bottom of the bulbs, like those in the photo above. Check the bottom of your garlic bulb, is it concave with the roots cut out? That may be an indication that it came from China or elsewhere outside the US. The USFDA requires all imported garlic to have roots removed to prevent possible pathogens from coming into the US in the dirt in the roots. If you care about living sustainably as possible, and lowering your carbon footprint, buying local or US grown garlic is a good place to start.
Please leave a comment below and share your favorite ways to use garlic.
Photo credit: Nick Fewings, Unsplash.