For the Love of Garlic

Thursday, April 07, 2011 | 0 comments »

By Jeanine Natale

Garlic has long been touted as a super-healthy food, and there are many groups, fan clubs, festivals, restaurants, and even the whole town of Gilroy, California, devoted to this beloved "stinking rose." It's also supposed to ward off vampires, but let's leave that for the Twilight set. We here at Beachbody® are just interested in the basic nutritional facts, ma'am, so I've delved into the spicy world of garlic to find out why, in addition to being a vital part of good cooking of all kinds, it's so good for you nutritionally. Here's what I learned.

What's in a clove?

Nutritionally speaking, you'd need to eat several cloves of garlic before you started seeing a lot of vitamins and minerals. Three cloves give you 5 percent of your vitamin C and 6 percent of your vitamin B6 for the day, as well as some calcium and manganese. The big benefit, however, comes in the form of sulfur-containing compounds—this translates into antioxidants—which help scrub your system clean of various destructive agents, including those that may cause cancer. There have been a variety of large-scale studies conducted in the last few decades, examining between 20,000 and 40,000 patients over a span of several years, which have concluded that the regular consumption of garlic—whether in raw/natural form or the much more socially acceptable odorless capsule form—has been shown to reduce stomach and colon cancer, as well as other forms of cancer, by 35 to 40 percent.

Allicin is the main player among these sulfur-containing compounds; it's what gives garlic not only its (in)famous odor, but also many of its beneficial, healing properties. Allicin and garlic have been studied extensively, and are shown to have definite antimicrobial, antifungal, and antibacterial properties. It's also had a history of being used as a vermifuge, or antiworm medication. Additionally, according to some studies, regular consumption of garlic (at least a few cloves a day) has been shown to reduce high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease. Although there are other studies showing no significant results, all agree that there's no harm in consuming all the garlic you want—until you breathe on someone who isn't a fan of the stuff.

Cold killer?

In addition to the scientific studies, volumes of anecdotal evidence point to garlic as one of nature's most effective healers. From eating it raw to using garlic poultices on everything from boils to poison ivy to acne, hundreds if not thousands of Web sites, published books, and advice columns are devoted to explaining all the ways garlic can be used to heal whatever ails you. However, it's almost universally agreed that cooked garlic won't have the same healing properties—it's gotta be raw and reeking in order to work its magic.

My own informal poll of several dozen people revealed that a good 90 percent firmly believe in the healing properties of garlic. At the first sign of a cold or flu, true believers chop up a few cloves of fresh raw garlic and hastily proceed to consume said healing remedy within a few minutes. (These same believers insist that the garlic must be chopped, sliced, or crushed to release the healing properties of allicin and other nutrients.)

And while your Western doctor may not advise you to take two cloves and call him in the morning, the East has embraced the healing properties of garlic for thousands of years. Traditional Chinese medicine recommends it as a cure for everything from dysentery to whooping cough.

Easy ways to eat garlic.

Because raw garlic can be so overpowering in both taste and odor, there are a number of creative ways to consume it without experiencing the burning-tongue torture that can result from eating it straight. Mixing a fat dollop of crushed garlic into guacamole or salsa seems to be pretty popular; placing thin slices of the stinking rose between slices of an apple is a bit more innovative. (The sweetness of the apple tastes surprisingly good paired with the pungent garlic.) Mixing coarsely chopped garlic into peanut butter just sounds flat-out gross to me, but that's another popular option. The one thing most people do agree on is that once "treatment" has begun, it's best to try to stay away from other people, as massive garlic odor will be fuming out of not only your mouth, but every other orifice and pore of your body as well. As one garlic fan put it, "It's best to do a garlic treatment along with your partner, or whoever is going to be around you the most. Otherwise, it's like you have a garlic force field surrounding you—no one can get too close!"

Of course, you could just go to any health food store, or even the health aisle of your local market, and buy the stuff in pill form. No muss, no fuss, and perhaps best of all, no impenetrable wall of stink! There are many popular garlic supplements on the market, with varying dosages—it's best to experiment and adjust your intake to whatever feels right. Generally speaking, a bottle of 60 capsules with 600 to 900 milligrams of allicin per capsule will typically set you back somewhere between $5.00 and $10.00.

Paul Pitchford, author of Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, suggests taking the highest dosage recommended on the label of whatever brand you choose. Indeed, there's no danger of overdosing on garlic or garlic extracts, and if you're probably already aware if you have an allergy or sensitivity to garlic. Most sources suggest that you shouldn't consume a huge dose of garlic on an empty stomach, as it can sometimes cause a bit of irritation—it is quite spicy in all its raw loveliness. Most supplements have an enteric coating, which means that even if you do take them without food, your tummy will be safe.

So, again, see for yourself how garlic does or doesn't work in your life. For those with garlic allergies, most research tends to show that the allicin content in supplements and other garlic extracts doesn't have the same possibly negative effects that raw garlic would have. As always, consult your doctor or medical practitioner regarding any potential reaction you may have to garlic or allicin. And if you get the green light, give this fascinating and historically favored natural benefit to good health a shot.