To ensure you get all the goodness from your garlic: It is the physical crushing and chopping of the cloves that releases and activates the compounds, so be sure to start your recipes with that step, and let the garlic sit for a few minutes before cooking with it. And if you are worried about the much dreaded garlic breath, try a few classic antidotes: Eat parsley (short-term effectiveness only), mushrooms, and basil. According to the Journal of Food Science, drinking whole milk while eating garlic is the most effective method for reducing that pungent odor.
With the current craze for vampires in our popular culture, you’d think the classic protection against these seductive creatures of the night would be getting more play across the media spectrum. I speak, of course, of garlic. Hung in the window, rubbed on the keyhole, or ingested before bedtime, garlic has been a mainstay of supernatural protection in folklore throughout the centuries.
In fact, garlic’s reputation did not develop without reason. Garlic is indeed a vigorous source of all kinds of protection for us humans—just not necessarily against bloody-fanged changelings. But if you want to talk about guarding against high blood pressure, infections, arthritis, asthma, some forms of cancer, and possibly even obesity, you need look no further than the “stinking rose” that figures so prominently in the Mediterranean diet.
Your Body’s Best Medicine
The heavy hitter here is sulfur—garlic is blessed with numerous sulfur-containing compounds that have wide-ranging beneficial effects, including:Cardiovascular health: Different compounds in garlic (including allicin, polysulfides, and ajoene) have been shown to minimize unwanted contraction of blood vessels, promote blood vessel dilation (for healthy blood pressure), regulate the stickiness of blood platelets (for clot prevention), and protect the blood vessel walls from damage.
Infection protection: Garlic has been shown to help prevent yeast infections. In fact, historically, garlic has been used for centuries to ward off all kinds of infections: The ancient Greeks used it to treat parasites, the Romans used it for smallpox, and medics in the two world wars used it in wounds on the battlefield to prevent gangrene.Cancer deterrent: More research is needed, but there is considerable evidence that allyl sulfides in garlic may contribute to a reduced risk of certain cancers, particularly colorectal and renal cancer.
Anti-inflammatory: Research strongly suggests that several of garlic’s sulfide compounds can moderate arthritic and allergic airway inflammations; and these anti-inflammatory effects may actually influence the development of the body’s fat cells, thereby having a favorable impact on obesity.
Garlic and the Environment
We’re all becoming more aware these days of the environmental costs of globally available foods. But who would have thought that a tiny little head of garlic could have any appreciable effect on pollution? Well it does, and here’s why:
Take California, for example: There’s more than enough garlic in California to supply that state’s needs; they even have the city of Gilroy, known as the “Garlic Capital of the World.” Yet, California exports the same amount that they import each year, and it is garlic from China that you’re more likely to find on local supermarket shelves. China produces 77 percent of the world’s garlic, the U.S. only 1.4 percent. And as with so many bulk foreign products, the Chinese garlic is cheaper. But the hidden costs are horrifying. Consider the relative chains of supply: the garlic at a local farmers’ market traveled in a relatively small vehicle for probably under 200 miles at most; gasoline consumed and emissions created, minimal. The garlic from China traveled on a tanker that probably fueled in South America, sailed across the Pacific to China, loaded up, and sailed back another 7,500 miles to the West Coast, where fleets of large trucks disseminated the garlic, trailing clouds of vehicle emissions. We’re talking 4.5 million pounds of pollutants every year from that total journey. That price is way too high.
And that doesn’t even take into consideration the loss of domestic jobs and our nation’s increased trade deficit. And fresher garlic is better garlic. Period. So the quality of your food suffers too.
Here’s what you can do: If you have access to a farmers market, be sure to get your garlic there when you’re rejoicing over all those beautiful fruits and vegetables. When you buy at a health food store, ask where the garlic comes from; if it’s not local or at least domestic, tell the store management to shape up and support U.S. growers. In this age of out-of-season produce from all over the globe, and foodstuffs flying from continent to continent, it is vital that we re-establish the importance of local sourcing and community responsibility in terms of the food on our table.
Barley Vegetable Soup with Garlic
This healthy, hearty winter soup will warm your bones. Serve it with some crusty bread and a green salad. It can be made in advance and refrigerated; simply re-heat to serve.
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 large carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
1 small fennel bulb, coarsely chopped
2 Tbs. chopped fresh garlic
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
8 cups organic low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup pearl barley
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped fresh parsley for garnish
PER SERVING: 245 CAL; 7 G PROT; 7 G TOTAL FAT (1 G SAT FAT); 39 G CARB; 0 MG CHOL; 185 MG SOD; 9 G FIBER; 4 G SUGARS
Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
This comforting side dish is sublime served with your favorite pot roast.
1 whole head of garlic
1 tsp. olive oil
1 cup 2 percent organic milk
4 Tbs. organic unsalted butter
4 large russet potatoes, peeled and halved
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
PER SERVING: 326 CAL; 7 G PROT; 14 G TOTAL FAT (6 G SAT FAT); 46 G CARB; 24 MG CHOL; 41 MG SOD; 4 G FIBER; 4 G SUGARS