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Is garlic really good for you?

April 30, 2011

It’s stinky, it’s spicy, it’s really a pain in the neck to peal, but boy is it tasty—garlic!

I had a few people over to BBQ tonight, and among our asparagus, carrots and peppers, we threw in some whole garlic cloves instead of dicing or smashing it into the marinade. As we sat around eating whole garlic cloves (some a bit more cooked than others) I wondered how healthful garlic really is, and if the way you prepare it makes a difference. If you’re not so into that spicy/sweet flavor or the consequences of such an aromatic bulb running through your blood the next day, should you force yourself to eat it anyway, because it’s “good” for you?

The answer: probably.

A study published in 2007 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that garlic compounds help red blood cells produce hydrogen sulfide (H2S), which acts as an antioxidant and sends cellular signals to relax blood vessels and increase blood flow, decreasing your risk of heart disease and some cancers including breast and colon cancer.

To increase the health benefits of garlic, let it sit out at room temperature after crushing or mincing it for about 10-15 minutes before cooking it or adding acid (like lemon juice or vinegar for salad dressing). This enhances the Allinase enzyme, which is not released from the plant’s cells until it is damaged. Allinase is what gives garlic (and onions) its strong odor, and when it is released it enhances the antioxidant potential of the garlic.

There are loads of great foods out there that provide you with antioxidants and disease-preventing health benefits, but garlic is a pretty good one, and cheap too. Some scientists recommend five or more cloves a day (prepared correctly) to make a difference.

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