Also known as the “stinking rose,” garlic is in the same family as onions, leeks and scallions. The bulb is covered by a dry, thin membrane which can be white to light pink or a purplish hue. Most garlic bulbs contain somewhere between 10 and 20 cloves. As the name implies, Elephant garlic has oversized cloves that are sweeter and less aromatic than the smaller, more common variety.
Garlic is rich in a variety of sulfur-containing compounds including allicin and dithiins. While these compounds are responsible for garlic’s characteristically pungent odor they are also the source of many of its health-promoting effects.
Garlic is associated with cardiovascular health as numerous studies have demonstrated potential benefits of regular garlic consumption on blood pressure, platelet aggregation, serum triglyceride level, and cholesterol levels. Routine eating of garlic may also help stimulate the production of nitric oxide in the lining of blood vessel walls, which may help to relax them.
The organosulfur compound found in garlic called allicin is a powerful anti-microbial. For this reason, garlic is useful against colds and other common infections. Garlic also appears to be useful against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Garlic contains compounds that inhibit the formation of two enzymes that generate inflammatory compounds. For this reason, garlic is helpful for conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
According to NutritionData, raw garlic has strong anti-inflammatory properties (322 IF rating for 3 cloves vs. 493 for 3 oz. of Atlantic salmon), so incorporating garlic into your meals is part of an anti-inflammatory diet. Raw garlic is a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6 and manganese.
Garlic can be purchased both whole and diced. A garlic bulb with green shoots or cloves that are not tightly packed or blemished indicates that the bulb is old. Let garlic sit for 10 to 15 minutes after chopping and before cooking so the active form of the protective phytochemicals develops.
Garlic is a key feature of Mediterranean and Italian cooking. Both seafood and pasta dishes often use garlic. Try our Shrimp Scampi, a classic recipe which combines garlic, lemon and white wine.
Avoid using wooden surfaces when preparing garlic as the stale garlic odor remains even after washing with hot soaping water. Garlic can hinder blood clotting so if you’re having surgery, be sure to eliminate garlic containing supplements at least 2 weeks prior to your procedure.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.