Consumption of large amounts of raw garlic can help your heart, but did you know that garlic is best – taste-wise and health-wise – when crushed before use?
The pungent king of bulbs, long been a popular home remedy for sundry ailments and diseases, is becoming a favorite with doctors for treating heart diseases, tumors, intestinal parasites, insect bites and even cancer. In some parts of the world, people consume crushed garlic to combat arsenic poisoning. In India, Bangladesh, Burma and China, for instance, crushed garlic preparations help combat arsenic-laden groundwater. The thiosulfinates in garlic have been shown to scavenge arsenic from tissues and blood, and scientists advise people in at-risk areas to eat 1-3 cloves of garlic per day.
More research is needed for stronger evidence of garlic’s cholesterol-reducing benefits, but with its use – along with your doctor’s advice and monitoring – you may be able to reduce the amount of prescription drugs you are taking.
How does garlic work?
Allicin is one of the major active components in garlic that, in addition to fighting diseases, is also responsible for garlic’s pungent odor. It is formed, however, only when garlic is crushed. Crushing garlic releases the enzyme alliinase from the bulb’s cell membranes. The enzyme acts on alliin, found in the cytoplasm of cells in garlic, and forms allicin. Allicin is very unstable and decomposes very rapidly. This instability has thwarted efforts to isolate allicin in pure form, significantly limiting the development of therapeutic applications of garlic.
Nature has cleverly engineered the formation of allicin by locating the enzyme alliinase in the cell membrane and the alliin in the cytoplasm. So garlic can retain and render its flavor and therapeutic benefits only when crushed. Both the aroma and health benefits are short-lived. This is why garlic is traditionally crushed and added to the finished preparation of a dish – so the active component is not lost during cooking and so more is available for absorption by our bodies within minutes of its formation.
What about cooking with garlic?
Scientists boiled, baked, and microwaved crushed and uncrushed cloves of garlic for varying lengths of time and evaluated their anti-platelet activity. Lightly cooked, crushed garlic proved to provide most of the health benefits found in raw garlic. The researchers showed that lightly cooked, crushed garlic is both flavorful and a rich source of compounds known to lower blood pressure and break up potentially harmful clusters of platelets in the bloodstream. Microwaving, however, stripped garlic almost entirely of its therapeutic effects.
How best can we enjoy these flavorful bulbs without losing their impressive health benefits? Crush them (to form the allicin) and cook them only very slightly – whether roasted, sautéed, boiled, or baked – for the development of the characteristic flavors.
Not all forms of garlic contain the same amount of therapeutic compounds. For example:
• Fresh cloves of garlicwhen chopped or chewed may impart the highest amount of allicin (but more studies are needed)
• Fresh cloves of garlic when swallowed whole provide little or no therapeutic value
• Dehydrated garlic powder provides some therapeutic value, depending on allicin content and how it is consumed
• Enteric-coated garlic tablets are treated so that they bypass the stomach before dissolving. The coating prevents garlic odor in breath and perspiration. However, not all enteric-coated garlic preparations dissolve soon enough to give you the therapeutic benefit of the allicin.
• Nonenteric-coated garlic tablets may be more effective than the enteric-coated tablets, but they also cause garlic odor in breath and perspiration.
• Aged garlic extract has been shown to produce conflicting results
• Garlic oil has been shown to have little to no therapeutic value. Caution: Be wary of salmonella in garlic cloves preserved in oil (as in gourmet preparations) – unless they have been heat treated or pasteurized and rendered sterile.