Eat garlic for your health

It may be worth risking a little bad breath for the nutritional benefits of this ancient health food.

The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates once said “let your food be your medicine.” Garlic, originating in Asia, has been grown and eaten for its nutritional and medicinal properties for over 5000 years. What Hippocrates was talking about was prevention, and garlic is one of the most universally used foods for both consumption and disease prevention. Garlic is an herb in the onion (Allium) family that is used in the U.S. as a condiment or seasoning, but recently has been gaining much notoriety for being an adaptogen, or food that helps the body adapt to non-specific stress. Some studies look at garlic’s ability to prevent heart disease by slowing the hardening of arteries, as well as certain cancer-prevention properties.

Although some of the claims surrounding garlic are still not proven scientifically, there is no question that garlic is a good source of selenium, manganese, vitamin B6 and sulfur. Selenium, manganese and sulfur are closely related elements, part of antioxidant functioning. Vitamin B6 plays a number of important roles in the body. Garlic also aids in making iron in our bodies more available to use.

What’s the best way to take advantage of all these great benefits? Eating garlic RAW. I know what you’re thinking... the horrible garlic breath you’re left with for sometimes hours after eating it, the pungent “hot” taste. Unfortunately there’s not much that can be done about that, although some studies recommend eating fresh fruit or vegetables to counteract the scent. Cooking garlic for even a few seconds can negate up to 90 percent of the health benefits. The benefits are only released if the garlic is cut, smashed or chopped somehow. A good way to consume raw garlic is garlic bread-style: Chop a clove of garlic and mix it in a tablespoon of olive oil, then toast a nice piece of bread and add the garlic/oil spread while the bread is warm. If you can’t handle raw garlic the best way to still get some of the benefits is to chop it and let it sit on the counter for 10 minutes. This allows the good chemicals to be activated fully before cooking. Then add the garlic to your pan for just a few seconds at the end of cooking so it gets some browning, but is not overcooked.

Another way to avoid that “hot” flavor is to shop for different types of garlic. The garlic in most grocery stores is a variety that has a great shelf life and is easy to mass produce, but it is also one of the most pungent. There are several dozen varieties of garlic grown that are sweeter, less pungent, more hot, less hot and come in different colors. The best place to find these other varieties is at farmer’s markets or in specialty produce stores. Now is the time to ask your farmer’s market vendors about garlic, as the best time to harvest in Michigan is late August and into September. For more information about using and storing garlic visit the Michigan State University Extension Michigan Fresh website.

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