Food Facts: Garlic

garlic bulbsLet’s learn about the small but powerful garlic root herb plant. Garlic has been recognized in almost every culture for thousands of years for its medicinal as well as culinary properties. This garlic plant belongs to the family of Alliaceae of the genus Allium, and scientifically known as Allium sativum. Its origin isn’t actually known, but it is believed to have originated from the mountainous Central Asian region from where it spread all over the temperate and subtropical regions of the world.

The garlic herb plant is a perennial crop and is grown by methods similar to those used in growing onions. A mature plant reaches 50 to 60 centimeters in height, and bears underground bulbous roots. Each of these bulbs contains 10-20 bulbets known as cloves. The whole bulb is covered by several layers of white, thin, papery skin. Several varieties exist from the extra large elephant garlic, to the small solo garlic. Unlike onions, garlic plants are sterile and do not produce seeds. Bulbs need to be planted to generate newer garlic plants

Now that you have had a little bit of the back story, it’s time to get on with the important information. Garlic contains many vitamins, minerals, anti-oxiddants, and phyto-nutrients – all of which have proven health benefits. Garlic is of course low in calories and carbohydrate as well, so this keeps the low carb rule intact as well.

The organic compound that is of special interest today is something called thio-sulfinites. The list of these thio-sulfinites are diayllyl disulfide, diallyl trisulfide and allyl propyl disulfide. These can form alolicin by an enzymic reaction, which is activated by the desruption of the bulb through crushing or cutting it.

Studies have shown that allicin reduces cholesterol by inhibiting HMG-CoA reductase enzyme in the liver cells. Allicin also has been shown to to decrease blood vessel stiffness by releasing nitric oxide. This brings a reduction in total blood pressure. It also blocks the platlet clot formation, and has fibrinolytic action in the blood vessels, meaning that it dissolves the fibers that make up blood clots, which helps decrease the overall risk of coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular disease, and stroke. Allicin and some other essential volatile compounds that are also found in garlic have been found to have anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal activities.

Research studies also indicate that the consumption of garlic is associated with the possible decrease in the incidence of stomach cancer. Anything that has anti-cancer properties will always get a special mention at this corner of the internet, due to my own fight against that horrible disease. If you don’t know already, I opted out of interferon treatment in favor of taking an approach that focused on nutrition and exercise. It’s the reason I have learned all that I have, as every bit of research I do usually has that time of my life in the back of my mind and is a powerful motivational force.

Garlic is also rich in flavonoids which have an anti-oxidant effect, like beta carotene, and zea-xanthin. Zea-xanthin provides the body with anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Garlic also contains anti-oxidant vitamins like vitamin-C. Vitamin-C helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents and aids in scavenging harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals. There is an awful lot of protective qualities to something as innocent looking as a garlic bulb.

Garlic is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals that are essential for good health. A 100 gram serving contains the following percentages of the recommended daily allowance; 95 percent of vitamin B-6, 52 percent of vitamin-C, 33 percent of copper, 21 percent of iron, 18 percent of calcium, 26 percent of selenium, and 73 percent of manganese. Copper as we know is very important for tendon strength, and I always feel that we should look for natural sources of it to fulfill this need. We ask a lot of our tendons when we lift weights repeatedly and they need to be given the nutrients they ned to remain strong.

All of this nutritional information is fascinating, especially when you consider it’s garlic, which is thought of as more of a flavor enhancer than an ingredient. Which brings me seamlessly to my next point – garlic in an unbelievable way to make so many things taste great. In my opinion, not much smells better than onions and garlic being sauteed…in butter. Throw in the chopped vegetables of your choice and you have a guaranteed winner of a dish cooking. Add your favorite protein source and you have created something unique to your tastes, that is likely to taste good to anyone.

I didn’t get into the the discovery of garlic – mostly because I couldn’t find any information on it, but I’m curious about that as I think/write this. What possessed someone to dig into the ground, and then try eating this herbal root plant? From there it was discovered that it can be used in cooking as it is complimentary with many foods, and contains many healing nutrients that makes it valuable as a medicinal aid. The evolution of something like this always revives my faith in humanity. It was the search and discovery of plants, most likely by an elder or healer within a tribe or clan, that led to the discovery of plants like garlic that were used to help heal others. That is something that I personally think of when I’m considering how it was that such a thing as garlic, that was once a root in the ground that had yet to be discovered has now has achieved such lofty status among humans.

Enjoy garlic!

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