All about garlic
Garlic is part of the onion family (Allium) and the bulb is the part of the plant that is most commonly used. Other members of this plant family include onions, shallots, leeks and chives. Garlic is native to Central Asia and has been used by humans for thousands of years as both a food and a remedy.
Garlic is a source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, manganese and selenium. It also contains phosphorus, potassium, iron and copper. However, due to garlic usually being consumed in small quantities it is unlikely to contribute in any significant way to one’s overall daily intake of any particular nutrient. Garlic also contains many phytonutrients (plant compounds), including allicin, which is thought to be responsible for many of garlic’s health benefits, as well as its pungent smell and taste.
Garlic has been used to treat different medical conditions for centuries, and it is thought to offer protection against some chronic conditions such as atherosclerosis, hypertension, diabetes and cancer. Some studies have shown that garlic can reduce total cholesterol levels and increase HDL-cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol), whereas others have shown negligible effects. Laboratory studies have also shown allium compounds having anticancer activity but there is not enough evidence in human studies to make any claims at present. Further rigorous investigation is required before any robust health claims can be made. While garlic is certainly a healthy part of a balanced diet, it should not be relied upon solely as a prevention against any chronic illnesses.
In the area of gastrointestinal health, garlic seems to have a split personality. Garlic contains fructans, a fermentable fibre which can contribute to many of the symptoms of IBS, like bloating and cramps. Indeed, garlic is one of the foods excluded on the low FODMAP diet and its elimination can produce much improvement of symptoms.
However, garlic’s antimicrobial activities can be harnessed to eliminate bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine and improve symptoms of bloating. So, you can see that the picture is not always clear, that one size does not fit all and that a personalised approach is best for IBS.
For maximum flavour and health benefits, fresh garlic is best. Garlic is also available as powder, flakes and paste. Fresh garlic should be stored at room temperature in a cool dark place. Garlic can be chopped, sliced or crushed and gives a great flavour to sauces, soups and dips.