Using Food as Medicine
In our modern world of quick fixes and pill poppers it is increasingly easy to lose sight of the fact that one of the best medicines we have is the food we choose to fuel our bodies with. As a Naturopath, Nutritionist and mother I always seek to use food as medicine as the first option when it comes to optimizing the health of my family, my clients and myself. Learning more about the beneficial and healing properties of foods can help you to make better choices about what to include in your diet every day. It is for this reason that I would love to share the benefits of a new food with you each month. If you have any requests please let me know and I would be happy to explore and share. I have decided to kick this new series off with one of my all time favourite, most versatile and delicious healing foods…… Garlic!
FOOD AS MEDICINE #1: GARLIC – Allium sativa
What is the best way to prepare garlic?
Before we get to the benefits of garlic let’s talk about the most important thing – how to prepare it and retain as many of its amazing properties as possible.
Chopping or crushing garlic cloves stimulates an enzymatic process that converts the phytonutrient alliin into allicin, a compound that is credited for many of garlic’s health benefits. Many of these health benefits (such as anti-cancer properties) are preserved if the whole cloves are crushed and allowed to sit for 10 minutes before cooking. In order to maximize the amount of allicin produced, be sure to wait a minimum of 10 minutes before eating, cooking or adding other ingredients to the garlic, as highly acidic ingredients such as lemon juice can also deactivate the enzymatic process.
Microwaving or boiling uncrushed/whole cloves of garlic will deactivate its enzymes, preventing them from working, so be sure to chop or crush garlic cloves prior to heating. According to research on garlic preparation methods, it only takes 60 seconds of microwaving whole cloves to lessen some of garlic’s health benefits.
Eating raw garlic is the best way of retaining the beneficial properties but if you cannot tolerate raw garlic, adding the chopped or crushed garlic towards the end of the cooking time and always cooking on a low heat will help to retain maximum flavour and nutritional value.
What to Look for when Purchasing
Garlic should be thoroughly dry with firm and well-shaped cloves.
How to Store
Garlic should be stored in a dry, warm environment of 18 °C or more so that it does not sprout.
Key Nutritional Values
Garlic Therapeutic Benefits
Now for the nitty gritty….. I have bullet pointed just some of the many reasons garlic should be used daily for ‘food as medicine’.
- Antiparasitic – The active anthelmintic constituent in garlic is allicin, which has been used to treat roundworm and hookworm. Garlic oil enemas (combined with water) have also been used to cleanse pinworms from the bowel.
- Garlic is a very effective antifungal and antibacterial. The chemical constituents of allicin, ajoene and diallyl trisulfide have all been scientifically proven to inhibit the growth of multiple different types of fungus and bacteria. Garlic is effective in treating fungal infections such as athlete’s foot and bacteria such as Helicobacter pylori, the stomach bacteria implicated as a major cause of ulcers.
- Garlic is a natural broad spectrum antibiotic.
- Antiviral – it has traditionally been eaten and worn around the neck to protect from viral infections such as colds and flus.
- Antimicrobial – Inhibits the growth of multiple different types of fungus and bacteria.
- Garlic has the highest antioxidant levels of any vegetable due to high levels of selenium aiding the production of powerful antioxidant glutathione.
- Garlic aids in lowering blood pressure by increasing the production of nitrous oxide and decreasing vascular resistance by directly relaxing smooth muscle.
- Inhibits platelet aggregation (antiplatelet/antithrombotic) by inhibiting the metabolism of arachadonic acid, therefore inhibiting the production of thromboxane A2.
- Cancer and tumor preventative properties (anticarcinogenic and antimutagenic) due to antioxidants.
- Lowers risk of stomach cancer and inhibits/prevents growth and division of cells in breast tumors.
- Supports immune function due to antioxidants. Stimulates immune function. Enhances activity of natural killer cells.
- Regular intake of garlic has been shown to have a positive effect on stomach secretion and peristalsis.
- Anti-hyperglycaemic or anti-diabetic potential – Garlic enhances insulin production and allicin protects against insulin inactivation.
- Garlic has anti-inflammatory properties due to its antiprostaglandin activity.
- According to World Health Organization garlic has been shown to relieve abdominal and epigastric distress, nausea, belching, flatulence, and colic by dispersing gas, relaxing spasms, slowing hyperperistalsis and sedating stomach and intestines.
- Ground or sliced garlic has historically been applied directly to wounds to inhibit the spread of infections.
- Potential anti-ageing effects.
- Reduction of risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
- Garlic preparations have been shown to reduce blood pressure in individuals with hypertension due to its hydrogen sulphide production and allicin content, which has angiotensin II inhibiting and vasodilating effects.
- Widely recognized for its effectiveness in prevention and treatment of cardiovascular and other metabolic diseases, atherosclerosis, hyperlipidemia, thrombosis, hypertension and diabetes.
- The hypolipedemic effect of garlic (Allicin) has been shown in studies measuring a significant decrease in serum cholesterol and triglyceride as well as significant favorable changes in LDL-cholesterol level (hypocholesterolemic). Garlic has also been shown to increase the levels of HDL cholesterol (the good type!).
- It’s protective effect on atherosclerosis has been attributed to it’s ability to reduce lipid content and increase LDL resistance to oxidation, garlic causes direct antiatherogenic and antiatherosclerotic effects on the artery wall.
- Protects liver by depressing the hepatic activities of lipogenic and cholesterogenic enzymes.
- The antiplatelet constituents in garlic (adenosine, allicin and polysulfides) give it anticoagulant and antithrombotic properties.
- Energy stimulant and aids in circulation.
- Garlic can also have a positive therapeutic effect on arthritis, allergies, blood clotting problems (due to antiplatelet properties) and diarrhoea.
- Garlic has been proven as an insect repellent (although I wouldn’t recommend this topically unless you are planning on being alone!).
- Has been shown to prevent cataracts.
- Additional properties for garlic: analgesic, antilithic, antiputrid, antiseptic, aperitive, calmative, diuretic, carminative, diaphoretic, cholagogue, cicatrizant, decongestant, expectorant, febrifuge, laxative.
- Garlic is alkaline and can reduce acidity.